Motherhood is life-changing. The commitment and dedication it requires are unparalleled, and so are the levels of love and affection that go along with it. But for some women, the emotions of motherhood aren’t entirely positive. Up to 80 percent of new moms experience mild mood changes — the “baby blues” — that begin in the days after childbirth. Symptoms include irritability, anxiety and sadness.
Those feelings are more intense for women coping with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. PMAD can occur during pregnancy, or a few days or even months after childbirth. PMAD affects as many as 1 in 7 mothers-to-be and new moms.
On Mother’s Day in 2016, SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in St. Louis launched a program to help new and expecting mothers cope with those feelings. The MOMS line is a peer-run support system for women in the St. Louis metro area, regardless of where they gave birth. It’s a “warm line,” not a hotline; callers are connected to a voicemail system, and their calls are returned within 24 hours by a volunteer who has experienced some form of PMAD. The volunteer listens with a deep understanding of what the woman on the other end is going through, offers compassion and shares her own experiences. In case of an emergency, calls are directed to the emergency department, 911 or psychiatric care, as appropriate.
“Having a peer program is incredibly empowering,” says Kim Martino-Sexton, postpartum resource coordinator at St. Mary’s. “It’s hard to ask for support when you are struggling; there are so many fears. We’re here because we get it.”
The MOMS line was inspired by a previous program, Mother to Mother, which ran from 1998 to 2013 at St. Louis University Hospital. Mother to Mother founder Darcy Scharff, Ph.D., suffered from postpartum depression herself and created the program as part of her doctorate work in 1995. Scharff later worked with staff at St. Mary’s to launch the MOMS line.
Volunteer Rena Ciolek says the program is a powerful resource. “I used the MOMS line during my postpartum depression, and the mom I spoke with saved my life,” Ciolek says. “She allowed me to vent feelings I had that were scary. I volunteer so that I can pass along my experience to other moms, to help them know they are not alone.”