Pushing Past Postpartum Troubles
Danni Starr wants other moms to know they're not alone — and can lose the blues as she did
She is well-known for her work on the TLC Network and as a longtime co-host of the nationally syndicated radio show, “The Kane Show” — but Danni Starr is now lending her voice to a greater cause.
The 31-year-old mother of two from Rockville, Maryland, has become an advocate for postpartum depression awareness. As a survivor, she knows that telling her story plays a valuable role in beating stigma and bringing more awareness to this issue — something she knows is still desperately needed.
Starr experienced PPD after the birth of her first child. Extreme paranoia, anger and sadness plagued her — but she didn't realize her struggles were shared by others. Anywhere from 11 to 20 percent of women who give birth each year have PPD symptoms, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
Often, though, moms suffer in silence. They're afraid to share what they're going through because they're unaware others are facing the same devastating challenges.
Maternal depression is more common four years after childbirth than at any other time in the first 12 months after childbirth.
"The hardest part was the lack of control," Starr said. "I had something happening to my mind and body and it was completely out of my control."
She credits medication, therapy, and an "amazing" support team for getting her through it.
"I wasn't sleeping or eating enough and that was not sustainable," she recalled. "Once we got that back on track, I started to feel like a person again."
Starr is now passionate about helping other mothers through the process. Besides sharing her own story very publicly, she has begun lobbying for legislation to protect mothers and their families. Last month, she spent a day on Capitol Hill testifying before Congress on House of Representatives Bill H.R. 3235 and the companion Senate Bill S. 2311.
The bipartisan bills — supported by 63 members of Congress to date — call for an amendment to the Public Health Service Act to authorize the secretary of Health and Human Services to make grants to states for screening and treatment for maternal depression.
If the bills become law, they would allow the federal government to provide $5 million annually for four years, from 2016 to 2020, to states to support their actions in finding "innovative solutions" to this pervasive problem.
Starr said several problems, such as therapists who don't take health insurance, are making it harder for people to deal with PPD. Working mothers have it especially hard: They have the added stress of returning to regular life more quickly, she said.
Dr. Chantal Marie Gagnon, a licensed psychotherapist in Plantation, Florida, often treats women with PPD. She said many feelings that women experience in the first year after birth are normal in the sense that they are very common. Feeling overwhelmed, being annoyed at the baby, questioning one's love for the baby, or feeling disconnected are a few symptoms of PPD that women often experience — they may just not recognize it as PPD.
"Without the right support and information, these signs can turn into a depression that can last for years," she said.
A 2014 study from Australia published in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that maternal depression is more common four years after childbirth than at any other time in the first 12 months after childbirth.
Feeling overwhelmed, feeling disconnected, or questioning one's love for the baby are a few symptoms of PPD.
"It is important for postpartum moms to seek help from a therapist who is very familiar with postpartum adjustment issues," said Gagnon. "Many therapists assume that treating postpartum depression is like treating other forms of depression, but it is not. It is very different."
Gagnon noted that most cases of postpartum depression are not related to hormones.
She said women are secretive about PPD because there is a social expectation that mothers should be delighted after the birth of a child. To avoid conflict, many new mothers stay silent.
"This is not reality," Gagnon said. "The reality is that most women find motherhood challenging. It is a difficult life adjustment. For many women, it requires a significant identity shift. A new baby adds stress to marriages. The truth is that for most families, the first year after a birth is tough."
Of all her efforts, Starr said telling her story has been the most helpful for her — and she hopes it is helping others.
"PPD is the number one complication of childbirth and it seems like nobody knows this," Starr said. "If more women knew how common it really is, they might not be so hesitant to reach out for help."