Postpartum depression: Utah moms seek help before it's too late

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SALT LAKE CITY — The memory haunts him. Randy Gibbs looks at framed photos of his sister and baby nephew.

"We lost them Dec. 19, 2007," he said. His sister, Jenny, an editor at Southern Living Magazine, gave birth to Graham just seven weeks before.

"I was working that night and I just couldn't believe it. 'Are you sure it's Jenny?'" asked Gibbs, who lives near Sacramento, California.

Behind the smiles, she was not an open book. Unbeknownst to anyone, she had postpartum psychosis. She took her baby's life and then her own.

"They had everything to look forward to," he said. "She was going to have a great life out there and she couldn't make it. She couldn't tell anyone because she felt so ashamed."

950,000 moms suffer from postpartum depression

Postpartum depression affects women of all ages, education levels, and ethnicities. Some 6.4 million women give birth each year in the U.S., 15 percent of whom report they have postpartum depression; about 950,000 mothers. Most women are too afraid to tell anyone something is wrong.

Jennie Filimoeatu of West Jordan sought help after her depression worsened with each pregnancy. By her fourth of five children, she was out of control.

"That's when I completely lost it, lost mental control altogether," Jennie said at a support meeting for women at The Healing Group. "I wanted to tie a satin ribbon around my neck and just die. Tie it as tight as I could, strangle myself, and die."

Empathetic eyes surround Jennie; women who have been there, or close to there. Seated on the floor, with the discussion led by a counselor, the women talk about their deepest fears.

Jennie's husband joins her on the couch after the meeting. He said he tried to understand the rages and the suffering, but it was hard.

A husband struggles to understand

"What the hell just happened? The most level-headed person in my life had just lost it," said Filipe Filimoeatu, Jennie's husband, who goes by Fil. He explained he would say to his wife, "I love my life. I don't understand why you're unhappy. We have beautiful kids, we're in a home, we're taken care of. I don't understand what the problem is."

Jennie told health care providers she was fine.

"I didn't know while I was gone she was breaking down," he said.

Jennie turned to her Mormon faith, believing her problem was spiritual.

"I prayed and I fasted all the time, and I prayed all the time and I fasted all the time, and I'd go to church and I didn't feel better," she said.

"'God hates me.' That was a constant topic of conversation," Fil said. "God hates me. This is why I feel this way. I don't know what I've done, but God hates me."

Finally, they sought medical help. Jennie stayed in the hospital for a week. Medication has worked and she is no longer in that dark place.

"It was really hard," she said, wiping away tears. "My kids would come in and I would hear them. I would hear my little girl say to my other little girl, 'Mommy's crying again.'"

Asking for help is the hardest part

Jennie is not alone. Many women who suffer from postpartum depression feel strangely apart from everyone, like they're in a fog. They feel this temporary state, frozen in time, is their new reality and they've lost themselves forever. But with help, it's 100 percent treatable.

"This is real, this has a name. I'm not just going crazy," said Kristin Hodson, LCSW, executive director of The Healing Group. She felt depressed after her first baby. "And I'm a therapist and it was this hard for me to get help. What are all these families in Utah doing that are just suffering in silence?"

She started her own practice, The Healing Group, offering therapy and support for women.

"A really important thing for the postpartum brain is protein," said Alisha Worthington, SSW, postpartum group facilitator.

"The thoughts I was having, if I say anything to anybody, 'Oh my gosh, are they going to lock me up? Are they going to take away my baby?'" Mary Stanley, a mother, says as the group discusses judgement and fears.

Signs and symptoms
Postpartum depression
  • Intense, long lasting sadness
  • Not bonding with baby
  • Excessive crying
  • Withdrawal from loved ones
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Intense irritability, anger, short temperedness
  • Severe anxiety, panic attacks
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Reduced interest in activities you typically enjoy
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby
Info: Info: Dr. Hale
Baby blues
  • Last a few days or a couple weeks
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Crying
  • Reduced concentration
  • Appetite problems
  • Trouble sleeping
Info:Utah Department of Health

Intrusive thoughts, stigmas and ignorance

"They're almost just like mental flashes," said Lindsay Aerts, who has a one-year-old daughter. "Flashes of like, I was sitting on the couch, and it was like, 'What if I just put my baby in the fire?' And I just pictured her crying as I walked away. And it's like: that's such a horrible thought to have."

"Keeping everyone in this system of motherhood is hard, but motherhood doesn't mean you're suffering," Hodson said. "There's a big difference."

Marcy, who didn't give her last name, is in the thick of postpartum depression with her third baby. She blogs about the numbness and the pain in hopes of helping other moms. She has a history of depression in her family.

"I certainly have those days where I'm tired and overwhelmed and I feel like I can't quite handle the day," she said.

Though it's too late for Randy's sister and his nephew, he's doing all he can. He started the Web site Jenny's Light in their honor.

"If they are suffering, if they're on the computer in the middle of the night, if they find, and they go there and realize they can be saved and it's a 100 percent treatable illness, then we've done our job," Gibbs said.

Doctors recommend you tell someone if you're feeling sad, have a loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping or concentrating. It's hard for moms to ask for help. You're a new mom every time you give birth and it can happen with your first baby or your fifth. Sadness isn't always the primary symptom, either. Perinatal mood disorders occur during pregnancy and up to a year after birth, and symptoms vary.

Help is literally just a click away. Visit, or

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