Maritza Hadley bought the audio version of Down Came the Rain, actor Brooke Shields' book on postpartum depression, and felt as though she was listening to her own story.
Hadley, 40, had endured four miscarriages before the birth of her son, Nicholas, in January 2008. She was elated to be a mother and felt fully up to the challenges ahead. But that happiness and confidence soon crumbled.
"My problems started in the second month," after Nicholas was born, she says.
Hadley had been warned that the "baby blues,'' generally a short-lived, mild condition, could strike soon after the birth. But Nicholas was 2 months old and she felt fine.
Then came the Friday night Hadley felt so anxious and depressed, she didn't think she could take care of her baby. Her husband was in a new job and would be training out of town for weeks. So Hadley called her in-laws in Gulfport. "Come over, we're here for you," they told her, and so she did.
A few days later, she told her doctor about her troubling symptoms. She learned she had postpartum depression, a condition that affects up to 20 percent of women at any point up to a year after having a baby, a stillbirth, or miscarriage. In the most extreme cases, women with the condition have harmed themselves or their babies.
Hadley's doctor gave her the antidepressant Zoloft. Eight days passed with no relief. Hadley panicked every time Nicholas cried. She asked not to be left alone with him. At times she couldn't even get out of bed. Then, the medication kicked in and the cloud lifted. "Those were the worst eight days of my life," Hadley says.
Pregnant women are usually asked during prenatal doctor visits or before being discharged from the hospital if they have a history of depression, and if there are problems at home that could cause additional stress. They're also instructed about the symptoms of depression, and told to call their doctors if they notice any.
University Community Hospital in Tampa is taking extra steps to detect postpartum depression and get sufferers the help they need after leaving the hospital.
Since April, moms who deliver at the Women's Center at UCH have been asked to complete a detailed questionnaire to identify patients at high risk for postpartum depression. High-risk moms are seen by a postpartum support specialist before discharge.
Every patient receives printed information on postpartum depression and an oversized plastic mug printed with symptoms and a 24-hour, toll-free number to call for help. In the weeks after leaving the hospital, high-risk women get calls from a UCH registered nurse to see how they're doing emotionally.
The women are also encouraged to attend a free, weekly support group led by a licensed mental health counselor. Called the Mom-to-Mom Connection, the group targets postpartum depression. UCH organizers are applying for grants so they can open the program to the public.
Registered nurse manager June Vinyard was part of a 12-member committee that worked for five years to get the program up and running. Since it was launched in April, Vinyard says, very few women have declined to take the questionnaire. She's already had a call from a doctor's office that reported a new mom called for help because she realized she had the symptoms printed on her UCH mug.
Hadley delivered her son at UCH before the program began, but she's a believer. She volunteers with the support group to help women suffering as she did.
"This is temporary,'' she reassures them. "It's going to go away."
Irene Maher can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3416.