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‘It’s been life-changing’: New moms in Maine face lack of postpartum care, seek help outside of doctor’s offices

By Kathleen Jordan

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    BRUNSWICK, Maine (WMTW) — Many expecting mothers meet with doctors weekly for months leading up to giving birth, but once the baby is born, that routine care for mom drops off suddenly, and many struggle with their mental health.

Studies show up to one in seven women can develop postpartum depression. Last year, Maine extended postpartum Medicaid health care coverage from just 60 days to a full year after giving birth. It’s a step, but many moms say they have to find the help they need outside of their doctor’s office.

A weekly support group for moms in Brunswick at Maine Mother + Company is filling the gap for many.

“It’s been life-changing,” said Emily O’Connor, a mom in the group, “but it’s also nice to feel like you’re not alone.”

She says it was in this support group, not at home, where she first cried about her struggles as a new mom.

“But I was able to feel my feelings with them and they cried with me,” O’Connor said. “It’s hard and beautiful all at the same time.”

Together, they can talk about the pressure they feel to be the mom society had pictured for them.

“Society says you work so hard for this baby, babies, and you should be grateful, and you should be happy all the time,” Renee Dunleavy, another mom in the group, said. “And how you can ever feel resentment? And until you’re in it, you don’t know.”

Dunleavy is a new mom to twins, while her husband’s work on an oil tanker has him away for months at a time.

“Especially with my husband being gone, having the two of them, having two dogs, keeping a household, trying to do all of that and not have support from people kind of also going through the same thing,” she said.

“We don’t spend near enough time learning about the mental health,” Kelley Conroy, a Maternal Field Medicine Physician with MaineHealth, said.

Conroy mostly cares for complicated pregnant patients and has more than a decade of experience in the field.

“I think it’s important to recognize that it can happen to anyone,” she said.

She says more women struggle with postpartum depression or anxiety than people realize. But the resources widely available to new moms, don’t reflect that.

“I mean, if you search for a postpartum app, it comes up with postpartum workouts,” she said. “What message does that send to new parents about what I need to watch out for and what I need to think about for myself in the postpartum period, not my infant, because there’s plenty of resources for that.”

She says the standard care for a new mom is a postpartum visit at six weeks, and that’s it. But research paints a different picture.

“Medically and mentally, we know that’s not the case. That’s not how that works. It’s up to a year,” Conroy said.

She says she has seen a shift in obstetrics over the past decade with more focus on mental health, but many places don’t have enough providers to reach patients more during postpartum.

“More and more people are having babies,” she said. “Postpartum patients leave and new pregnant patients come in, and so it’s trying to figure out where do we have the space for that?”

The standard postpartum visit includes a screening for depression or anxiety and education on what to look for in themselves.

“The tricky part about it is we’re giving that advice to exhausted, sleep-deprived, new parents who are also absorbing all of this information about their infant,” Conroy said.

For Dunleavy, the support group is also helping her cope with a loss of identity. She says financially and mentally, it made sense for her to quit her career, but it hasn’t been an easy transition.

“Because I get so many compliments about how you’re doing this alone with two babies, and in my head, I don’t know any different, so I see women who have one baby, but are going back to work doing it and kudos to you because I couldn’t imagine doing that,” she said.

Maine Mother + Company offers physical and mental therapy as well as support groups and other services.

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