The pictures on Facebook prove it: Having a baby is the most perfect, joyful, amazing event in a woman’s life.
But life isn’t really like that, is it?
Gia Snooks of Dignity Health is well acquainted with the disconnect between real life and what it’s like to actually bring a baby home from the hospital. She helps coordinate “Let’s Talk,” a therapeutic program for pregnant and postpartum women.
Thanks to a $14,200 grant from Mercy Care Community Reinvestment, the popular program has been expanded.
“What we hear from society and social media is that this is the best time of our lives,” Snooks said. “And we’re going to be able to do it and we’re going to be able to do it flawlessly. Once a mom comes home or a family comes home and they start struggling, they realize, ‘What I’m seeing on social media is not necessarily the reality of it.’”
That’s where Let’s Talk can make a crucial difference. Expansion of the support program comes at a time when perinatal mood disorders are the No. 1 medical complication of childbirth. Statistics show that 1 in 7 mothers and 1 in 10 fathers suffer from postpartum depression, though perinatal mood disorders come in many forms.
Depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis also can occur during pregnancy.
The COVID-19 crisis has pushed incidences up sharply. Recent data from Postpartum Support International has found that perinatal mood disorders have increased by as much as 30 percent as a result of the pandemic.
In addition, Women’s Health Innovations of Arizona is reporting 1 in 3 Arizona moms are experiencing perinatal mood disorders and have a subsequent need for coaching and support.
And while 80 to 90 percent of women experience Baby Blues—that might be as high as 1 in 5 with the pandemic—perinatal mood disorders are different.
Baby Blues is a mild adjustment and usually happens within the first three days of giving birth, though it can happen at some point afterward, as well. Symptoms include crying, irritability and lack of interest in normal activities “but they’re really mild and for a limited amount of time, not more than a couple of weeks,” according to Snooks.
20 years of successful intervention
“When it becomes more severe and interferes with daily life and lasts beyond two weeks, that’s when we start to consider that it will start looking a little bit more like depression or something else more significant than just Baby Blues,” Snooks said.
Women who suffer from these more-significant issues have found support through the Let’s Talk program offered by Dignity. After nearly two decades of success hosting the hospital system’s weekly pregnancy and postpartum support group, experts at Dignity Health in the East Valley identified that some women would benefit from a more intensive program.
In January 2018, Dignity Health began working with Women’s Health Innovations of Arizona to provide a therapist specializing in perinatal mood disorders to lead a therapy program called “Let’s Talk.” Mothers who participated in these intensive, two-hour, expert-led sessions showed improvement in symptoms and overall outcomes.
Offered five times each year at Dignity Health Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, the six-week program is free and capped at 10 moms. Registration is required.
As a result of the Mercy Community Reinvestment program grant, Dignity Health can now offer these support sessions online, mindful of the pandemic.
“Mercy Care commends Dignity Health’s hospital in the East Valley and Women’s Health Innovations for their important support of women after childbirth,” said Christi Lundeen, Mercy Care Chief Innovation Officer. “We are proud that our funding can help extend these classes to an online platform to ensure additional support for more new moms who may feel isolated due to the pandemic.”
Social isolation due to COVID-19 also has had an impact on many new moms.
“A lot of the moms right now are having to deliver with one person in the room,” Snooks said. “There are some areas where moms haven’t even been able to have one person. So she’s been having to go through this alone.”
Extra anxiety minimized
As exciting as it is to bring a tiny life into the world, “not being able to have your normal support system with you during that process can create a lot of extra anxiety for the mom,” Snooks said.
Once home and trying to adjust to the role as a new parent, not being able to safely bring in friends and extended family can be challenging, she said. Facing those feelings is important.
“Reach out and get some connectedness. Find some family in a similar situation virtually. Don’t be alone. Don’t hide it. Don’t be ashamed of it,” Snooks said. “Talk about it. Reach out to me.”
Connecting with others helps. Going to a professional-based therapy group like Let’s Talk or other peer groups that Dignity offers can help. The peer group meets Tuesdays and Wednesdays and “moms come together virtually and talk about what they’re going through, support each other, and offer words of encouragement,” according to Snooks.
To find out more, visit Let’s Talk online.
A statement from Dignity Health regarding visitation noted that “visitation guidelines are constantly assessed to ensure they meet standards to protect the health and safety of our patients, staff and those we serve in the community. At this time, women admitted to OB at Chandler Regional Medical Center are able to have one adult visitor throughout their stay and also a certified doula may be present during the birthing process. Visitors are screened upon entry to the hospital and must wear a mask.”