The Center for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, part of Monmouth Medical Center, receives 13 new calls per day, on average, from women struggling to take on the most common complication of pregnancy and childbirth — the hormonal, physical and emotional changes that may tag along with the grueling process.

In the center's first full year of operation, 2016, it saw 1,738 patient visits. In 2018, the 12-month count topped 3,500. The center in 2019 is on pace to see more than 4,000 visits.

"Everyone calls crying, and everyone sounds like they're admitting something to a priest in a small booth," said Lisa Tremayne, center director.

As the months and years go by, and the stigma attached to postpartum depression and similar issues deteriorates, fewer moms are feeling ashamed or staying "in hiding" with their symptoms, experts say.

And judging by the demand seen at the center and anecdotal remarks from colleagues nationwide, Tremayne said the "one in five women" statistic may be underestimating the size of the problem.

"I really think it's one in three," she said.

The center in Long Branch, a multidisciplinary operation offering women everything from art therapy and support dogs to mental health nurses and group therapy, is the first and only in New Jersey to take on the issue. It started as one room three years ago, but now uses many for patient intake and therapy sessions.

"We've actually had to go to the hospital and look for more space, because the volume of patients and the need that we have for therapists here is increasing almost weekly," said Carolyn Stack, maternal wellness RN with the center.

The staff see patients visit regularly from as far as an hour away. The center is equipped with a referral list of individual therapists trained in this area of expertise, in case a woman can't make the ride.

"The resources are very few and far between," Stack said. "The right therapy is important. There are a lot of therapists who maybe aren't trained in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and that can be harmful."

Both Stack and Tremayne are survivors themselves.

Tremayne said a center similar to Monmouth Medical's "feels like a no-brainer" in every hospital that delivers babies. But there's fewer than a dozen nationwide.

In March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted approval for the first-ever medication specifically designed to treat postpartum depression. Zulresso is administered through a continuous IV infusion for 60 hours.

Tremayne said the center is already receiving calls from mothers about the drug, and Monmouth Medical Center is going through the process to offer it. The treatment is not a front-line offense, however, and will likely come in handy for the most severe cases or woman resistant to other medication such as Zoloft.

A survivor of postpartum anxiety and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder, Manahawkin resident Nicole Obenshine is the creator and face of Postpartum to Powerful. Her virtual platform, offering what she describes as a "transformational healing program," gives moms the chance to receive care right from their homes — even group sessions and Reiki healings.

Nicole Obenshine, creator of Postpartum to Powerful, is a survivor of postpartum anxiety and OCD. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)
Nicole Obenshine, creator of Postpartum to Powerful, is a survivor of postpartum anxiety and OCD. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

"I am not a medical professional, I'm not a therapist, I'm just a survivor and an advocate that did the journey I'm trying to help others go through," Obenshine said. "Moms do this amazing, bravest, strongest thing by delivering a child into this world, and then we basically lose ourselves. So this is a way to just find that inner power that moms have."

The state's free Family Health Line— 1-800-328-3838 — operates 24/7 to offer information and resources on a number of topics including pregnancy-related mood disorder. The state health department said the hotline received 574 calls specifically for "postpartum mood disorder" in the first three quarters of Fiscal Year 2019.

For many of these mothers, learning they're not alone in this battle is enough to provide some healing. Day 3 of this series will examine the strength of mom-to-mom communication, and discuss the signs you can look for as a spouse, parent, friend or coworker.

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