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The Guest Spot: Jess Banas

Military Moms Face Higher PPD Risk: The story behind the Report

written by Jess Banas, Online PSI Coordinator

This past year, Jess Banas composed a report regarding the increased risk faced by Military moms who experience a deployment either during their pregnancy or within the first year following the pregnancy. What she discovered is astounding and the following article details her experience of uncovering the story.

I always feel odd when my kids go back to school after a long hot summer…..don’t get me wrong, it is nice to have the free time, but it feels like a bit too much free time to me.  There is so much frenetic activity around the house in the summer and then all of a sudden, it comes to an abrupt halt!!  The house gets so quiet and calm, yet I still feel like there are kids to entertain and things I have to get done!

Last year was no exception, so when September rolled around and I found myself with an empty quiet house and a bunch of extra energy, I decided to pray that my free time could go to good use.  I asked God to make me an instrument for change… show me the direction you want me to go now……not the first time I have asked God to do that, but one of many times.

He always answers me when I pray for this.  This time was no different.  In fact, the next day, I received the September MedEdPPD Newsletter.  I decided since I had the time, to sit and give it a read.  I had not had a chance to read any article from MedEdPPD before and wondered if there was anything worthwhile inside of it.

Turns out, MedEdPPD said there was a very interesting article about military moms getting PPD that was recently published in the International Herald Tribune.

I looked up the article and read it.  There was one statement that really caught my attention:

Repeated, Extended Deployments Stressing US Military Families

The Associated Press
Published: August 11, 2007

‘Pregnant women with deployed husbands have 2.8 times as much risk of developing postpartum depression as other pregnant women, say researchers at San Diego’s Naval Medical Center.’

Perhaps that statement caught my attention because I did too many word problems with my son’s math class the previous year.  Perhaps because I am a bit of a statistics nerd and am far too curious for my own good.  Perhaps that statement caught my attention because I had said that prayer the day before.  For whatever reason and because of that statement, I started to wonder….

Could pregnant women with deployed husbands get PPD 56% of the time?!  The statisical risk for PPD in the general population is 15-20%, so if you multiply 2.8 by 20% you get 56%.

How many people in a certain/specific population has to become ill with something before that illness is considered to be of epidemic proportions?

Would those statistics also pertain to the number of women who are so severely depressed that they
attempt suicide?!  That percentage could be as high as 35%!!

Exactly how many women are we talking about here?!

And most important of all:

Did these women know how great their risk for PPD was?!?

My stomach was starting to churn.  I had to figure this out.  I just HAD to.  There was no question except how.  How was I going to figure this all out.

I was intimidated by the task ahead of me.  I worried that some of the people I had worked with over the past seven years would think I was nuts, but I also knew that these were the same people who had the answers.  All I had to do was just be brave enough to ask the questions.  So I thought about all the families who were represented by the numbers and I wrote some emails to my peers at PSI.

To my great delight, no one thought I was nutty at all.  In fact, I received an outpouring of information, medical reports relating to PPD, direction, and support.  Wendy Davis of PSI sent me the summary of the abstract that the article in the Herald was written about and suggested I contact the main author (Dr. Jeffrey Millegan), directly.

I was very nervous and my hands were shaking when I dialed Dr. Millegan’s number.  I was sure that it would take months before I got to speak with him, but to my surprise, his office connected me directly to him.  I told him who I was and asked him about his abstract’s percentages.  He said the risk was 2.31 (not 2.8 ) times greater for women who had deployed spouses and told me he’d be happy to send me a copy of the abstract via email.  He was more than kind and extremely forthcoming with his information.  He even directed me to the Pentagon for more information.  I was so relieved to find him such a considerate, open minded man and thanked him profusely for his time.

