About 1 in 9 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD), according to CDC research, though estimates differ by age and race/ethnicity, as well as state. The CDC points out that as many as 1 in 5 women may actually be suffering from PPD. One would think that such a common concern for new moms would be better understood and handled properly in our health care system, but that is sadly not the case, as one California mom's recent experience illustrates. When Jessica Porten told her OB's staff that she believed she was struggling with PPD, she wasn't met with compassion and a treatment plan. Instead, employees called local police on the mom, who then had to endure a 10-hour nightmare.
Porten took to Facebook to share her heartbreaking story. "I had an OB appointment yesterday, my first since giving birth 4 months ago (because they kept canceling my appointments), which is inhumane in my eyes,” Porten wrote. “I went to the appointment alone with Kira. It was at 2:10, and I was not called back to a room until 3:15. A nurse practitioner comes in (one I don’t particularly care for) and I tell her everything my husband told them when he scheduled me the appointment a week ago. That I have postpartum depression that is manifesting in fits of anger, and I want to discuss my medication options. I tell them I have a very strong support system at home, so although I would never hurt myself or my baby, I’m having violent thoughts and I need medication and therapy to get through this. She rushed through my pelvic exam, barely spoke about medication, said she needed to talk to the doctor about my PPD, and left the room. ... They called the f*cking cops on me."
Unbelievable -- and devastating. One thing lead to the next, and Porten was escorted to the ER by two police officers. At the hospital, she says she was "babysat" by a security guard, and eventually told that she did not need a psych exam.
“Not once during all of this has a doctor laid eyes on me," Porten shared. "Not once. Not even before they decided to call the cops on me. The social worker hands me some papers and discusses the information in them, telling me she thinks these 'will probably be good resources for you.' ... I leave the ER at midnight, my spirit more broken than ever, no medication, no follow up appointment, never spoke to a doctor. This was a 10 hour ordeal that I had to go through all while caring for my infant that I had with me. And that’s it. That’s what I got for telling my OB that I have PPD and I need help. I was treated like a criminal and then discharged with nothing but a stack of xeroxed printouts with phone numbers on them.”
If this story leaves you shaking your head in utter disgust and disbelief, you're not alone. Since being published on January 19, the post has racked up more than 32K shares and 11K comments. "Omg I am so sorry this happened to you," one commenter wrote. "This is a disgrace. I hope you find a real Dr. with kindness & understanding. My heart breaks for you." Another shared, "I'm so sorry you went through this but wow... how strong you are to stand up and speak out against a COMMON insult to women. As an RN, we know better. Yet over and over again, mental health or things unseen are STILL treated with ignorance as if we are 'crazy.' This I'm sure was not an easy to post. I hope your story and brings to light something that should no longer be happening to women."
Porten told Parents.com that she has "mixed emotions" about the response. "It saddens me a little that so many people want me to sue or make the information of the doctor public," she shared. "I'm hoping that choosing not to sue, but rather change the system from within and educate the office so they can continue to serve our community will encourage others to live their life with understanding and compassion."
In her Facebook post, Porten went on to consider how moms of color and in the LGBTQ community are treated in similar situations, sharing that while she may be "marginalized as a woman, but I am white and heterosexual and hold privileges in these places."
She elaborated to Parents.com, "That what happened to me was not an isolated incident, and for many woman, especially women of color and LGBTQ moms, the same scenario ends with them in a psychiatric hospital for a 72-hour watch, and their children with CPS (or their area equivalent). We need to end the disparity in healthcare that our marginalized communities receive."
This is just one piece of the puzzle that Porten plans to investigate in the wake of her disturbing experience. In an update to the original post on January 21, she shared, "I am both amazed and humbled at the amount of support and solidarity from all of you wonderful people! I am happy to report that my family is happy, healthy, and safe, and I am getting all of the help I need. The help ALL mothers deserve. I am working with 2020 Mom, the nonprofit host of Federal Maternal Mental Health Lobby Day, and the leading advocacy movement for maternal mental health (MMH) in California." She went on to encourage followers to "take actions to lift up the marginalized members of your community and use the hashtag #Action4Jessica to encourage others to do the same! Just remember, never post a picture of someone or their children without explicit consent. Thank you all again so much! Let’s be the change!"
Props to Porten for taking positive action. What she endured is utterly unacceptable. With hope, her experience leads to more conversations around how we perceive, address, and improve mental health care.