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2009 Survivors' Panel Transcript

Marianne Moore, Executive Director, Hudson Perinatal Consortium: Please join me in welcoming Mrs. Codey

Mary Jo Codey, former first lady of New Jersey: Thank you. As Marianne said, I teach in an elementary school, at Gregory School in West Orange, and I have kindergartners. And thereís, it goes kindergarten through fifth. And I think weíre driving the message home at a very early age because I was walking down the hall the other day and I passed two second-graders. And one second-grader said to the other second-grader, ĎThatís Mrs. Codey, she suffers from postpartum depression.í So they know. Theyíre gonna be different moms some day.

I want to take a moment to thank the Hudson Perinatal Consortium and the Department of Health for inviting me to take part in such an important program. Based on my double experience with postpartum depression, I can tell you the two real dangers of it are isolation and shame, which causes women to seek from getting help. A third danger about postpartum depression is it can strike up to a year or more after giving birth, long after New Jerseyís mandatory screening and long after you might expect it to happen. Thatís why itís so important to create a network of awareness and care around new moms. Youíve probably heard this throughout the day, but I wanted to emphasize it. Everyone in this room is part of that important safety net because you are all in the position to observe new mothers and spot the symptoms. Thatís especially true for social workers, DYFS workers, home health aides and home visitors who see moms over an extended period of time.

You can help a new mother who shows symptoms of postpartum mood disorder and her family members understand what she is experiencing and it is caused by a real diagnosable and treatable illness. And you can make sure she knows where to get some support and treatment so she can get better.

Over the years, Iíve spoken to programs like this around the country. Every time I do, participants come up to me and tell me nothing makes perinatal mood disorders more real than hearing them from survivors or from family members of victims who tragically donít survive.

Today weíre going to hear the stories of three survivors. One thing I find interesting about this group is they all have some background in healthcare, which adds to their dimensions and their experiences with postpartum depression. Each will take five to seven minutes to tell her story and then weíll open it up so that you can ask some questions.

First weíll hear from Consuela Bonillas. Dr. Bonillas is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Health Education at Kean University. Even as a professional health educator, Connie did not recognize nor was she prepared to confront the issues she faced as a new mother. Her own encounter with postpartum depression occurred when she gave birth to her second son, Nicos, in 2000. Adding to her difficulty in coming to terms with her disorder was that she did not experience PPD after her first delivery in 1998. Since seeking treatment and recovering from postpartum depression, Connie has been a passionate speaker on the subject. Sheís always willing to share her story as a way of empowering others to come forward.

Ready?

Connie Boniilas: Sure. Thank you. I sit here, right? Iím good?

What Mary Jo didnít mention and I think Iíve only mentioned once is that one of the reasons Iím up here is because of her. Iím already going to cry. Sorry.

After I experienced postpartum depression with my son, I knew what I had Ė itís so shameful and you donít want to believe that youíre experiencing it. One day I was driving to work and I heard on the radio that Mary Jo Codey had experienced postpartum depression. I had, I knew that other people experienced it but when you, I mean, I donít know Mary Jo but I knew who she was, and I thought, she experienced postpartum depression, this is real. It just doesnít happen to people like me, whatever that meant to me at that moment. And I knew, not only that I had to seek help, but also that I had to let other women know. The minute I heard over the radio that Mary Jo had experienced it, I canít even explain to you like the sigh of relief, like this brick just off my back. Iím not alone and I know that, thatís what the isolation partly comes from, realizing that other women experience it, not that we want that to happen, but we know that weíre not alone and that other women, unfortunately, have felt the pain that you have felt. And not that I wanted that, but at the same time, I had comfort in that.

Like Marianne mentioned, Iím sorry, Mary Jo, I did not experience it when my daughter was born in 1998, Katarina. I had the baby blues, I cried for a couple of months, I mean a couple of weeks and then it went away. But then when I had my son, Nicos, is 2000, completely different story. Literally days after I had him, it was so devastating, I mean, as so many of us, we love our children. So seeing, in my head, my son burning in the oven, smelling his flesh, where, you know, where does that come from? And it was so devastating and also so shameful and I judge myself, I have to tell you. And I was so afraid that others were gonna judge me that I decided, one, Iím sure itíll go away on its own, sooner Iím sure than later and I can deal with it. So for 15 months, one-five, I didnít tell anyone. I didnít tell my spouse, I didnít tell the people I worked with, I didnít tell the pediatrician, my family doctor, no one. I thought I could handle it by myself.

