Today is Mother's Day. While many mothers may relish the joy and satisfaction of their crucial role in nurturing, educating and inspiring the next generation, too many mothers will be suffering in silence with mental and emotional strain related to pregnancy and childbirth. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild has proclaimed May 13-19, 2012, as Postpartum Depression Awareness Week, in response to the efforts of the Tucson Postpartum Depression Coalition (TPDC).
The Proclamation reads, in part: "Whereas, this community wide Coalition of healthcare professionals shares a vision of emotional wellness, and hopes to reduce suffering from mood disorders relating to childbirth, prevent harm to mother, baby, and family; and promote the health of generations to come through education, early identification and treatment to prevent negative outcomes."
Annually, around 4,000 women in Pima County experience anxiety and depression around childbirth. Many are not identified or treated, leading to chronic depression for the mother and challenges for her partner and the child(ren) as well.
Tucson has gained national attention for local efforts to identify and support women at risk for postpartum depression and anxiety. As we honor those who have achieved what is, in many nations, the coveted status of 'mother,' attention need also turn to those whose experience of maternal depression sheds doubt, guilt, shame and fear over what could be a woman's crowning achievement.
This 'dark side of motherhood' has probably existed since our ancestral mothers scanned the community for food for her elders, her mate and her children. Low infant survival rates and difficulty finding food and other resources likely triggered the same depression and anxiety we see when women doubt the fitness of their circumstances to meet today's demands of raising their babies into adulthood.
While untreated maternal depression can lead to a variety of poor outcomes that are indeed preventable, it is good to remember that noteworthy strides towards early identification and treatment of maternal depression and anxiety are well underway in this Old Pueblo. In August 2011, CODAC Behavioral Health Services provided space to TPDC to develop education, support and outreach services in a new program called Mother's Oasis. Mother's Oasis has since assisted over 200 women in finding the help they needed for recovery and wellness.
Without other funding, an amazing core of volunteers including nurses, social workers, therapists and mom-survivors, has made it possible for mothers seeking a supportive ear or kind shoulder, to find that safe haven; a place where everyone who reaches out will get served. Any mom who thinks they might need to talk - or get connected to support groups or treatment - can call Mother's Oasis at 520-202-1987 or visit www.mothersoasis.org
"Happy Mother's Day" to all mothers in Tucson. Few know the depths of suffering that many of you have endured. Let us continue to raise awareness of the true struggles of perinatal depression that 20 percent of mothers face as they embrace their roles. Let us reach out with comfort, support and acceptance when the myths that we all have of 'motherhood' fail expectations. And let us all write a new version that truly reflects the complexity and agony when a rite of passage goes wrong.
Carole Sheehan, MA, RN is the Founder/President of the Tucson Postpartum Depression Coalition and Co-Coordinator of Postpartum Support International (PSI) AZ.