By Rebecca Copans
Along with pregnancy and the transition to parenthood comes a host of feelings — excitement and happiness to fear and anxiety. While many associate expecting a baby with a joyful “pregnancy glow,” it is estimated that in Vermont one in five people suffer from depression and anxiety during and after pregnancy. During the pandemic, the crisis of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) and isolation intensified, growing to one in three people, according to Support Delivered, a program of the Vermont Department of Health.
“We have many efforts in the state, including the Central Vermont Perinatal Mental Health Coalition, that educate the general public about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders,” says Jennifer Auletta, a licensed clinical mental health counselor with a specialty in maternal health at Central Vermont Medical Center. “Transition to parenthood comes with so many changes — in identity, in relationships, daily routines, responsibilities, worries, returning to work, and finding child care.”
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are common, and can come on at any time during pregnancy or in the first year after pregnancy. Feeling overwhelmed, irritable, guilty, angry, losing interest in previously pleasurable activities, having scary or unwanted thoughts, and exhaustion coupled with insomnia are all symptoms and uncomfortable feelings, but can be addressed with support.
“Parenting a new baby is always a challenge, but it has been particularly isolating during the pandemic,” says Gretchen Elias, executive director of Good Beginnings of Central Vermont. “It is normal to feel overwhelmed. The Climb was created to help new parents build their tribe.”
The organization hosts its fifth annual Climb Out of the Darkness event on June 25 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Statehouse lawn. The event offers a chance for families to connect with each other and learn about the many community resources available in central Vermont for families with new babies.
Isolation can feel crippling to new parents, something the connections that are made at the event are intended to alleviate. One mother, who preferred to speak anonymously (so will be called ‘Emily’) moved to Vermont with her husband during her first pregnancy. After working her entire adult life, she suddenly found herself alone all day while her husband transitioned quickly to a busy job that kept him away from home for long hours.
“I hated being pregnant,” said Emily. “I was just mad. There was enough circumstantial stuff that I was just falling apart. Pregnancy made it all the harder. I was in a pretty rough spot overall.”
Auletta noted that women like Emily are not alone. Auletta has been treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders for 20 years. Working within the Women’s Health Initiative under Vermont’s Blueprint for Health, she connects patients with birthing classes, the Better Beginnings program through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont, prenatal yoga classes, Good Beginnings of Central Vermont, Central Vermont Home Health and Hospice, and other groups that offer strong wrap-around care, supporting as many new parents as possible and helping them enjoy their newborn.
The Blue Cross Better Beginnings program offers members nurse care coordination with referrals to extensive supports both during and after pregnancy, as well as a free breast pump to help nursing mothers, a reimbursement for birthing classes, and in-home postpartum doula care.
When Emily reached out to Good Beginnings, the staff told her they would find a good match for her through the Postpartum Angels program. That match became a lifeline. A volunteer started coming a few hours a week after the baby was born.
“I just needed someone to talk to me. In my case, the Postpartum Angel program gave me a tether.” Moving to Vermont was a culture shock. Good Beginnings “gave me a way to be connected to the community. To have someone to talk to — to get me outside — it was a lifeline.”
Asked what advice she would give to other parents enduring perinatal mood disorders and isolation, she quickly answered, “If there is anything like Good Beginnings near you, just do it. It was hard for me to send that email to sign up. It was hard to say this is me and this is where I am at. But putting myself out there was the best thing I could have done for myself. They did not let me fall through the cracks.”
If you need support, the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline is available for calls or texts at 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Rebecca Copans lives in Montpelier with her husband, children, and many pets. She follows government affairs for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont and believes in community cohesion and good neighbors.