Family

Having a baby can be painful. Life after shouldn't have to be.

A new recommendation urges medical providers to screen new mothers for depression.

Having a baby can be painful. Life after shouldn't have to be.

"I was like, 'Hey, I'm having postpartum depression.' I went to my OB, and he kind of brushed me off."

Almost immediately, Heidi Koss knew something wasn't right. The psychology major was experiencing some of the symptoms of postpartum depression and sought help. Sadly, it was hard to come by.

She went to her obstetrician/gynecologist only to be told she needed to "get out more" and maybe "buy a nice dress." She wasn't being heard. She wasn't being taken seriously.


"I kind felt like help was unavailable to me," she says.

She loved her baby, but she didn't love motherhood. Heidi recognized the symptoms of postpartum depression right away. Photo by Heidi Koss, used with permission.

Her postpartum depression continued on, untreated, for 17 months.

For those who've never experienced depression, it may be hard to understand what it's like to feel the symptoms compound over time. Heidi had nightmares, she felt scared, and she was irritable. The more time passed, the worse it got.

"And while I bonded to my baby and I loved my baby, I wasn't enjoying motherhood," she said. "It was a nightmare becoming a mother even though I loved my child."

It wasn't an issue of not bonding with her baby. She did. It was the depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and fear that kept her from keeping calm. Photo by Heidi Koss, used with permission.

Her story isn't at all out of the ordinary. Pregnancy-related depression is very common.

According to Postpartum Support International, between 15% and 21% of women experience moderate to severe symptoms of depression or anxiety during pregnancy. Roughly 21% experience depression after birth. In fact, at that rate, mood and anxiety disorders are one of the most common pregnancy-related complications.

"It was a nightmare becoming a mother even though I loved my child."

Various studies have found that untreated depression and anxiety leave potentially lasting negative effects on parents and children.

That nightmare Heidi went through with her first doctor? It should never happen, but now it should happen much, much less.

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, an independent review board, in early 2016 issued some new, potentially lifesaving guidelines for depression screening. Here's what that means:

  • All adults should be screened for depression (including pregnant women and new moms).
  • Treatment should be made available for people who test positive.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. As Heidi's story illustrates, even when mothers actively sought help, it was sometimes denied. Now, hopefully, screening for depression will become a routine part of pregnancy, and new mothers won't face that same struggle.

"I think it's imperative to do early screening with every single mother every single time," Heidi tells me. Photo by Heidi Koss, used with permission.

Having a treatment plan in place ahead of her second pregnancy made all the difference in the world for Heidi.

Knowing she was at risk — mothers affected by mood and anxiety disorders are more likely to develop them during future pregnancies — she took preemptive measures before and during her second pregnancy, such as receiving therapy and medication to help ease the transition. Shortly after giving birth, symptoms of depression returned. Luckily for her, she had the right people and care providers in place.

"With my first, it took 17 months before I found an appropriate care provider who actually listened and got me into appropriate treatment. ... 17 months is a world of difference."

Not only will new guidelines help prepare doctors, but they'll also reduce stigma that surrounds depression.

In 1996, a National Mental Health Association survey found that the majority of Americans "think of depression as a sign of personal or emotional weakness." Other studies have shown a belief that seeking therapy or medication to treat depression or anxiety is a sign of poor character. Medically, these beliefs are flat-out wrong. Even so, they may deter people from seeking treatment.

If doctors roll depression screening into the battery of tests that accompany pregnancy, they will help normalize and reduce the stigma associated with it.(And, you know, it ensures that they're equipped to help out in these types of situations, as well.) Other tests can be self-administered, such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.

This was a huge step forward in identifying and treating an all-too-common complication.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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