Clinic providing treatment for postpartum problems

At the Women's Mental Health Center doctors advance research on mood, anxiety disorders related to pregnancy, childbirth

By LaKisha Ladson

Nine weeks after Heather Bishop gave birth to a healthy baby boy, she couldn’t stop crying or hearing babies cry. And she was having visions of dead babies.

Her obstetrician/gynecologist immediately referred her to UT Southwestern’s Women’s Mental Health Center. The psychiatrists and psychologists there were the only doctors in the area who would see her immediately.

Ms. Bishop, then 25 and a resident of Garland, was hospitalized for severe postpartum depression. About a year later, under the care of Drs. Anna Brandon and Geetha Shivakumar, assistant professors of psychiatry, Ms. Bishop takes only one medication, coupled with therapy, and is fully able to care for herself and her son, Jerico.

Heather Bishop (left) talks with Dr. Geetha Shivakumar (center) and Dr. Anna Brandon during a regular visit at UT Southwestern's Women's Mental Health Cener.

“Jerico and I are doing great because of their help,” Ms. Bishop said. “Jerico is so happy. He is such a good kid, and I’m learning the skills I need to deal with things and take care of him. I know things are going to be really good for us now.”

Ms. Bishop never imagined having to raise Jerico without the baby’s father. Six months into her pregnancy, the man she’d had a three-year relationship with and known even longer was arrested.

Looking back, she said she began to withdraw around that time, but neither she nor anyone else noticed. She’d never been diagnosed with depression.

Jerico was born in January 2008.

“Whenever he cried I would just lose it,” Ms. Bishop said. “I would start sobbing and hold him and get under the table and try to get away from people.”

Her family became concerned and urged her to speak with someone.

“At first I thought it was the stress of all I was going through and not that there was anything wrong I could get help for. I just thought it was something I would have to work through,” she said.

Ms. Bishop had heard of the “baby blues,” emotional swings that occur the first few weeks after childbirth, but only associated postpartum depression with women who killed their children.

“Most moms with a form of postpartum depression do not harm their children,” Dr. Brandon said. “But infanticide is one of the most underreported causes of death, so we don’t really know how many times this happens.”
Ms. Bishop never wanted to hurt her child. “If anything, I was overprotective,” she said.

After the visit to her doctor’s office, at the height of her postpartum depression, Ms. Bishop saw Drs. Brandon and Shivakumar. They are currently conducting clinical research on mood and anxiety disorders in the context of pregnancy and childbirth.

“They saw me that same day,” Ms. Bishop said. “All the other 10 or 15 places were saying three weeks. They stayed late. They were just amazing.”

Given the serious nature of her depression, the doctors began a three-pronged approach: hospitalization, medication and family therapy.

After she was released from the hospital, Ms. Bishop continued medication and attended psychotherapy with occasional family sessions.

Approximately one in 10 women experience major depressive disorder in the context of childbirth, commonly called postpartum depression. Ms. Bishop is one of a small group — perhaps only one or two women out of 1,000 — who will have postpartum psychosis, Dr. Brandon said.

With therapy and medication, Ms. Bishop’s symptoms became more representative of postpartum depression. She said she later found out that other women in her family had suffered from the condition.

“I wish I had known,” she said. “Maybe I could have said something to my doctor or looked for warning signs.”

Dr. Brandon said it is common for women not to discuss their feelings after childbirth.

“Unfortunately, because the media always sensationalize the stories of those who do, postpartum depression is stigmatizing, and many women are shamed by their depression. We need more women like Heather to speak up in order to remove the stigma.”

To contact the Women’s Mental Health Center, call 214-648-4607.