How Could $3 Million for Postpartum Research Hurt Women?

A landmark federal bill aiming to put $3 million into research and education about postpartum depression is gathering controversy as it heads to the Senate floor. Advocates of the Melanie Blocker-Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act (known as the Mother's Act) say it will save the lives of women and finally help develop decent education about a long-dismissed female health problem. Critics say it will cause more women to take pharmaceuticals unnecessarily. But recently the big debate has been not so much about the bill itself as media coverage of the bill.

Last week, Time ran an article about the Mother's Act which featured an interview with a mother who was prescribed Zoloft after giving birth. The drug made things worse, causing her to have violent fantasies.

Time's story ignited the ire of many who argue that the article intentionally left out pro-Mothers Act voices to push an editorial agenda. The ladies on Postpartum Progress, a perinatal health blog founded by a mother who struggled with postpartum depression after the birth of her first child, posted an open letter to Time:

"We cannot understand why Time would choose to sensationalize what is a very serious medical issue for hundreds of thousands of women in the United States each year, and to create controversy around the MOTHERS Act, the one and only piece of legislation that would help to systematize support and services that are sorely lacking in so many places throughout our country."

The language is just as heated on the other side of the debate. The top Google hits for "Mothers Act" are opposition sites that argue the bill is no more than a "psycho-pharmaceutical cartel's profit-driven invention of an epidemic of pregnancy-related mental disorders" that will reinforce an image of women as hysterical hypochondriacs.

This is an important and interesting debate, but the line taken by Time and bill critics is misleading. "Should All Mothers Be Screened for Postpartum Depression?" reads the Time headline. The biggest anti-Mother's Act petition website compares the bill to New Jersey law, which mandates universal screening for postpartum depression. But the Mother's Act does not mandate postpartum screening. An early version of the bill did, but after the mandatory screening issue became the most controversial sticking point of the act, legislators redrafted the bill to merely promote "raising awareness" of screening and developing better diagnosis techniques. But critics are still keying in on the vanished "mandatory" language and running with it.

Only nine congressional representatives (all men, all Republicans) voted against the Mother's Act in the House. No doubt the debate will continue in the Senate (and the doctor's office).

by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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5 Comments Have Been Posted

The Pharmaceutical Industry

If this bill is written by/supported by pharmaceutical lobbyists, then I can tell you exactly who it will benefit. Not that better awareness isn't necessary. But legislation that increases the push to label more women mentally ill and medicate them is not pro-woman, it's pro-pharmaceutical industry and pro-patriarchy. Supportive networks and midwives who treat the entire woman and woman-centered care? That's pro-woman.

mothers' bill

How about a bill against stupid doctors who prescribe without having a full conversation with the patient, and don't do a conscientious follow-up?

This is another catch-22 of

This is another catch-22 of feminism. It sounds like a good idea to support postpartum depression research but in reality it sounds like the bill seeks to create awareness, encourage hospitals to discuss postpartum depression symptoms with both the patient and her family, which could lead to women getting labeled as having or being more likely to have postpartum depression based on bias factors like income, martial status or a woman's lifestyle. Also 'treatment' at this point is limited to drugs which may negatively impact women or their long term health. I fear that natural remedies will be ignored and discouraged by medical professionals as courses of treatment for women creating further conflict between women and overzealous doctors who seem quite happy forcing treatments on women.

Clarification on your summary of my story etc.

"featured an interview with a mother who was prescribed Zoloft after giving birth. The drug made things worse, causing her to have violent fantasies."

The drug Zoloft did not "make things worse" it actually caused me to turn from a worried mother after my son almost died in the ER, into a psychotic, homicidal, suicidal person. It caused problems that never existed, it did not "make them worse." When the doses were increased, I got worse. When I tapered off and stopped Zoloft AMA, I got better. I had a second baby also against earlier advice from the fear mongerers who told me I would get "PPD" again and worse if I had another baby, and never had mental health problems. I have been off Zoloft since November 2004 with zero problems. I never had a single mental health problem before Isaac was born. I am 31 years old. So 4 months of hell compared to 30 1/2 years of happiness, I wonder which way is better??

If you want the whole story watch my video here:

Here's the paragraph about me that seems to tick so many people off (you want balance? how would a long laundry list of pro-MOTHERS Act stories make a balanced story at all? I have seen the rewritten version of the TIME article that was published on another website and circulated around as though it were a summary of the "debate" and it looks like your side had plenty of their own quotes in the article...):

"Why? Because increased screening could lead to an increase in mothers being prescribed psychiatric medication unnecessarily. That concern lies close to the heart of Amy Philo, 31, of Texas, who has become a leader of the anti–Mothers Act movement. In 2004, shortly after her first son was born, he choked on his vomit and needed emergency treatment. Her son recovered, but after the incident, Philo became preoccupied with his safety and felt severe anxiety about protecting him — a common symptom of PPD. "After a one-minute conversation with my doctor, he gave me Zoloft and said it would make me and my baby happy," she recalls. But Philo says she started having suicidal and homicidal thoughts, which got stronger when another doctor raised her dosage. Eventually, Philo says, she weaned herself off the drug, and her violent feelings disappeared. (Zoloft, like other antidepressant drugs in its class, carries a black-box warning that it can increase suicidal ideation in patients ages 24 and under but not in adults of Philo's age.)"

Here is Melanie Stokes' paragraph (do you have a problem with this one too?):

"A month after Melanie Blocker-Stokes gave birth, she stopped eating and sleeping. She had convinced herself that she was a terrible mother, and she was paranoid that the neighbors thought so too. Over two months, Blocker-Stokes was repeatedly hospitalized for postpartum psychosis; prescribed a cocktail of antipsychotic, antianxiety and antidepressant drugs; and treated with electroconvulsive therapy. Despite her family's efforts to help, Blocker-Stokes leaped to her death from the 12th story of a Chicago hotel in 2001, when her daughter was 3½ months old."

That's right, the woman for whom the bill was named actually killed herself after the repeated electroshocks, drug cocktails and hospitalizations. Let's pass a bill to promote more of the same types of "help" for women.

Ever wonder why there's no drug FDA approved for use in pregnant and nursing moms??????

Think marketing a disease when you can't market a new use for a drug.

Have a fantastic day.

thanks for chiming in

Thanks for your comment, Amy, it's good to hear your perspective on both the Times article and my reporting.

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