On the third Monday of every month, a group of women gather in the chapel at Kalispell Regional Medical Center to discuss their struggles with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, which in some parts of the United States impact an estimated one in every five mothers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The mothers and expecting mothers are part of a peer support group known as the Postpartum Resource Group, which strives to “provide support, advocacy and resources for mothers experiencing postpartum mood disorders.” The group, which founder Jana Sund said has been a salient addition to the local community, is one of a handful of support groups for those experiencing illnesses such as postpartum depression. Baby Blues at North Valley Hospital, named after what many in the maternal medical realm refer to the disorders as, is another resource.
The need for such a group in the Flathead is evident in more ways than one, but is perhaps a need best-recognized in the testimonials from group members themselves.
During last month’s meeting, one member said she “came to the group lost and suicidal and has transformed, through support, into an advocate and survivor.”
Another said the group has been a blessing and that “it’s so encouraging to be able to share how life is going and know that everyone understands and won’t judge me.” Another pointed to the old adage of how it takes a village to raise a child, with the group being one of the most integral parts of her village.
Aside from those involved with the group, the greater Flathead community has also expressed a desire for more resources for those dealing with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Most recently, the Postpartum Resource Group nudged its way to No. 5 overall on the leader board of Flathead Gives for the most donations raised from the community. Donations for Flathead Gives were accepted through May 17. A total of $76,816 was raised from 739 donors for 44 nonprofits across the valley. About $6,400 from 76 donors went to the postpartum pier support group.
“I think it shows that the community is really behind this. For what has been a grassroots effort, we thought that was really incredible.” Sund said. “This is something that impacts a lot of people.”
Most women at some point during or after their pregnancy, will experience some mild changes in mood, largely due to a change in hormones. However, an estimated 15 to 20 percent of women will struggle with “significant symptoms of depression or anxiety,” according to Postpartum Support International, a nonprofit organization that helps women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
“Women may experience anxiety, anger, brain fog, which can almost make you feel like you can’t articulate words. Insomnia is also common, you’re so exhausted, but still can’t sleep,” Sund said. “It can be very isolating and a lot of women feel ashamed of it when they shouldn’t.”
Symptoms of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders can appear at any time during a woman’s pregnancy and can then linger for up to a year after childbirth. Anxiety and depression during and after a pregnancy is most often associated with postpartum depression, but since the disorders can appear during the actual pregnancy, Sund said that association can be misleading.
The symptoms, which can occur before and up to a year and a half after childbirth, are wide-ranging, from difficulties bonding with one’s baby to issues with eating and sleeping to upsetting thoughts or concerns that one may harm themselves or their child.
And Sund, 39, is no stranger to some of those symptoms.
The mother of three said she experienced various bouts of depression during and after two of those pregnancies. She can recall seeing the world in gray for a long period of time, both literally and figuratively, which she said cued challenges in many aspects of her life, including her workplace and in her role as a mother and wife.
“I became passionate about helping other women after suffering through this sort of lonely journey,” Sund said. “There is a whole group of women that I had to find access to.”
Sund started a support group in 2014 for her patients at FamilyBorn Maternity and Women’s Health where she still works as a certified midwife. But years later, in 2017, she realized she had to extend the service to others beyond her scope of care at the clinic.
That’s when, with the help of some of her patients at FamilyBorn, Sund launched the nonprofit Postpartum Resource Group, which is now headed by her colleague and friend Allison Myren. The group is an all-women force from its members to its leaders and its board of directors, which consists of nine women including doctors, nurses and teachers.
A typical meeting consists of attendees sharing their stories, followed by further discussion and the occasional activity. The leaders of the group discuss multiple resources available for diagnosing and treating postpartum and other disorders with counseling or medications such as antidepressants, which Sund said she personally helped her.
“At one time I was undiagnosed and untreated, and it totally affected my bond with my little one. I was taking care of her, but was just miserable emotionally, which is something I know now could have been helped with medication,” Sund said. “ What I typically tell women is that we can expose you and your baby to illness or to medication. And research is showing that exposure to illness is much worse on the baby and bonding.”
Sund said many women are hesitant to try medication and should they choose that option, the support group can point to alternative resources, including counseling.
She noted medication can help with some of the more extreme disorders especially, such as psychosis in which thoughts of harming oneself or their child may actually turn into action. Sund said while this is rare — occurring about 1% of the time in psychosis cases and after a long stretch without sleep — it is generally something that can be avoided with the right medication and the right support system.
In many ways the support group is still in its infancy. In the coming months and years Sund would like the group to meet more frequently than once a month and wants to expand the volunteer base.
One specific vision she has had for a while now is to incorporate doulas into the group and have people available on-call to travel to the homes of mothers and act as a liaison for their personal needs, ranging from help with cooking meals and cleaning to advice on how to get an adequate amount of sleep. Part of that vision is being able to provide immediate resources for women with acute, more severe needs such as those dealing with psychosis.
“Like you can call on Big Brothers and Big Sisters, we want people to know they can call the group and we will have people ready to go for them,” Sund said.
The group’s next meeting is May 20. More information regarding the group can be found at www.postpartumresourcegroup.org
Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or email@example.com