Faced with limited resources, new mothers get by finding their own support

After giving birth, Geri O’Keeffe fell into a deep postpartum depression.

Vanessa Barisano had obsessive thoughts about protecting her baby that ended up isolating her from loved ones.

Neither of the women had access to the resources or supports they needed to navigate the physical and mental health realities they experienced after birth.

After being ignored or gaslit by their doctors, the only reason they eventually got the care they needed is because they sought help on their own.

“When I came home I was very depressed and afraid to tell anyone,” Geri said.

Despite feeling vulnerable, Geri confided in a psychologist who dismissed her concerns saying there is no such thing as postpartum depression. When she spoke up that she was having suicidal thoughts, the psychologist told her she was “crying wolf.”

Receiving no support from someone who should have helped her, Geri found a therapist who helped her understand and cope with her postpartum depression. With someone to lean on, slowly but surely, Geri’s mental health improved.

Vanessa shares a similar story, her concerns dismissed as normal physiologic changes of pregnancy.

After giving birth, Vanessa became a frequent flyer at her local emergency rooms. They’d run tests but never got to the root of the problem — her mental health.

Frustrated and needing help, Vanessa admitted herself to the hospital. She told her psychiatrist that she had obsessive and intrusive thoughts, constantly worrying about her baby being exposed to germs and other people. She’d spent the first three months after birth in severe isolation. The only other people she’d come in contact with were her husband and mother-in-law.

Rather than reassuring her that she can get well with medication, the psychiatrist told her that she may “throw her baby out the window,” a thought Vanessa hadn’t had.

“That was probably the onset of the trauma for me,” Vanessa said. “He literally made me think that I could do that.”

The doctor sent her home with some antidepressants and a few pamphlets.

But what ultimately gave her the insight—and diagnosis—she needed was “Mothering the New Mother,” a book by Sally Placksin about postpartum depression.

“When I think about all of those people that I came in contact with over the course of pregnancy and the course of postpartum, it was that book that I owe the thanks to for me waking up,” Vanessa said.