I couldnít, I mean, the biggest thing I have to say and when you hear me speak again, the biggest regret and like so many, unfortunately, is that I, I do not have memories of my son for the first 15 months. It makes me so sad. Iím sorry. I have pictures and I have those memories, but memories of me and him, I donít have. And that is what Iíd like to convey to women and their families, that regret I donít want you to have. I will never have a child thatís one month again, or six months or 12 months and in the case of my son, I have beautiful pictures, I can see what he looked like but the memories in my head are not there because I was so busy trying to keep myself together so no one else could see what was going on because everyone would think I was such a horrible person.

It was so enlightening though that as soon as I started telling people, my family doctor, I remember telling him and he said, call up your husband right now. I want to set up a meeting with both of you so we can all be on the same page. The minute I told the pediatrician, every time I went back for well visits with my children, he talked to me first about how I was feeling, how I was doing before we got to the kids. You know, youíre there for women and unfortunately I didnít see it. I was so wrapped up in this issue of judging because I was thinking I was such a horrible mother that I didnít realize you were, you were ther e for me if I wouldíve reached out. And thatís what I ask of you then, in order to be to reach out to the women, realize that youíre there for them, that youíre not gonna judge them and that they donít have to go through the 15 months that I know I truly did not have to go through. I know I didnít. And thatís why I tell my story. As you can see, my sonís eight now and itís still very painful because those are memories Iíll never get back and itís still very hurtful to me for me to tell you, but I tell you this because I need you to know that you have a role to play to help women, to make sure that it doesnít have go as long as it did with me. Iíll stop there.

Mary Jo Codey: Well thank you so much. Sheís such a brave woman and I can so relate to everything you said, especially about missing the first year and having pictures and dusting them off and realizing, I didnít take the pictures and I lost the first year also. Itís a pain that never goes away. Thank you so very much.

Adrienne Richardson. Ms. Richardson is the owner and publisher of South Jersey Mom magazine. A Rowan University graduate, Richardsonís background is in public relations. Adrienne created the magazine after being downsized from her public relations job in Philadelphia, two weeks before Christmas in 2005 and five months pregnant. After giving birth to her son, Richardson struggled with the hardships of postpartum depression. Several months later, Richardson launched South Jersey Mom and vowed to educate moms about postpartum depression and work toward reversing the stigma attached to this disorder.

Richardson also served as a medic in the United States Air Force from October 1995 to April 2002. After the military, while pursuing her degree, she was employed as an EMT in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Adrienne is married and is the mother of two children, 3-year-old Kayden and 1-year-old Camille.

Ready?

Adrienne Richardson: Yes. As Mary Jo said, I, gave birth to my son on my 28th birthday, my first son. I had a very difficult pregnancy. I had a very difficult time getting pregnant. I had several miscarriages before having a successful pregnancy so I was very much looking forward to having this child. And I was obsessed new mother, like I had to learn everything, I had to read every book and I had to go to every class and I signed up for everything. I just wanted to know everything and be the best mom that I could be. And on the day when my son was born, he came early, it was a surprise on my birthday and he suffered with a heart condition that they did not know he had so he spent the first few days in the NICU. I had a very traumatic delivery, I hemorrhaged, I had a blood transfusion and so a lot of my emotions were blamed on stress Ė well, you lost a lot of blood, you had a lot of changes in your body, everythingís gonna be fine. I was crying all the time so I thought I was crying because I had a son that had a heart condition that was in the NICU, which probably was the case.

But he came home when he was five days old and I cried all the time. He cried, I cried with him. I was just crying constantly. And I didnít tell anybody what I was thinking but I was thinking, why did I want to become a mom? This sucks. I wanted this so bad and I hate it. I want my life back. I donít want to take care of this crying baby. I want to sleep.

And at the same time, I felt like, how horrible am I to think this? There are so many women who want children and I have this beautiful child and I donít want anything to do with him. Heís crying, he would cry and cry and cry and cry. He was colicky, he had acid reflux, he never slept and neither did I. And so my mom said, well, youíre just sleep-deprived or youíve been through a lot of changes. I tried to breastfeed him and I wasnít able to so I was upset about that Ė Iím a horrible mom because I canít breastfeed my child and Iím gonna poison him with formula and just the worst thing in the world.

