Heather Bernstein spent hours making sure that her son Grayson’s “party animal” themed first birthday party was completely perfect — and it was. But shortly after the guests left and the smash cake a distant memory, a few uncomfortable yet familiar feelings began to crop up in the back of her mind.
“I didn’t have an outlet to focus my attention anymore, so I started to feel anxious and low again,” Heather remembers. “It started to really rear its ugly head. And that’s about the time I reached out to Baptist Behavioral Health.”
New motherhood struggles
From navigating the NICU to sleepless nights spent nursing, Heather’s initial days of being a mother weren’t exactly what she anticipated. Heather was 34 weeks along when she went into labor, and despite doctors’ attempts to stop it, she delivered a baby boy just three days later at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville. Named Grayson, the newborn spent the first two weeks of his life at Wolfson Children’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
As Heather encountered the complexities of new motherhood, she continued to have concerns for Grayson’s health. Feelings of “mom rage” and overwhelm took hold, but it wasn’t until after her son’s first birthday that she realized she may be struggling with a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD).
“I spent the first five minutes telling her everything we had been through and how I was feeling, and I said, ‘I think I have postpartum anxiety and depression.’ She just nodded and said, ‘I think that’s a very astute observation.'”
More than postpartum depression
Dr. Garrett explains that a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder can be any emotional challenge — such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or panic disorder — that occurs during pregnancy or the year after delivery.
“PMADs are quite common,” Dr. Garrett says. “As many as 1 in 5 moms, 1 in 10 dads, and 1 in 3 moms of color will experience a PMAD.”
Two years later, throughout her second pregnancy, Heather continued to see Dr. Garrett on a biweekly basis. These sessions empowered her to develop coping skills and utilize resources before her daughter was born.
“I was able to have my close friends and family sign what we called a ‘postpartum pact.’ It was a list of things I wanted them to look for, and if they started to recognize those behaviors in me, it was important that we act on it,” she shares.
Baby Violet was born healthy and at full term, with Heather finally able to get the labor and delivery experience she’d always hoped for.
“It was very much the healing experience that I needed. I was able to actually pack a hospital bag and have the music I wanted, the aromatherapy, everything,” she recalls. “Just the ability to keep my baby in the room with me and bring her home the next day — whereas Grayson was immediately taken to the NICU — was amazing.”
A space for healing
There is good news for new and expectant moms who may be struggling with PMADs: An exciting new program from Baptist Health known as The Motherhood Space is here to provide that much-needed maternal mental health support.
An intensive outpatient program, The Motherhood Space is designed for expecting moms and anyone who is within 18 months postpartum. Emphasizing wellness and mental health, the day program was created to offer the care and resources mothers often need most, as well as address many of the obstacles that might keep them from seeking professional help.
“We designed The Motherhood Space with moms in mind,” Dr. Garrett says. “The group programming is social and engaging, facilitated by psychologists who specialize in the perinatal period — and who happen to be moms, themselves! We have a private lactation space, a massage chair and relaxation area, transportation services for those in need, and scholarships for moms who use Medicaid.”
Participants in the day program attend sessions three days a week for up to three weeks and engage in a variety of activities including walking therapy and mommy-and-me yoga. Additionally, The Motherhood Space offers a variety of online resources including free educational videos that address topics ranging from support strategies and self-screening tips to PMADs 101 and the baby blues.
“I definitely would have loved something like The Motherhood Space, especially when Grayson was in the NICU,” Heather adds. “If it had existed when I was pregnant or postpartum, the healing would have started much sooner.”
Don’t be afraid to seek outside support
Grayson is now 5 and Violet is 2, and Heather continues to talk to others about perinatal mental health and encourages new and expectant moms to seek outside support when they need it.
“Always speak up. Always tell your closest friends or family what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help and use the resources that are available.”
Dr. Garrett adds, “Trust your gut and know that your insight is a strength. If you’re not feeling well, know that you’re not alone. There are things you can do to feel better, and we’re here to help.”
If you are an expectant or new mother who may be suffering from depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition, consider reaching out to The Motherhood Space for support. To learn more, call 904.376.3800 (select option 4 for intensive outpatient program) or visit baptistjax.com/motherhoodspace. To peruse the free YouTube video series, click here.