IT'S estimated that one out of six women are affected by depression or anxiety following the birth or adoption of a child.
To help those experiencing postpartum/perinatal depression or anxiety, a new online tool has been designed to ensure mothers get the support they need.
Posted on the Pacific Post Partum Support Society's website (www.postpartum.org), The Postpartum Journey chronicles the experiences of real women and includes links to information and resources. It was developed by the society, in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health, Provincial Health Services Authority and Providence Health Care.
Postpartum depression affects a woman's health and ability to care for herself and her new baby.
"There's a real stigma around having a hard time basically and this myth out there that it's exclusively a positive time in a women's life," says Sheila Duffy, program manager of the Pacific Post Partum Support Society. "It can be really wonderful and great but it can also be really difficult too at times and stressful. We as a society don't usually want to talk about that."
A non-profit, the Pacific Post Partum Support Society services all of the Lower Mainland, and operates a new toll-free number (604-255-7999 or 18552557999), providing phone support throughout the province. The support line was launched in June 2011, in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health. It's part of the same perinatal depression strategy, focused on education, prevention and early intervention, that gave rise to The Postpartum Journey.
The support line is an important first access point for women.
"Everybody that works here is trained as a counsellor, but specifically for postpartum issues," says Duffy. "We're all mothers, but most of us have also gone through postpartum depression or anxiety."
Society staff field approximately 3,500 and 4,000 calls per year, linking callers with their services, which range from support groups to mom and baby talks. They also refer women to other community postpartum resources and services, and medical professionals where needed.
One of the society's support groups is run Fridays at North Vancouver's John Braithwaite Community Centre. Group members range from those with diagnoses of postpartum depression, to mothers who are simply feeling overwhelmed and isolated. Their time in the group depends on their particular situation. Child minding is available.
"Usually the feedback we get is that they feel like this is a place where they can be really honest about their experience because as new mothers there's a lot of pressure to kind of look like everything's OK and you're really the 'super mom' kind of idea," says Duffy. "They don't always feel like they can talk about some of the things that are difficult or some of the things that maybe they're not enjoying because they fear that risk of being judged or, heaven forbid, called a bad mother."
Common issues expressed include: feeling unprepared; feelings of isolation, whether because they're new to the community or country, are away from work or cut off from their families; loss of identity; vulnerability due to breast feeding difficulties; neglecting self-care; missing their old life and feeling guilty about it; and, added pressures on their relationship.
The group provides a safe place for mothers to feel supported and an opportunity to talk about their specific challenges, no matter how difficult to broach. Because participation is ongoing, the mothers are able to learn from one another, at various points in their journey.
Duffy is excited about the new online tool. "The idea is that people can go on there and hopefully identify by reading the story," she says. "As you go through the story you're led to different things, like handouts and links that will help you either just by doing that and as a self-help (exercise), but also help you identify whether you need other support."
As the tool was made possible through a partnership between a number of agencies, it's a positive step towards reaching more moms. "The more that we collaborate and work together, the more that we're going to be able to help people and people will fall through the cracks less I'm sure," says Duffy.
It's important to seek support for postpartum depression.
"The good news is there is treatment. . . ." says Duffy. "This isn't a forever thing, it's really about how do you take care of yourself while it's happening. The sooner they get support and the sooner they start to get help, the sooner they get better. The less complicated things can get."
Following the birth of her second child, North Vancouver mother Gwynneth Sobejko, 46, found herself overwhelmed by the challenges of looking after two children - newborn Klara, and Finn, a then three-yearold - meeting their needs and managing the home.
"When Klara was five months old, it just hit me like a ton of bricks," she says. "I just don't know what happened."
"I felt a lot of pressure, just time constraints," she adds, describing the daily juggling act of finding time to nurse, tend to her active toddler and get dinner on the table.
Her anxiety level continuing to increase, Gwynneth contacted the Pacific Post Partum Support Society and became a member of the North Vancouver support group. She attended the weekly sessions for 15 months.
"There's a saying, 'If you have a secret, you don't have the secret, the secret has you,'" she says.
Gwynneth felt an incredible sense of relief in being able to express her feelings about what she was experiencing, and talk to other moms, including those who, on the surface, look like they have everything together, though in reality are experiencing many of the same struggles, and let go of the guilt.
"It just helps to break through the stereotypes by sharing your story, by listening to other people's story," she says.
In addition to emotional support, Gwynneth walked away with a variety of practical tools to help her better manage her stress. Klara, now two-and-a-half, and Finn, 5, Gwynneth encourages other mothers affected by postpartum depression and anxiety to likewise seek support.
"I think the best thing we can be for our children is to be willing to look at ourselves and be willing to understand that we're all learning, no matter where we're at on the path," she says.
For more information on the Pacific Post Partum Support Society, or to register for the North Vancouver support group, visit www.postpartum.org or phone 604-255-7999.