And so I had all these thoughts of guilt and it got worse as every day went by. But I wouldnít tell anybody because I thought, theyíre gonna say, youíre a horrible person. How could you be so selfish? And so it just escalated and I would go to the doctor for follow-ups Ė I was there all the time because my son had a heart condition. And I would tell her, why do people want kids? This isnít fun. You want so bad to have a child and why would you ever go through this? Why would you have more than one? Because once you go through this, why would you ever go through it again? And she would say, well, itís just normal. But she kept handing me these pamphlets, the Speak Up pamphlets, and she said, thereís a number on here I want you to call, you know, and talk to them if you feel like youíre still crying all the time. And I said, thereís nothing wrong with me. Iím not calling that number. My husband Ė if he would just help more, if he would do this, if he would do that, if he would do this, Iíd be fine. Itís him, itís not me.

And so it escalated. I was crying and I would just constantly think, I just want to die. I donít want to deal with this. Every single day, I wished I was dead. Every day, I would say, well if I just put a pillow over his face, heíll stop crying. If I just throw him out the window, I wonít have to deal with this anymore. And I would think constantly about hurting myself or about hurting him. And then I became phsically violent against my husband. He would say something to make me angry and I would just attack him. And he kept saying, something is wrong with you, something is wrong with you. And I said, the problem is you. You are not helping me enough. You are not doing this. Thereís nothing wrong with me.

And so, he found the brochure about postpartum depression, the Speak Up When Youíre Down, and he called my doctor, And he said, somethingís wrong with my wife. I didnít know he called her and I was not happy when she called me and said, your husband called me and told me that heís worried about you. And Iím like, oh he did, huh? And she said, yes and Iím worried about you too. And I said, thereís nothing wrong with me. Iím fine. Heís the problem. I blamed everything on him.

And she said, well Iím gonna order you a medication and I want you to fill it and try it and see if it helps. And I said, I donít need any medication, Iím not crazy. Thereís nothing wrong with me, Iím not taking any medication. And I didnít want to take it because then I was admitting there was something wrong with me.

And she said, well Iím gonna fill it anyways, Iím gonna call it in and I hope that youíll go fill it. And I said, well, Iím not. And I got off the phone and I went off on my husband and I said, Iím not taking any medication. Thereís nothing wrong me, youíre this, youíre that and it caused this huge fight.

And my mom kept, my mom also was saying, Adrienne, this is normal, everybody cries after they have a baby. Itís OK, itís gonna go away, this is normal, this happens to everybody. But when I would talk to my girlfriend who already had three kids, she couldnít relate. And I would say, is it normal that I cry all day? And sheíd say, no, I never did. And I felt so alone, so alienated that my best friend that Iíd known since I was 11 years old, was judging me and she thought something was wrong with me and was like, whatís wrong with you? Thatís not normal. And I thought, I asked her, do you think I might have postpartum depression? And sheís like, no, you donít have postpartum depression. Donít fill that medication, she told me.

And so I went and I filled it and I didnít tell anybody. And I said, Iím gonna start taking it and see if it works and then nobody has to know that Iím taking it. And I filled it and I got better and by the time my son was 9 months old, I had those feelings that I thought I should have all along. I loved him with all of my heart. And he would make me smile when he smiled and I finally fell in love with my child when he was 9 months old.

But it nearly ruined my marriage. Itís taken us three years, almost, to recover from the damage because he didnít understand what I was going through and he didnít know how to help me and he attacked back. And thatís not his fault, weíve recovered from it but it ruined my marriage nearly like I said, it nearly ended my life. And I tell everybody that I know about it. Every month in my magazine, in May, I do an article about postpartum depression and I share my story. And every time I do that, I get women who email me and say, Iím so glad that you said that because I suffered with it for years or I suffered this way or that way and thank you so much for being open. And I still every year cannot find women who are willing to share their story because theyíre afraid that their friends and family are gonna judge them.

And I want to educate women and tell them, this is not your fault. Thereís nothing that you could do to stop it or change it. Youíre not a horrible person and youíre not alone. This is where you can turn to so Iím just glad that my doctor and my husband were persistent and I hope that all health care workers will not just blow it off and say, itís just baby blues, youíre fine, everybody goes through that and will keep an eye out for them and follow up with them like my doctor did and stay on top of it.

Mary Jo Codey: Thank you Adrienne. Itís so important to have support.

Adrienne: Yes

Mary Jo Codey: Thank you. Nancy Sanchez. Ms. Sanchez was born and raised in Jersey City. She received her R.N. at Christ Hospital School of Nursing and received her bachelorís of nursing degree and masterís in health care administration at New Jersey University and is currently working on her Ph.D. in health care administration.

She has been a maternal child health care nurse for 20 years and is a nurse-manager at the postpartum labor and delivery, level one, level two departments at Hoboken University Medical Center.

