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After FDA Approval, Hopes For The 1st Postpartum Depression Treatment


There was a significant development in the medical world this week. For the first time, the FDA has approved a drug for postpartum depression. The treatment is extremely expensive and at the moment requires days of inpatient care to administer. But it also works faster than traditional antidepressants, and that's just one reason many are applauding this as a significant breakthrough for the one in seven women who experience depression during pregnancy or after childbirth.

We wanted to talk about this with someone who knows firsthand what that's like, so we've called Teresa Wong. She experienced postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter Scarlet, and she wrote a book in graphic form about her experiences. And it's pretty, well, graphic. It's called "Dear Scarlet." It will be out later this spring. And Teresa Wong is with us now from the studios of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Calgary.

Teresa Wong, thanks so much for talking with us.

TERESA WONG: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Did you fear that you would be - that you would experience this when you were pregnant? I mean, you wrote in the book - it's - you're very funny about it. Like...

WONG: (Laughter).

MARTIN: You wrote about how, well, you know, you didn't really think that much about having kids. You said, well, what if my kids hate me? What if I don't like them? You know, what if they grow up to be terrible people and, like, mess them up?

WONG: Yeah. I...

MARTIN: I mean, you talk about, like, that - all that stuff going on in your head. But...

WONG: I think I was anxious about having children. But you know what? I did not expect to have depression, and I don't know why. Maybe it's because so much of the time that you spend during your pregnancy in the doctor's office - it's almost all about the baby and very little about you. And so it never crossed my mind, actually, until after, when it actually happened.

MARTIN: When did you realize that something was really wrong?

WONG: I think I knew right away, and - but I blamed it on the circumstances of my daughter's birth. I had some complications around her delivery, and so I wasn't really awake or conscious after she was born for a number of hours. And I thought, well, it's because of that I don't feel connected to her. I haven't really bonded to her yet. But when I got home, those feelings were still there, and they just grew day by day. And the more that I spent time with her, especially alone, the more I realized that something was really off.

MARTIN: Can you describe what it's like just going through the day when you're experiencing postpartum depression?

WONG: It's a very long day. You don't have the energy to deal with anything. And so mostly, I kind of laid on the floor a lot (laughter). It's also very quiet because a lot of your feelings are numbed, and so you just kind of go through the day like a bit of a robot.

MARTIN: Like, the numbness is what really stands out for me in the way you describe this. One of the scenes that you write about in the book - and there were a number of them like this - is that you were still in the hospital. You were so exhausted that you had to get the lab tech to help put the baby back in the bassinet. But you...

WONG: Right.

MARTIN: ...Called for help, and it was hours before somebody came to help you. And then your husband got there. You were sobbing uncontrollably. And the nurses - so I see mom is a little emotional today.

WONG: (Laughter).

MARTIN: You know? It just would seem that the very people who should have known that you really did need help and that there was something significant going on with you didn't. And that's a little scary. I mean, did you find that, like, the medical personnel - did they seem to grasp that postpartum depression is really a thing, that this wasn't just baby blues?

WONG: I feel like that when I finally got help that the medical community was very serious about it. I think the problem was maybe the delineation between baby blues and postpartum depression isn't all that clear because people do expect a little bit of crying and kind of just hormones wreaking havoc on your system. And so perhaps they don't take it as seriously if you bring that up early on after having a baby. And maybe we do need to look at how to take mothers who kind of know themselves and know that there's something more serious going on - to take them more seriously.

MARTIN: So what was your reaction when you heard that there was this new treatment? I recognize you're not a doctor. You are a writer. But I just - I did wonder if this news meant something to you even though you've passed through that - the worst of it for you.

WONG: Right. Well, I had kind of two reactions. And the first was just feeling encouraged that the medical community is seeing that postpartum depression is a big enough deal that they need to focus on treatment. But my other reaction was kind of to the cost and the time involved. The cost, I read, was something around $34,000 and a 60-hour kind of IV infusion. And I just don't know very many mothers who would be able to take that kind of time at that kind of expense.

MARTIN: You know, we are starting to hear more about postpartum depression. I mean, a number of celebrities have come forward in recent years and have described their experiences with it. I wonder if you still feel that there's a stigma around it, around postpartum depression. Or do you feel like - is anything getting better?

WONG: I do feel like it's getting better. I mean, I've seen it in storylines on television shows now and having people like Chrissy Teigen and Adele kind of come out and admit that they've been struggling with their moods after having babies. I feel like we're coming to a point where awareness has grown. I think it could go even further, really. I think we're on the cusp of something.

MARTIN: That's Theresa Wong, who spoke to us from the studios of the CBC in Calgary. Her graphic novel about her experiences with postpartum depression called "Dear Scarlet" is available for preorder now.

Teresa Wong, thank you so much for talking to us.

WONG: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEAN HAYES SONG, "SMOKING SIGNALS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.