This post was originally published in Healthy Together magazine, a publication of Monmouth Medical Center
Colleen Tarlton knew it would be stressful to bring her triplet baby boys home from the hospital. Born in October 2017 at Monmouth Medical Center (MMC) via emergency C-section, her sons were 12 weeks premature. They spent two months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at The Hirair and Anna Hovnanian Foundation, Inc. Regional Newborn Center (RNC) at The Unterberg Children’s Hospital at MMC. “We went from having monitors in the NICU and nurses 24/7 to being responsible for keeping these three tiny babies alive without any kind of monitor or help,” she says. “It was scary.”
Colleen had experienced anxiety previously and took the antianxiety medication alprazolam (Xanax) when she had to fly, but that was minor compared to the anxiety she felt caring for the babies. “When the boys came home, I was color-coding their bottles and pacifiers and trying not to mix things up,” says Colleen, 43, who lives in Lacey Township and works as a project manager at a financial institution. “I was so crazed about having a germ-free environment for them that I had hand sanitizer bottles all over the house. I was terrified that they were going to get sick.”
In addition, Colleen was overcome by fear. “I was like, what if there’s a car accident? What if the babies have an apnea episode (in which they stop breathing) in the middle of the night and I don’t know it?” Needless to say, she had trouble sleeping.
Despite her lack of sleep and worries, Colleen didn’t suspect she had a problem. “I kept chalking it up to being a first-time mom of premature triplets,” she says. “Finally, about a month or so after the babies came home, my husband told me I wasn’t acting like myself. He urged me to call the hospital.”
A common mood disorder
It turns out, Colleen has a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD), which affects an estimated one in seven new moms. Symptoms, such as sadness and irritability, can begin just before delivery or up to a year afterward. (See “Signs of PMAD.”) Typically, the condition occurs one week to one month after delivery, when levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone plummet, causing chemical changes in the brain. “PMAD is more than just the ‘baby blues,’” says Robert Graebe, MD, Chair and Program Director of Obstetrics and Gynecology. In severe cases, a woman can’t take care of herself or her child, and may even harm herself or the infant.
Colleen got the help she needed at MMC’s Center for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, which recently became the first hospital program in the country to receive the Platinum Maternal Mental Health Friendly certification from the Bloom Foundation for Maternal Wellness, an organization committed to helping mothers with PMAD. “This is the highest level of certification a hospital can receive,” says Shannon Hayes, Chief Operating Officer of the Bloom Foundation.
Currently, MMC is one of only 11 hospital programs across the country offering maternal mental health services. It’s the only hospital in New Jersey with a PMAD program for expectant and new moms.
Support for new moms
The Center for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders at MMC has screened more than 800 women and treated more than 500 patients for PMAD. Every day, it receives about 13 calls from new moms, says Lisa Tremayne, RN, who suffered from PMAD herself and is the Center’s coordinator. Patients may see a therapist and a nurse practitioner for antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. Treatment can last a few months to a year or longer. The Center also offers educational classes and support groups for new moms.
Colleen began weekly counseling sessions at the Center and started taking the anti-anxiety medication sertraline (Zoloft) and the antidepressant aripiprazole (Abilify). She also participated in support group sessions with other new moms. “I didn’t realize how bad I felt until I started to feel better,” she says.
Colleen tried returning to work in January 2018, but it was too soon. She ended up taking disability leave for the remainder of the year. “That gave me time to get the medicine that was right for me and the therapy and support groups I needed. I even had some bonding time with the babies,” she recalls.
Today, Colleen continues to take medication and attends occasional therapy sessions. She no longer worries that the boys might mix up their pacifiers. Now that she feels better, she hopes more struggling new moms get the help they need. Says Colleen: “Even if you don’t have a mental health issue, you still need support.”
To learn more about the Center for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders at MMC, visit www.rwjbh.org/monmouth-medical-center/treatment-care/womens-health/perinatal-mood-and-anxiety-disorder-center/.
If you are in crisis, please call 911 or visit your nearest Emergency Department.