Imagine the feeling of stripping down naked and plunging into an ice cold pool of water.
That complete shock you feel? That’s new motherhood.
Not the ice-cold part (babies are actually quite the warmest, sweetest little snuggle bombs you will ever experience). But shock? Yes, indeed.
In the most generic of descriptions, the first several months after having a child are—for most women—intensely emotional, exhausting and somewhat confusing. Your body is healing after a tremendously physical experience, your hormones are fluctuating wildly, and you are trying–often unsuccessfully–to soothe and feed a small human being whose seeming intent is to deprive you of as much sleep as possible.
Your body is healing after a tremendously physical experience, your hormones are fluctuating wildly, and you are trying–often unsuccessfully–to soothe and feed a small human being whose seeming intent is to deprive you of as much sleep as possible.
Don’t get me wrong: Motherhood has been my single greatest joy in life. But it can also be isolating and difficult, and for many women, the feeling of being a bit “off” can last for weeks, months, or even years after the birth of their child.
Even the most cursory of searches online show that postpartum care in the United States is lacking at best, and dangerously minimal at worst.
And despite the fact that women have been keeping our world turning by having kids since time immemorial, modern Western healthcare doesn’t seem to have caught up to the idea that women need more support beyond the typical 1-3 days in the hospital of crumbly scrambled eggs and room-temperature chocolate pudding.
And sadly, one doesn’t have to look far to find out just how dangerous this lack of care for new moms can be.
I know of Steven and Alexis D’Achilles’ story because I’m from the same city as them. Their tragic story made its way to me through word of mouth before it became the now-well-known basis of inspiration for not only a wonderful foundation, but also a new wave of postpartum care that is intent on preventing a horror like this from happening to any other families.
To say Steven D’Achille has been brave in the wake of his life’s worst chapter is an understatement. He has in fact singlehandedly held a mirror up to our country’s woeful treatment of new mothers and inspired the implementation of new treatments for mothers suffering from postpartum depression—treatments that will no doubt save lives and keep families together for generations to come.
I reached out to the hospital in the Pittsburgh area that is trying these new techniques to help spread to the word to fellow moms that better treatment is on the horizon. Read on for the future of postpartum care.
What Are They Doing?
Simply put? These new treatment methods are keeping moms and babies together for the postpartum period, with the idea that keeping mom and baby together will not only help keep the baby on schedule, but can also help assist mom to establish the bond with her baby that’s necessary for their continued relationship.
The Alexis Joy D’Achille Center for Women’s Behavioral Health is up and running–albeit in a temporary location–at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh. When the final center is up and running, it will be one of only about fifteen nationwide that takes the “mother-baby intensive outpatient” approach. In other words, moms can bring their babies with them to treatments multiple times a week. This important differential means that new moms don’t have to feel guilty about leaving their children.
Patients will also be supported by a full range of resources that include partial hospitalization, access to group and individualized mental health care, and the option for intensive sessions both alone and with the baby. This particular center also includes a kitchen, a supervised nursery with cribs and bassinets, and offices where patients can be seen for individual therapy.
Also, most importantly, patients will stay under one roof, which gives them continuity of care–an integral part to monitoring a mother’s postpartum health.
“We also hope to have a mother-baby inpatient psychiatric unit in the near future, so that we can offer the full continuum of mother-baby psychiatric care.”
Dr. Sarah Homitsky, who is the medical director for the Women’s Perinatal Psychiatry Program at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh, is working closely with Steven and the Alexis Joy Foundation to bring more complete postnatal health care to women.
“There are approximately 15 programs across the US that offer specialized mother-baby intensive outpatient mental health services for pregnant and postpartum women. … [T]hese centers allow mothers to bring their newborns with them to treatment multiple times a week, and provide specific programming that enhances the mother-baby relationship and promotes healthy attachment.
These centers allow mothers to bring their newborns with them to treatment multiple times a week, and provide specific programming that enhances the mother-baby relationship and promotes healthy attachment.
“Mothers will be encouraged to bring their newborn with them to treatment, and those who participate … can expect to meet other women with shared experiences, generate support from them, and reduce feelings of isolation.”
What Else is on the Horizon?
Currently, The Alexis Joy Center will offer outpatient mental health services–all in one location–but they also are working toward having a mother-baby inpatient psychiatric unit, so that moms and babies can stay under the same roof while mom receives treatment.
“Steven [D’Achille, Alexis’ husband]’s personal story had a tremendous role in the development of the Alexis Joy Center. Steven felt strongly that more awareness of perinatal mental health issues and timely access to specialized services were needed in the Pittsburgh community to prevent future tragedies.
“Universal screening for depression and bipolar disorder twice across pregnancy and once postpartum has been adopted by all Allegheny Health Network OBGYN as a direct result of Steven’s efforts. And over 1000 women have been referred to our program that could have previously suffered through their illness without receiving the care they need.”
Over 1000 women have been referred to our program that could have previously suffered through their illness without receiving the care they need.
So Where’s This All Happening?
The temporary location of The Alexis Joy D’Achille Center for Women’s Behavioral Health is currently open at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh; the permanent, state-of-the-art facility is set to open in fall of this year. The Alexis Joy Foundation is active in research of and advocacy for the treatment of postpartum depression and conditions. Their latest updates can be found here.
But according to Dr. Homitsky, there are about 15 hospital nationwide adopting this kind of approach to postpartum care, so be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about what they offer to see if you can take advantage of this new wave of postpartum care.
Want more information or do you know someone who is struggling with postpartum depression or other issues? Find out more about the Alexis Joy Foundation’s mission here, and speak with your medical care provider for more options.