When my beautiful twins were born 11 years ago, I was thrilled, but simultaneously and inexplicably felt myself slipping into a black hole of depression.
It was embarrassing, debilitating, and I had no idea what was happening to me. As a covert CIA operations officer working on nuclear counterproliferation issues, I think it’s fair to say that up until that point in my life, I had experienced high degrees of stress but always managed to cope and bounce back. This time, however, I had no resilience and retreated into a kind of numbness.
It wasn’t until several months into this nightmare that I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. My bewilderment and pain could have been shortened considerably if my PPD had been identified and treated through a postpartum assessment routinely administered in a quality Home Visiting program.
I was shocked: I was a highly educated, happily married woman with two beautiful, healthy babies and I was completely thrown off balance by dark feelings I had never before experienced. I finally sought professional help, once a friend clued me in to what might be going on. As I pulled out of this troubling episode — around the time the twins were about 9 months old, I thought of the many women who did not have nearly the resources I had and were struggling with their deep, devastating depression.
PPD is estimated to strike at least 15 percent to 20 percent of all new mothers. It should be noted that these numbers are probably on the low side because what new mother wants to admit that she is overwhelmed and sad when she is bombarded daily with messages about “how special this time is with your baby?” My experience led me to become a passionate advocate for educating and heightening awareness about PPD.
It just doesn’t make sense to me that we wait until a new mother or the whole family is in distress before help is available — it may be too late. Information, awareness and postpartum screenings should be available to all new mothers.
Home visits, a critical component of a comprehensive Early Childhood Development program, are proven effective by promoting language development, healthy parenting, and early referral and screening for both mom and baby. Parents, especially those with stressed home or financial situations need help and support from outside the family to maximize their ability to provide all that is critical in the early years of a child’s life. It is a truism that “the first three years of a child’s life last forever” because those early days and months provide a crucial foundation for both mom and baby. Home Visiting is proven to bolster parent and family caregiving through the following five measures:
Information — Home visits provide parents with education and information about prenatal and postpartum maternal health, newborn care and child development.
Referrals — Home visits provide families with resources such as health care services (like immunization), subsidized health insurance, and other community resources and supports.
Assessment — Home visits are preventative, providing postpartum evaluation and assistance, and constructive assessment of the mothers’ well-being.
Guidance — Home visits provide counsel to parents and other caregivers in order to strengthen positive child development.
Prevention — Home visits can serve as early intervention in parenting or home-life conditions that can adversely affect a young child in development.
Please join me along with a league of parents, business leaders, economists and educators in advocating for our legislators to protect funding for home-visiting programs. Go to www.uwsfc.org to send a letter to your representative or senator to support early education and care. It only takes a few seconds and a click of your computer to make your voice heard.
Investment in home visiting programs, as a critical component of comprehensive early childhood development, means money saved in the future and good for all New Mexicans.