Mental Illness and the Gap in Maternal Healthcare
I’ve been working on an essay that I’m calling “Maternal Instinct, or OCD?”
So far I’ve interviewed two psychiatrists who specialize in postpartum mental illness. It’s fascinating and heartbreaking. After talking to people who actually get it, I can’t help but realize how rare they are. And how hard it is to get adequate psychiatric care.
I tried to find a psychiatrist when I was pregnant with my first son.
Having already been diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder, I knew I faced a high risk of postpartum depression and other problems. But I couldn’t find anyone who would treat me. My old psychiatrist deemed me too big of a liability, and my family doctor couldn’t find another one within a two-hour radius who was accepting new patients. He ended up prescribing my antidepressants, thumbing through his desktop physicians' guide every time I had a question.
I never found an actual psychiatrist, nor a health care provider who had enough expertise to say, “Look. You’ve already been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The postpartum period will probably exacerbate that. You’ll probably have scary thoughts about intentionally hurting your baby. That doesn’t mean that you’re a bad mother, or that you’re going crazy. It’s just a symptom of the disorder.”
How easy that would have been. How many problems that would have prevented. And yet no one did. No one helped me create a plan going into birth, or gave me a mental health screening afterward.
This was and continues to be an enigma to me.
I live in a developed country, and yet I can’t find adequate treatment for a common condition. Between two and five percent of all new mothers are diagnosed with OCD. Between 11 and 20 percent of women have postpartum depression. The ramifications of these disorders don’t end with postpartum women. They ripple across families and generations.
Who knows how many women suffer in silence because they don’t have the same strong support system I do? Because they don’t have the same outlet in writing?
I told a writer friend: “I should have picked journalism as a ruse to get free psychiatric advice back in my teen years, because it’s the only way I’ve been able to speak to anyone who’s competently treating these disorders.”
It breaks my damn heart to think about it. How systemic this problem is, and how little outrage there is in response.