No matter your view of life I believe we can all come to the consensus that “mommin’ ain’t easy”. I have been pregnant and or nursing for the past 7 years and with that comes an emotional toll that I was not prepared for—even as a trained professional. It was not until almost two years after my last babe that I learned about the truth regarding perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) when I attended a training hosted by Postpartum Support International (PSI). It was then that I decided to become a PSI coordinator in rural Eastern North Carolina to help bridge the gap between families and mental health providers.
Throughout my volunteer work with PSI, and my work as a Perinatal Outreach Director with Hope Women and Family Services, Inc, I have witnessed a huge need for families in rural America. Over 43% or births in the United States are paid for by Medicaid. In my home state of NC, when a mom is covered under limited pregnancy medicaid, her coverage ends at six weeks postpartum. Essentially any problem that arises after that first 60 days postpartum is left up to the family to pay for. In my experiences, I did not start showing concerning signs of a PMAD until a few months after the birth of my first two sons. If I had not had insurance I would not have been able to seek treatment specific to my needs as a postpartum mother. This issue doesn’t begin to touch on the issue of finding a provider who is trained on such. Fort both of these reasons, I decided to attend Mom Congress 2019 in Washington D.C.
I have never advocated for anything outside of perinatal issues and those who I have spoken to are always educated on the subject as well. Initially, I was very nervous because I did not know what to expect or how to prepare for meeting the staff of my local representatives on their home turf.
The Mom Congress team did an excellent job of educating us on the “Momnibus” bill package. We were coached on the logistics of traveling from office to office and how to tell our story—in a two minute elevator speech. During our time at the conference we also heard from more than several women and families who have been negatively impacted by gaps in maternity and postpartum care. One of which was PSI’s own board members, Steven D’Achille, whose wife took her own life just a few weeks postpartum after being sent away by seven different providers.
As perinatal mental health advocates we know that suicide is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality however, that is not necessarily backed by data from the CDC. They report Peripartum Cardiomyopathy (PPCM) as the number one killer of mothers and three out of five deaths being preventable.* However, data that is collected on death certificates is skewed. Steven’s wife Alexis’ death certificate reads “hanging…hanged herself” as the cause of death and does not mention that she was just a few weeks postpartum and was suffering with a PMAD. This does not count her among others who lost their lives to a pregnancy complication and that needs to change.
Hearing the stories of other women and families who have lost sisters, daughters, and families to the illnesses we know as PMADs really put in perspective just how needed and important our role is at PSI. We are literally the boots on the ground saving lives one training, brochure, post, text, email, or call at a time. Past advocacy at Mom Congress supported funding H.R.3235 – Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act. Since then, $4,517,096 has been awarded to 7 grantee organizations, including the state of North Carolina! This month, 160 community champions from across my state will attend PSI’s Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Components of Care training at no cost to them thanks to this grant funding. Advocacy works! This is how I know we are making a difference at the National level.
However, much more needs to happen in order for every mother suffering to receive the proper treatment for PMADs she deserves—Until then, I urge you to raise awareness in any way that you can. Once we are seen, and we will be, change in the form of mothers being heard and nurtured will come.
Please plan to join us next year for Mom Congress 2020!
*CDC “Vital Signs.” Congressional Briefing at MomCongress, 5 May 2019, Washington D.C.
Written by Jessica Thomas, PSI Support Coordinator for Eastern NC
PSI Board members, staff and volunteers at Mom Congress
Back row: Jessica Thomas (NC), Steven D’Achille (PA), Samantha Konikoff (WA), Kwaniya Reyes (NC), Tonya Fulwider (OH), Carrie Banks (NC), Carrie Flora (MD), Front row: Heather Dopp (UT), Susan Aguayo (NM), Crystal McAuly (CA) Not pictured: Kristina Dulaney (TN), Kay Matthews (TX), Clare Schexnyder (GA), Kelly Kay (CA)
Jessica is a Certified Lactation Counselor, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, Birth and Postpartum Doula, a support coordinator in rural eastern North Carolina, as well as a PMAD survivor. She currently works as the Perinatal Outreach Director with Hope Women and Family Services, Inc and loves spending time with her three boys, husband Bill, their dog, and five chickens.