Having a baby is one of the most exciting events in a woman’s life. But for some new moms, the stress, anxiety and lack of sleep may turn into something they did not expect – depression.
About 1 in 7 women in the United States experience postpartum depression, according to Caroline Pence, executive director of Postpartum Education and Support, a Wake County-based nonprofit established in 1998 and dedicated to the emotional wellness of mothers.
“Our main purpose is so no woman will suffer in silence,” explained Pence. “There’s a lot of attention focused on preparing for a baby’s arrival, but not always (on) the well-being of mom. Our goal is to help them recover quickly so they can get back to the joyful experience of parenting.”
PES provides services for both the health care community and the general public. They include a weekly peer-led support group, Moms Supporting Moms; a telephone support line; and postpartum awareness classes geared toward families. Pence estimates 150 new moms are assisted each year.
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Days after giving birth to a son in 2010, Raleigh resident Kyla Wedsworth had what she described as a full-blown anxiety attack. She knew something was wrong and begged her husband to take her to the hospital.
“I thought I was dying,” said Wedsworth. “I had a lot of support the first few days after Trent’s birth. But soon the visitors left, my husband went back to work and I had trouble nursing.”
Tom Wedsworth took his wife to the doctor, where she was diagnosed with postpartum depression and prescribed medication. In the waiting room, he noticed a brochure advertising PES and its support services.
A week later, Kyla Wedsworth attended her first Moms Supporting Moms group meeting. Her son was 2 weeks old.
“I walked in with little hope and scared of the unknown,” she said. “The sharing that went on during that meeting, the acceptance and nonjudgmental support, gave me hope. I left that day knowing that things would work out for me.”
Four years later, Wedsworth has a new outlook on life and parenting, thanks to PES. She now lends her time to the group, facilitating meetings and manning the telephone support line.
“I am here today because this group saved my life,” said Wedsworth. “I now want to help other women get better and give them hope.”
Executive Director Pence describes PES as a lean organization with only two part-time paid staff members, an advisory board and 25 active volunteers. Both employees work from home so there is no need for a physical office. Weekly support meetings are held at the offices of a local OB-GYN.
But the group’s needs are still great, as she says an estimated 22 babies are born in Wake County each day, with new moms needing support.
“There’s a lot we can’t do that we’d love to,” said Pence. “We’d like to do more outreach to pediatrician’s offices and offer education for them and early development child care providers about screening moms for postpartum depression.”
She noted many doctors will screen at either a six-week obstetrician follow-up or baby’s first well visit appointment. Even then, though, the focus is generally on physical childbirth recovery or a baby’s growth.
PES is seeking volunteers to facilitate meetings, provide child care and donate snacks. Monetary donations are also needed to purchase books on postpartum depression that are given to women attending the MSM group.
“We would love to expand,” said Pence. “For every person who outgrows our program, there are new moms coming in.”