Detailing her own experience with postpartum depression, state Rep. Jen O’Mara is working hard to pass legislation aimed at increasing awareness of PPD among new mothers and their families.
Much like the Blue Route, my road to motherhood was filled with potholes. After an unsuccessful year of trying, my husband, Brad, and I learned that we had male factor infertility from injuries he suffered while serving in combat. This meant that our next steps included intrauterine insemination (IUI) treatments and, later, in vitro fertilization (IVF) when that wasn’t successful.
After four failed IUIs and one failed round of IVF, my most coveted dream of becoming pregnant became a reality on Nov. 18, 2021, when the nurse called and said those three simple words, “everything looks good!”
Brad and I prepared like anxious new parents. Together, we painted her nursery lilac and assembled her white crib, attended virtual birthing classes, and created a birth plan. We headed out the door on July 23, 2022, unsure what the next days would bring, but knowing it would be worth it.
After an induction and 24 hours of intense labor, Katherine was born at 10:35 p.m. on July 24. The moment I had waited for was finally here as she was placed on top of my chest, her skin purple and warm. But she was silent. Within seconds, medical staff urgently took her away for treatment. Brad went with her and updated me from across the room—Katherine swallowed meconium (a newborn’s first stool) and her lungs needed to be suctioned. She was breathing, but not on her own.
Tension and medical professionals filled the room. The urgency in my own doctor’s voice helped me realize Katherine wasn’t the only one having a medical emergency. I was suffering from a retained placenta and was hemorrhaging. With the help of a fantastic team of medical professionals, I met my daughter two hours after she was born. We went home a few days later to recover, heal and become a family. I simultaneously felt broken and elated.
Only six weeks after Katherine entered the world, and we both nearly left it, I went back to work. As a state representative amid an election year, I felt I had no other choice. I commuted to Harrisburg, worked, pumped, then drove two hours home to resume caring for Katherine. This is when Brad noticed a shift in my mood.
I was only happy when I was with Katherine. I was so anxious that I wasn’t sleeping or eating and so angry I started raging and yelling. I knew that something wasn’t right, but it wasn’t until I found myself surrounded by loved ones conducting an intervention that I finally asked for help. I started therapy for postpartum depression (PPD), anxiety and lingering trauma and have been in virtual sessions ever since.
I am not the only mother who went back to work before their body had time to heal, and I am certainly not the only mother with PPD. Approximately 1 in 10 women experiences PPD, and many cases go undiagnosed.
However, I am a mother in a unique position. As a Pennsylvania state representative, I have the power to use my experience to inform legislation and help others. That’s why I’m proud to co-sponsor the Prenatal and Postpartum Counseling and Screening Act, a new bill meant to increase awareness of PPD among new mothers and their families.
I am also proud to champion legislation to expand paid leave in Pennsylvania. Studies show that a mother is less likely to experience PPD if she takes at least 12 weeks of maternity leave, and, among mothers who took a maternity leave of 12 weeks or less, every additional week of leave was associated with lesser odds of experiencing PPD symptoms.
“This Mother’s Day, I call on the Pennsylvania General Assembly to do more than simply recognize Pennsylvania moms. Let’s talk about the work that goes into motherhood—including its persistent and painful toll on our bodies and minds. It’s time for our state law to consider this and prioritize the well-being of new moms and their babies.”
State Rep. Jen O’ Mara represents Delaware County in Pennsylvania’s 165th legislative district.