Sunday, October 31, 2010

Faint Phantom Spells

There is a phantom that haunts more women than men.

It triggers feelings of intense sadness, anxiety and weariness. It changes moods, behaviors and to a point, even possesses an entire person.

It is the same phantom that drove Andrea Yates to drown all her five children in the bathtub at her home in Texas, USA in June 2001. About a decade later in Manila, Philippines, the same phantom impelled the mother of Baby George to dump her newborn in the restroom bin of a Gulf Air plane. Both Yates and Baby George’s mother are said to be suffering from postpartum depression and psychosis.

Wikipedia describes Postpartum Depression as:

“a form of clinical depression which can affect women, and less frequently men, after childbirth… occurs in women after they have carried a child, usually in the first few months, and may last up to several months or even a year.”

Postpartum Depression (and its other forms) is commonly attributed to changes in hormones during and after a woman’s pregnancy. However, just like any psychological condition, other causes of postpartum depression are socio-economical. Nurse-midwife researcher Cheryl Tatano Beck, cites a broad range of predictors to postpartum depression, which include smoking, low self esteem, childcare and life stress, low social support, poor marital relationship, single parenthood, low socioeconomic status and unplanned/unwanted pregnancy.

The phantom, however, may not always be as fierce as Yates' or Baby George's mom's. Postpartum depression remains a condition that typical Filipino women won't openly discuss for fear of being labeled baliw (mad woman). For better understanding, postpartum mood changes are classified into three subgroups and are characterized as follows:

1. ‘Baby blues’ – mood swings, feelings of being overwhelmed, tearfulness, impatience, restlessness, anxiety, sadness, low self-esteem, heightened sense of vulnerability (NWHIC)
2. Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders or Postpartum Depression – more intense feelings of sadness, despair, anxiety, and irritability (NWHIC)
3. Postpartum psychosis – extreme form of postpartum depression: losing touch with reality, distorted thinking, delusions, auditory hallucinations, paranoia, hyperactivity, and rapid speech or mania (Phil. Senate)

Given the range of postpartum mood conditions, it's easy to point out that victims do not always end up helpless and powerless against the invisible force. For instance, Brooke Shields and Christine Bersola-Babao openly wrote about their experience in overcoming depression, respectively, in Down Came the Rain and Baby, it's the blues! while model-turned-mom Tweetie de Leon-Gonzales more actively beat her blues with her newfound interest on squash.

These women tell tales of triumph over postpartum depression though many do not share the same stories. A lot of women are not even aware of being possessed by the phantom since it is often hard to tell postpartum blues from an ordinary case of blues.

To make matters worse, treatments do not always come in handy. Being partly driven by socio-economical factors, hormonal treatments are both insufficient and inaccessible to most women. What seems to be really effective is a support group that is conscious of postpartum depression.

Sadly, the Philippines has yet to take a long and mean battle to improve the postnatal conditions of Filipina mothers. Postpartum depression is a condition that may be addressed by the RH Bill through the proposed Reproductive Health Care Program, which is, however, lost in mainstream debates. Again, the RH Bill is not just about contraceptives and what is mistaken to be pro-abortion and "Sex Education." The Bill contains other important provisions that definitely deserve due consideration.

Unless we shed light on these issues, I'm afraid to say that the phantom continues to loom in the dark, just right on our doorsteps.

End Note: I loosely used postpartum depression (PPD) to refer to the postnatal mood changes/conditions for easy reading. Please be guarded by the sub-groups and their classifications.

Sources and More Readings: