When I was a newly minted mother with my first of three kids, I went through a bout of what my midwife called “the baby blues.” Except that, at the time, I felt a nagging suspicion that the bouts of crying, the constant feeling of hopelessness, and the terrifying violent thoughts of hurting my baby or myself were not normal. I was eventually diagnosed with Postpartum Depression (PPD) — just like 600K other women each year in the United States.
In my case, I was lucky to have been surrounded by midwives who were fiercely protective of mothers and they made sure that I was attended to by physicians who would respect me and treat me with compassion. Sadly, it turns out that this is less common than one would think. As Jessica Porten illustrated in her now-viral Facebook post, the American health care system has a ton of work to do in terms of treating women with dignity, respect, and compassion.
“I had an OB appointment yesterday, my first since giving birth 4 months ago (because they kept canceling my appointments), which is inhumane in my eyes,” Porten wrote in her post. “I went to the appointment alone with Kira. It was at 2:10, and I was not called back to a room until 3:15. A nurse practitioner comes in (one I don’t particularly care for) and I tell her everything my husband told them when he scheduled me the appointment a week ago. That I have postpartum depression that is manifesting in fits of anger, and I want to discuss my medication options. I tell them I have a very strong support system at home, so although I would never hurt myself or my baby, I’m having violent thoughts and I need medication and therapy to get through this. She rushed through my pelvic exam, barely spoke about medication, said she needed to talk to the doctor about my PPD, and left the room.
They called the f*cking cops on me.”
Can you believe that?! Instead of taking the time to sit down, show some empathy, and ask a ton of questions, Porten’s doctor instead called the police. The horrifying experience that started at 2:10 PM finally came to a close at 10:45 PM, when a nurse decided that Porten — who by this time had been assigned a security guard — did not need a psych evaluation.
The story unfolds as a terrifying saga that is all too real for far too many women. And it has clearly struck a chord, as it has been shared more than 32K times.
Porten further described the situation after her OB called the police:
“Not once during all of this has a doctor laid eyes on me. Not once. Not even before they decided to call the cops on me. The social worker hands me some papers and discusses the information in them, telling me she thinks these “will probably be good resources for you.”
I leave the ER at midnight, my spirit more broken than ever, no medication, no follow up appointment, never spoke to a doctor. This was a 10 hour ordeal that I had to go through all while caring for my infant that I had with me. And that’s it. That’s what I got for telling my OB that I have PPD and I need help. I was treated like a criminal and then discharged with nothing but a stack of xeroxed printouts with phone numbers on them.”
In her post, she also asks some fairly obvious and yet still provocative questions such as, “Why is the way I was treated standard procedure? What can we do to improve standard procedures for all postpartum mothers, but also specifically those at a higher risk for developing PPD and presenting with signs of PPD? Who is most qualified to make suggestions for improvements? Who is actually capable of making the changes to standard procedures, and how can we contact them?”
Critically, she even points out something that should be obvious but isn’t for many.
“I may be marginalized as a woman, but I am white and heterosexual and hold privileges in these places. I am scared for our mothers of color and our LGBTQ mothers who seek out help in these situations. Why was I let go, when so many others would have been put on a mandatory 72-hour psychiatric hold, and had their children taken away? Why do a disproportionate number of women of color who have PPD not receive the services they need, even when they initiate treatment?
While we may not all agree on how to fix the current health care crisis, we can certainly all agree that women — of all colors and walks of life — deserve to be cared for fully and with dignity, respect, and empathy.