I had lots of reports and studies from my peers, so my next step was to contact the Pentagon and try to get as close to an accurate number of women at risk.  I found the Pentagon’s website and was connected to Public Affairs Officer, Janice Ramseur at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense – American Forces Information Services (What a mouthful!!).  I asked her for the the approximate number of military wives who became pregnant last year prior to their husbands deployment.  On September 28th, I received a (5) Microsoft Office Excel document that stated approximately 357,000 women became pregnant last year before their husbands were deployed.

I had everything I needed to figure out all the answers to my questions.  Now I needed to put everything together and get the information to as many people as possible.  I decided to ask Susan Stone, the President of PSI, to publish my findings.  She not only agreed, she thanked me for doing it and helped me with editing my work, so it would be met with respect and considered by medical professionals.  I was so excited!

Once my ‘report’ was finished, I sent it to the PSI Research Chairperson, Dr. Merrill Sparago for verification.  It has now been posted on PSI’s website for medical professionals to read.  The part of the report that is most important to me is this statement:

‘After reading all of these statistics, one might consider that at 15-20% and at 2.3 times greater risk (35-46%), the number of military spouses expected to get postpartum depression might jump to numbers approximating 145,000. One might further hypothesize that approximately 51,000 (15% also at 2.3 times greater risk, or 35%) of those women could become so severely depressed that, without treatment, they attempt suicide. Even if we keep the suicide statistic at 15%, the number remains significant at approximately 22,000 military women attempting suicide.’

I hope the work I did inspires additional research and programs to support expectant military families.  More importantly, I hope women affected by the statistics get the information they need to appropriately plan for the possibility of PPD.  As the Herald Tribune article stated, ‘Families are the backbone of our soldiers. That’s what holds you together,’

Personally, I want those families to be as strong as possible.  They are the backbone and that backbone should not be weakened if our soldiers are going to be laying their lives on the line for us.  Strengthening that backbone is the very least that we can do for them, isn’t it?

If you are a military family and need support for PPD, please consider these important resources:

Sharing the Journey with Jess Banas

I have been tremendously blessed to have the privilege to get to know Jess Banas. She is one of the most vibrant, compassionate, and warmest people that I have ever encountered. Jess serves as the Online Coordinator for Postpartum Support International and is one of the Adminstrator at the Online Postpartum Support Page (which was started by Tonya Rosenburg who will be appearing in an interview soon!) I hope that you find solace, truth, and comfort in Jess’ answers. I know that I have found all three through getting to know her and I am very excited to be able to share her sparkling personality with you!

 

 

1) I know that you have personal experience with Postpartum Thyroid Issues. Would you mind sharing your story with us and why it’s so important every woman get checked for these if PPD is suspected?

 My first bout of PPD was in 1997.  I had no idea that I was ill because of the lack of information related to postpartum anxiety that was available.  I did not recognize my irritability and insomnia as relatable to thyroid imbalance or illness, I just thought I was ungrateful (for the gift of motherhood) and felt I was failing as a mother.  Finally, I could not take the mood swings any longer and when I went in to get help, my doctor took my blood for a thyroid screen.  I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and thyroiditis.   

The second time I had PPD, I was on thyroid medication, but still had a thyroid imbalance.  My levels were 12 times higher than the highest normal range!  I later discovered that thyroiditis is fairly common.  In fact, studies indicate that 10% of postpartum women have thyroid fluctuations after pregnancy.  Unfortunately, thyroid screens are not a common part of the six week postpartum checkup, even though the risk for thyroid imbalances are considerably higher than that of gestational diabetes which is 1-3%.

2) What do you find to be most challenging about Motherhood? The least?

 The most challenging part of motherhood for me is finding harmony between my personal needs and those of my children.  I find that if I don’t give time to myself and my relationship with my husband and friends, I become worn down, start to feel resentful, and feel less patient and tolerant.  Giving to myself and taking care of my needs is not only important, it is vital to being a good parent and a good person.  I have realized that saying “no” is a huge part of creating the time I need to give back to myself.  Saying “no” is actually saying “yes” to me and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!!    

