Depression, anxiety, intrusive thoughts — how NJ moms are struggling
This is Day 1 of a three-part series examining the mental health challenges facing expectant and new moms in the Garden State.
Allison Faraone had always wanted to be a mother.
Once it finally happened in 2014, she felt stuck, lonely and by herself — despite the addition of twins and a loving husband by her side.
"I was angry and resentful. I was just not me anymore. It really affected me," Faraone, of Monmouth County, said.
Around the time she realized it may be time to seek help, her sister-in-law — a new mother as well — took her own life, suffocated by a more severe bout of mental health issues that can occur after having a baby.
"People have babies and they think that it's going to be this wonderful magical thing, and it's just the furthest from that at points," said Faraone, who had her third child in 2018 and still keeps up with regular therapy sessions to work through any doubts, negative thoughts or unpleasant memories.
While postpartum depression is the term thrown around most often, that's just one small segment of the spectrum of mood and anxiety disorders that hit many women during pregnancy and typically up to one year after giving birth. Symptoms can even strike someone who lost a baby due to a miscarriage.
Natasha Giske, of Hazlet, is self-described as a bubbly, happy, very outgoing individual. But a few days after giving birth to her son in March, something "flipped," while she was still in the hospital bed.
"I had no reason to cry but I just kept crying," Giske said. "I just feel empty, like something is not right, like I'm missing something."
"I was not really sleeping, and constantly worrying about things I had no control over," said Lauren Kubas, of Tinton Falls, who gave birth to her first son in November.
Studies show that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD) affect as many as one in five women. With a birth count of 101,313 in New Jersey last year, statistics put the PMAD count at approximately 20,000 in 2018 alone.
Postpartum psychosis, experienced by Faraone's sister-in-law, occurs in 1 to 2 of every 1,000 births.
Less severe symptoms, according to the state Department of Health, include frequent crying, trouble sleeping and a change in appetite. As cases worsen, high anxiety sets in, along with dramatic mood swings and feelings of being a bad mother. "High" symptoms, DOH said, include little or no contact with the baby, or thoughts of harming the baby or oneself. Intrusive thoughts, however, don't necessarily signal a desire to harm.
Exact causes of the problem are unknown, but a change in hormone levels is widely considered a major contributing factor. A difficult pregnancy or birth, or the sudden change in routine that comes with motherhood, can be a catalyst as well. Individuals with a personal or family history of depression may also be at greater risk.
And PMAD does not discriminate. It can, and does, take hold of a young, single, financially unstable mother the same way it would a professional, well-off Type-A personality.
All perinatal mood disorders, if handled correctly, are temporary and treatable. Women are encouraged to know the signs and symptoms, as early diagnosis is important.
Day 2 of this series will examine the treatment available for mothers who are willing to speak up. There's only one center in New Jersey devoted to this issue.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.