Postpartum depression is a complex mix of physical, emotional, and behavioral changes that follow childbirth.
It can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a year depending on the extent of the depression. Symptoms for the mother range from a state of sluggishness and fatigue to the fear of harming themselves.
It is considered treatable with medication and therapy.
Several Jersey City women shared their experiences last week of depression after birth.
"Was it blues?" asked downtown Jersey City resident Margaret Whalley last week. "I think it was slightly more serious....sleep deprived and paranoid."
The issue of postpartum depression came to the forefront of New Jersey news last year after former acting Gov. Richard Codey challenged a New Jersey radio station host to a fight because the host joked about Codey's wife's experiences with postpartum depression 20 years ago.
Codey and his wife, Mary Jo - whose open discussions on postpartum depression prompted Codey's actions - are being honored by the California-based Postpartum Support International during their 20th annual conference at the Hyatt Regency on the Hudson in Jersey City, starting this coming Wednesday through Saturday.Anatomy of postpartum depression
Nadia Kaulessar (this reporter's sister) was 21 when she gave birth to her son Donathan Mahabir in March 2000. What followed afterward for the young Jersey City mother was four months of the darkest time in her life.
"[I had] poor self-esteem, lack of willingness to even take care of my child; no hope really," said Kaulessar. She even admitted that she had "thoughts of killing herself."
Kaulessar said she was diagnosed by her primary care physician after a general checkup following birth. She said after explaining to her physician how she was feeling at the time, her physician recommended she "work through" the problem and "keep herself busy" before medication would be prescribed.
What helped Kaulessar cope was keeping a diary.
"During the time I was carrying Donathan and then after he was born, I wrote down how I was feeling at the time," said Kaulessar.
Kaulessar said that speaking to other women was not possible as she said was dealing with "personal issues" at the time, particularly her shaky marriage, which she also said contributed to the depression. She also said that being a young mother played a role.
"What I was doing at 21, I should be doing now," said Kaulessar, now 27.
When asked how she was able to get over her depression, she said she just "tried to keep herself busy."
"Exercise helped out a great deal, doing more chores and being around more positive people," said Kaulessar. "The alternative would have been medication and I don't believe in that." Going through the blues
Children are active on the playground of Van Vorst Park in Downtown Jersey City. Watching over them are mothers sitting on benches or standing.
One of those mothers was Margaret Whalley, a mother of two sons - Tariq, 10 and Sherif, 8.
Whalley recalled going through depression for a few weeks after the birth of Tariq.
"I was alone a lot, my husband was working all the time, and when [Tariq] was eight months, I found out I was pregnant with my other son," said Whalley.
Whalley said it took over a year to realize she was going through a depression by talking to friends. But not after going through some very tense moments.
"I remember when I was walking Tariq in his stroller and I would go into a church and start crying for no reason. Then I would stop and leave," said Whalley.
Corrine Mulrenan brought her sons Max, 9 and Duke, 2.5 to the park. She went through the "baby blues" after her first son, she said.
"All of a sudden, when you wait for something, and it then finally happens and you're thrilled, and then you wake up one day and there's this anticlimactic feeling," said Mulrenan. "And you are sitting in a chair and you're nursing the child, and say "Oh my God."
Mulrenan went to say that she also suffered the "baby blues" with her second son. In both cases, she recovered after a few weeks. She attributed the recovery to being an older mother and having a husband who helped her through these difficult times, whom she called a "special person." Seeing the symptoms
While serving as acting governor last year, Codey allocated $4.5 million in state funding to educate families and screen new mothers for postpartum depression. And he created The Governor's Workgroup on Postpartum Depression that helped develop legislation passed by Gov. Jon Corzine this year to require postnatal health care professionals to screen new mothers for postpartum depression, and to educate women and their families about the disorder.
Among those welcoming the new law is Marli Vogel Gelfand, Director of Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health for Jersey City Medical Center. Gelfand, with a background in therapy, has worked with mothers suffering from both "baby blues" and the more serious postpartum depression for the past four years. But that was within the parameters of family therapy, usually when treating a child for a psychological problem and then coming across the postpartum depression condition of the mother.
In the past year, she has worked full-time in treating postpartum depression since Jersey City Medical Center was named a referral center in Hudson County for those suffering from the condition under an initiative called "Speak Up When You're Down" to encourage providers to be more vocal.
"Postpartum support groups help take the guilt away and allow women share their experience, which I believe is one of the best actions toward recovery," said Gelfand. "Many women don't always talk about the depression they go through, especially postpartum depression, because of feelings of guilt and inadequacy."
Gelfand said she hopes funding will continue for these programs.
For information on the conference, check out www.postpartum.net or call (201) 567-5596. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org