By Rachel Olsen
After drowning all five of her children, Andrea Yates plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
However, a jury saw differently, finding Yates guilty.
Yates claims she was suffering from postpartum psychosis, an extreme type of postpartum depression, which, along with a new baby, brings prevalent feelings of hopelessness, sadness and dejection.
Postpartum depression is a disease that strikes many mothers, but is for the most part misunderstood or ignored.
Gail, a mother of five and past sufferer of postpartum depression, said she did not understand postpartum was a disease when she had it.
“It”s painful. I think if I would have understood it was a hormone problem, then I would have gotten help,” she said. “I just thought I was too immature to handle it – I thought it was all me.”
Helping mothers and their families understand the disease is a weapon in overcoming it, said Jane Honikman, director of Postpartum Support International, started in Santa Barbara, Calif.
“All family members need to be informed,” she said. “Our goal here is to have awareness – fighting ignorance by distributing as much accurate information as possible. This is key.”
To understand the disease, women need to know what the disease is, the variations and symptoms, Honikman said.
The Office of Women”s Health identifies three different categories of postpartum depression.
The first, and the most common, is the “baby blues,” she said.
“Baby blues” occurs in many new mothers in the days immediately following childbirth. It is distinguished by sudden mood swings, which range from euphoria to intense sadness.
The “baby blues” has a relatively short duration and goes away without medication, according to the Office of Women”s Health Web site.
The most severe category of the illness is postpartum psychosis, the disease Yates claims to have suffered from, and only occurs in rare cases (1 out of 1,000).
Onset of postpartum psychosis is fast and harsh, usually within the first three months after delivery. Women who suffer from postpartum psychosis may completely lose touch with reality, often experiencing hallucinations and delusions, according to the Women”s Health Web site.
Some women with postpartum psychosis note they believed their child was possessed by demons, and that killing their child was the only recourse.
Women who experience these feelings of harming their babies or themselves need to contact a medical professional immediately.
The next category is what is actually termed as postpartum depression.
Estimates vary, but somewhere between five and 30 percent of pregnancies result in postpartum depression, which can occur a few days or even months after delivery.
“Statistically, postpartum is underreported. It”s a struggle because depression is so pooh-poohed in our society,” Honikman said.
What is mostly unknown is that postpartum depression can start up to a year after having the child, she said.
Honikman said postpartum can surface due to the starting of a period, weaning of a baby, starting work or not starting work.
“We don”t know what the reasons for the onset are,” she said.
Postpartum depression is characterized by more intense feelings of sadness, despair, anxiety and irritability. It often disrupts a woman”s ability to function, which is the key sign medical attention is necessary, according to the Web site.
“There were so many times I would just sit down and a surge of hopelessness would sweep over me,” Gail said.
Left untreated, postpartum depression can increase in intensity and duration, according to the Web site.
“There is this gaping hole under new mothers, and women who ignore or don”t understand their feelings can fall through that hole,” Honikman said.
Because the occurrence of postpartum depression is more likely upon the birth of a second child, there are preventative measures doctors and Postpartum Support International recommend.
Steve Nance, an OB/GYN in Springville, Utah County, said a woman who has previously experienced postpartum could be put on Prozac during the third trimester of her next pregnancy.
There are some mothers who worry about the effect of the medication, but Prozac is so researched and used so often it really is not a concern, Nance said.
Problems most often stem from postpartum when women do not mention their feelings. This can be because they feel it is their problem, their fault and that they are bad mothers.
“One of the big things is the guilt you feel about the way you feel. You”re supposed to be happy and joyous about this new life and there are times you feel overwhelmed, unfulfilled and incapable,” Gail said.
A great detection and support to women suffering from postpartum – and to all women – is to have families and husbands understand them and their needs, Honikman said.
“We need to keep the channels of communication open between women and their families,” Honikman said.”We need to mother our mothers.”
For more information on postpartum depression, contact Postpartum Support International at 805-967-7636.