The least challenging part of motherhood is the feeling of love and joy that comes with having two little lives join my husband and I.  It seems that the love just grows each day that they exist!

3)  How has becoming a Mother changed you?

  I have found out who I am in being a mother.  I have discovered what makes me tick, what is important to me, and discovered my priorities.  Once I did that, everything else became easier and calmer.  Nothing is as important to me as my family.  I have more inner peace now and take better care of myself as a result.  Because of this, I am in better shape than I was before I had children.

4) In your opinion, what aspect of Motherhood should be most celebrated?

 I am not exactly sure how to put this, but I strongly feel that mothers should be “mothered” more in this country than they are now.  There is so much attention given to the expectant mother, but once the baby arrives, the focus is centered on the infant and the mother is lost in the shuffle.  I feel that mothering the new mother is extremely important and not done routinely enough!  New mothers should be celebrated and focused on more so than they are.  By all means come over and visit the baby, but don’t come without having a casserole in hand and be willing to chip in to do a load of laundry (or two) at the very least.  Don’t expect to have the new mother wait on you, wait on her!  It takes a full year for a new mother to recover from pregnancy, so there is a valid reason for giving a new mother TLC!

5) What led you to become involved with PSI?

The Yates family tragedy occurred when my daughter was only 3 months old.  When the media (incorrectly) called it postpartum depression, I was totally freaked out and feared that I would possibly do the same thing, so I felt compelled to go online and search for answers.   I went to the ABC News Message board. There I learned what PPD was. I realized that this kind of thing would continue to happen unless somebody did something to change it. I realized that I was going to be that somebody. I had to do something to prevent things like this from ever happening again… I had to at least try. For those children and those mothers…I had to try.

Women I have met ONLINE taught me about links, URLs, spam, Google, how to research, and much more. Women who survived PPP (Postpartum Psychosis) were able to clearly show me the differences between sanity and insanity in regards to psychotic behavior. We, in turn, tried to educate others who came to the ABC News Message board searching for answers.

While researching, I found the PSI website. With the encouragement and help of Tonya Rosenberg, who strongly endorsed PSI as a force for change, I joined PSI.

 6) What do you do to spoil yourself when you have time away from the kids?

Lots of things!  I take long bubble baths, go out to dinner with my husband, exercise, talk on the phone, read, nap, eat great food, write, play my guitar, cuddle with my doggie, watch my favorite shows on TV (I have TV recorded), giggle with my hubby in bed, and when things are rough, allow  myself to have a good cry.  The best thing I’ve learned to do is to hug myself when I’m stressed instead of beating myself up.

7) What activity refreshes you the most when you’ve had a rough day?

 A combination of exercise, a shower, and either listening to music or playing my guitar.

8 ) How did you come to work with the Online Postpartum Support Page?

After a few weeks, ABC news shut down the Yates discussion; so in July of 2001, I created the Yahoo! Postpartum Mental Illnesses Group.  Tonya Rosenberg (The founder of the Online Postpartum Support Page) came to my Yahoo group, introduced herself to me, and invited me to check out her group in 2001.   

9) Any advice for other women who want to pay their experience forward and help women with PPD?

That is so easy!!  Go online and join PSI, other online PPD support websites, and start supporting other women.  Model the best that women can be by taking care of yourself and your family!!  Think globally and act locally!!

10)  If there was one piece of advice you could give to an expectant mother (new or experienced), what would it be and why would this be important for her to hear?

Educate yourself on the subject of YOUR BODY & HOW IT BEST FUNCTIONS thru the various ages and stages of life!  We know more about how to program our VCRs than we do our own bodies and that is simply to our own personal detriment.  Ignorance is NOT bliss, my friends.  In my own humble local library there are now tons of books on the subject of postpartum depression and women’s moods/hormones and bodies, so there is plenty of free information out there now!  Also, please PLEASE do not hesitate to ask for and expect HELP!