Mamas on Bedrest: Our culture is woefully ignorant about perinatal mood disorders

July 22nd, 2013

Our culture still has a lot to learn about perinatal mood disorders.

Today’s post is in response to a very well written blog by my friend and colleague Walker Karraa who is speaking out against a CNN television special about Andrea Yates, the former Houston Texas mother who killed her 5 children in a psychotic break. This tragedy occurred in 2001 and still, after all this time, after numerous psychiatric evaluations, court hearings and appeals, CNN is airing a documentary that has the undertone that Andrea Yates was not at all mentally ill and she willfully and purposely killed her 5 children. I encourage you all to read  Walker’s guest blog post on Post Partum Progress, and if you feel so lead, watch the documentary on CNN (it will be aired 3 times!!). Between the two, I come away asking, “Is this trip really necessary?”

Andrea Yates was the mother of 5 children who developed severe post partum psychosis after the birth of her 5th child and killed her children “as instructed” from voices she “heard.” She had battled a severe case of post partum depression after the birth of her 4th child, had attempted suicide and had been admitted to a mental institution for treatment. She was reportedly “stable” but the couple had been advised not to have any more children as Andrea would likely suffer a psychiotic break. Unfortunately, she and her husband Rusty continued on with their mission “to have as many children as nature allowed”, and sadly shortly after the birth of their only daughter, their 5th child, Andrea became psychotic and killed her children.

Childbearing is not an easy process. While a joyous and often eagerly anticipated event, It taxes every system in a woman’s body. While the vast majority of women will have uneventful pregnancies, labors and deliveries, we know that approximately 750,000 American women will be prescribed bed rest during their pregnancies annually. According to Katherine Stone, the author and owner of Post Partum Progress, an award winning blog and website on post partum depression, an average of 15% of all pregnancies result in some form of perinatal mood disorder. Katherine breaks down the numbers of women annually who suffer post partum mood disorders and this number equates to 950,000 women!

The sad truth is that our culture is woefully ignorant about the perils and pitfalls of pregnancy and childbearing and simply assumes,

“Having a baby is a natural occurrence. All animals do it. None of them receive any extra support, so why should women??”

So when something goes wrong and there are complications, people are equally baffled. Yet, few people are willing to acknowledge that every time a woman becomes pregnant, she puts her life on the line to bring forth another life. We don’t acknowledge the risks involved, the strains on all of her physiological systems-and this includes her mental health system.

How incredible would it be if we put as much effort into screening for and providing support and treatment for perinatal mood disorders as we do demonizing them? What if CNN and its shows sponsors took the money that they put into this documentary and donated it towards perinatal mood disorder screening an treatments instead of attempting to boost their own ratings and sales from a most tragic event? What if, if they so strongly felt the need to produce and air this documentary, they then turned around and provided outlets for people to learn more? Instead of this being a “Look what a monster Andrea Yates is and she got away with her crime!” CNN and its show sponsors could have approached this tragedy with, “This was a shocking tragedy. Let’s make sure it never happens again!” 

So what has this got to do with Mamas on Bedrest? Everything! According to statistics from the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 8 women prescribed bed rest will develop post partum depression. And this is the number for only post partum depression. This number does not include ante partum mood disorders or any other mental health disorders that may occur during their pregnancies, labor or deliveries. The numbers don’t account for the mothers who lose their children before they have a chance to be born. The numbers don’t include those mothers who experience traumatic births. And these numbers consist mostly of mothers who report their post partum depression. How many cases go undocumented? Undiagnosed??

I am going to make a point to watch this CNN broadcast and will report back after viewing. I hope that I am pleasantly surprised and that the broadcast will highlight the pitfalls of perinatal mood disorders and what we can do to help women who suffer them.  I am not holding out much hope that this is the case, but I want to have an open mind and do my best to present all sides to a story. So stay tuned and I will report back after viewing!


One response to “Mamas on Bedrest: Our culture is woefully ignorant about perinatal mood disorders”

  1. I am honored to call you a friend and colleague. This is a brilliant piece. I will stay tuned for your thoughts on the episode.

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