Utah Women 20/20: A Grassroots Approach To Mother's Wellness

Dec 5, 2018

It happens every day – in a hospital, in a car, at home – babies are born. Almost 4 million babies were born in 2016 in the U.S., that’s nearly 11,000 babies a day. 

Especially after a first baby, the homes of many new moms are packed with people, presents and casserole pans from well-meaning neighbors. But, when the excitement fades, and the inevitable exhaustion sets in, where do moms go for support?

“There’s an expectation about how you feel after you have a baby,” said Jessica Poulsen, a doula – or professional birthing partner – who has been assisting Cache Valley mothers for six years. “You know everybody expects the glowing mother, just kind of basking in the newborn cuddles, that oxytocin high that you get after having a baby, and just this kind of little love nest. I feel like more often than not we kind of come short of this. We have those lovey amazing moments, but nobody talks about the hard stuff.”

Can you relate to this? Here’s how Jessica describes what it’s like after having a baby.

“A mother after birth, it’s like getting in a car accident and being sent home and being expected to care for a little person who also just felt like they were in a car accident.”

And this is under normal circumstances. What if mom delivers by C-section? What if baby needs to spend time in the NICU? And what about post-partum depression and anxiety?

“Current studies are showing that 1 in 7 to 1 in 9 mothers experience some form of postpartum depression or PPD.  So that could be basic baby blues and that could be the extreme end of that is postpartum psychosis,” said Launa Janssen-Campbell, a midwife who has been working in Cache Valley for decades.

What are the signs of postpartum depression?

“So, one of the key factors that we notice is the mother doesn’t want the baby," Launa said. "Usually, moms after that big hard long labor, if they’re afraid of the baby or they don’t want to hold the baby or everything about the baby stresses them. Mothers that experience psychosis, they become hyper-vigilant, won’t let anyone touch the baby, or start feeling that someone else is going to harm their baby.”

Like most mental health issue, Launa said, people experiencing postpartum depression may not want to admit there is a problem, causing the issue to go untreated.

“And I get many that say, ‘The baby’s crying made me crazy. And I just, what am I doing wrong, and I couldn’t handle it,’ and there’s tears and they aren’t sleeping, and they are afraid to nurse the baby, and that’s postpartum depression. And let’s talk about it. A lot of times resources, some basic resources, and you can get her back on her feet. It’s just asking for help,” she said.

So, what do moms need? Like a couple days after? Weeks? Months?

“Goodness, so much,” Launa said. “So, sleep, especially in the beginning stages, because your body needs to heal. So, you need sleep, great nutrition. We have found that an anti-inflammatory diet is actually best for depression as a whole… And as a whole, I think in the United States, our mental health services we don’t have a ton of clinical resources and that’s a need as well.”

Services such as hiring a postpartum doula or lactation specialist are available but often are not financially feasible for families, especially young parents. That’s why some local moms are taking a grassroots approach to getting the resources they need.

“Through working with mothers prenatally and through postpartum, we found that there was a big lack in postpartum care,” Jessica said. “We would see mothers and see issues arise with postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and things like that. And we would have a very short list of things, like places to send them, and when those resources weren’t cutting it we just had to through our hands in the air and say, ‘We don’t know what to do with you.’ And that’s really sad.”

So what did she do? She started an organization with other local doulas and midwives to help moms get what they need. It’s called The Mother To Mother Postpartum Project.

Jessica said it broke her heart when a mom would reach out and she wasn’t able to help. She recognizes the act of asking for help is a big step and she hated not having resources for struggling mothers.

“When we were sitting down, in the beginning, we made a list,” she said. “We’re like, ‘OK, what do moms need postpartum?' Like hiring a postpartum doula to come in and take a nightshift with the baby. Meals brought it… In doing a lot of research about postpartum depression and anxiety just the actual act of having community really cuts down your risk for these things.”

And the Mother to Mother Project helps moms find that community by hosting support group gatherings in Logan, Brigham City and Ogden.

Jessica said often when a mother is dealing with PPD, they don’t have the desire or ability to do the research on their own. With the Mother To Mother website, the group has done the work for them. Services range from holistic to modern medicine – a necessary range, Jessica said, because all moms are different. 

“And also for mothers who can’t afford doulas, they just reach out to us and we help them to be able to get that doula,” she said.

Postpartum doulas can help a mother get a full night sleep but the average cost for this service is $20 an hour. Recently, Mother To Mother Project had to turn away three clients in need of a postpartum doula. Jessica never wants that to happen again and hopes to have the organization qualify as a nonprofit so more resources can go to mothers following the birth of a child.  

“We want anybody to know that if they see a friend they suspect might be dealing with postpartum issues, they will already have the name of this project in their minds.”

And Midwife Launa, she wants to encourage moms to fight.

“If you want those changes, you’re going to have to fight for them all along. In other countries, our mother mortality rates and morbidity rates in infants are all better. We have more women in those countries that are politically active. You as woman are going to get what you want if you are willing to fight for it.”