On Friday, mom Jessica Porten shared an emotional and candid account of her harrowing experience trying to get help for postpartum depression on Facebook. According to her post, the first-time mom has been trying to see a doctor since the birth of her child for what she believes is postpartum depression, but has faced multiple cancelled appointments.
Porten shares that when she finally managed to get an appointment, she told a nurse, “I have postpartum depression that is manifesting in fits of anger. ... I tell them I have a very strong support system at home, so although I would never hurt myself or my baby, I'm having violent thoughts and I need medication and therapy to get through this." But instead of being met with compassion and suggestions for treatment, she received her scheduled pelvic exam and was left alone in the exam room.
After waiting for some time, she learned that the police were called and was later escorted to the ER. She spent the entire day waiting, along with her newborn daughter, whom she had brought with her to her appointment. Finally, at 10:45 p.m., she saw a social worker who determined she wasn’t a candidate for inpatient treatment and discharged her.
After that entirely unnecessary ordeal, Porten was then sent home without any medication or tips on how to treat her postpartum depression. She says the worst part of this whole thing was that not once during all of this "has a doctor laid eyes on me. Not once. Not even before they decided to call the cops on me. That's what I got for telling my OB that I have PPD and I need help. I was treated like a criminal and then discharged with nothing but a stack of xeroxed printouts with phone numbers on them."
Since sharing her story online, her post has quickly gone viral and been shared over 40,000 times and received over 10,000 comments. Clearly, this is a story that has resonated with many other moms. For me, reading her post felt familiar.
It’s really hard to speak up when you’re experiencing postpartum depression. I’ve experienced some level of depression and anxiety after the births of each of my three children, but didn’t seek help until I was pregnant with my third.
I was incredibly nervous about what kind of response I would get if I was honest about my postpartum experience. I already felt so insecure about my ability as a mom. I worried that honestly sharing that I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning or that I felt angry all the time would only confirm my fears.
Perhaps moms stay silent because, like me, they're afraid of what people will think when they admit how they've really been feeling since becoming a mom.
It doesn’t really matter whether you’re dealing with intrusive thoughts of self-harm or you simply aren’t enjoying motherhood like you expected you would, there's an incredible amount of guilt involved when you have postpartum depression.
Maybe this is why it's believed that 85 percent of moms with postpartum depression or anxiety never seek treatment. Perhaps moms stay silent because, like me, they're afraid of what people will think when they admit how they've really been feeling since becoming a mom. So, the fact that Porten self-reported her suspected postpartum depression is huge. And the fact that her attempt to seek help was completely ignored and mismanaged kills me.
I’m sure her scenario seems so unlikely to many, but I’m not the least bit surprised. After being treated for prenatal depression during my third pregnancy, I thought I would be set to receive care through all of postpartum, but that wasn’t the case. Six months after my son was born, I was doing well and was weaning off of medication when I learned that my brother's cancer had reappeared. This event seemed to erase all of my progress and I found myself struggling severely with postpartum depression again.
Like Porten, my experience at the OB-GYN office was awful. When I showed up to my appointment I was turned away because of a problem with my insurance. Two weeks later, when the insurance was sorted out, I was turned away again after a scheduling mixup. I never saw a doctor, but explained my situation to the nurse who told me I wouldn’t be seen that day.
I said that I was really struggling. Her response? Make another appointment with the front desk.
I remember leaving that day feeling like no one felt a sense of urgency about my health. I felt out of control of my emotions and instead of being met with a solution, I was swept under the rug. Finally, I was prescribed an increased dose of antidepressant a full month after my original appointment, only because I found a new provider who was over an hour away.
It's so hard to get help when you’re struggling with postpartum depression. Depression can deplete you of motivation or it can convince you that what you're feeling is your fault—that you don’t deserve to receive care. Sadly, getting that care is so often placed on the struggling mom’s shoulders. It's left up to an already overwhelmed and exhausted mom to advocate for her own mental health. For her to be met with resistance, judgment or neglect on top of all that is just not right.
Postpartum depression is a serious condition that can have life-changing consequences. Care providers need to treat it as such. The system is clearly failing mothers in more ways than one and something has to change.