She is a single mother of a 4-year-old and resides in Hudson County. Her daughter, Sophia, is 4 years old. She experienced postpartum depression within two days after giving birth to her daughter. Because of her nursing specialty, she believed she could deal with her feelings on her own and did not seek help until her daughter was 10 months old. It wasnít until she attended the perinatal mental health conference in May 2008, seeing and hearing countless media advertisements regarding postpartum depression that she realized it was OK to speak up. Nancy?

Nancy Sanchez: Anybody who knows me knows that I always have a lot to say, but Iím really, I have to gather my thoughts. Like Mrs. Codey said, it took me about 10 months to seek the help that I knew that I needed after my daughter, Sophia, was born. I was pregnant in 2003 and went in with a birthing plan and my birthing plan was a scheduled C-section. And that went well and I also had a parenting plan. I am a Type A personality, I knew this was gonna go this way, this way, that way. I was gonna raise my daughter this way, I was gonna put her down to sleep when it was time to sleep, I was gonna feed her when it was time to feed her, I was gonna breastfeed her when it was time to breastfeed, I was gonna put her down, go on the treadmill, do what I needed to do. That didnít happen.

So all my plans went out the window. Like I said, I delivered her by C-section. On the third day, I remember sitting on the edge of my bed at the hospital where I worked at and I just bawled my eyes out. And, you know, being a maternal-child health nurse for 20 years with a specialty in neonatal intensive care nursing, I was like, you know, this is postpartum blues, Iím gonna work it out. Iím a very private person, I donít tell anybody my feelings, Iíll get through this, Iíll do fine. And I picked up the phone and I tried to reach out to whoever I could reach out to just to talk to because I knew that I should talk to somebody but there was no one around. It was a Sunday evening, it was like nine oíclock at night, I couldnít get anybody.

So I said, OK, fine, hung up the phone, the door was closed, I said, you know what, Iím gonna get through this. Iíll sleep it off, Iím going home tomorrow, Iím gonna do fine. My momís gonna stay with me for the first week and Iíll get through this. Iíll be OK.

I got home, I was so excited. I was on cloud nine. I had a beautiful little girl, full head of hair. I had so much heartburn to prove it. I mean, sheís my doll, sheís my world. And I was so excited, her room was ready. I was home for pre-term labor so for two months, I put stencil in her room. We were going through it, I was having this little girl.

And I have a log of, from the minute I found out I was pregnant up until I delivered her. Every day I wrote in it to my little Sophia. I wrote in it every day. Once I had her, it stopped. I have no memories of anything for the first 10 months. I didnít get help for 10 months. I said, you know what, Iím gonna fight this. Everythingís gonna be OK, itís all hormones. Iím a maternal child health nurse, I could do this, Iím strong, thereís no reason for me to think the worst. Iím gonna be OK.

But, it got to the point where my daughter was very colic, breastfeeding failed so again right there I had a lot of guilt. Iím a maternal child nurse, why am I not breastfeeding? Why is she not latching on? I had a lot of guilt there. Iím a Type A personality, I could do this, I donít know what happened.

So, you know, that failed and it got to the point where I was so worried about my daughter. I mean, just looking at her, I didnít enjoy her anymore, I was worried about her. I just had visions of her on an infant warmer, intubated, UA lines, UB lines, sick, on dopamineÖ and these were the visions that were coming through my head all the time. And it got to the point that I had visions of me burying my daughter. She was in a casket and that was time in and time out. And I just couldnít get rid of that vision and I couldnít sleep. It was to the point every time I closed my eyes, all I saw was me at a cemetery, burying my daughter. And I just, I took that to me being so tired, she was colic, I had to sleep sitting up with her so you know all these things came and I was like, Iím gonna get through this, these visions will go away once my hormones get better, Iím gonna be fine. But it just kept persisting and persisting and persisting and I didnít have the, I didnít enjoy her, I didnít spend time with her. It was just worries and fears and to the point where, somethingís gonna happen to her, Iím gonna have to bury her and I just keep having these visions of the casket.

And then one day I was listening to the news and my daughter was sleeping and I was cooking dinner and it was a news story about a little toddler in New York,I think it was Brooklyn but Iím not sure, I donít remember, and he was actually, he was stabbed to death along with his mother and I was there and I was holding the knife. And I said, I canít do this anymore. I knew I wasnít gonna hurt her but I didnít want it to get to that point where I was gonna break and hurt her. I called my mom, I said, mom you have to come here, I need to go do something. I didnít even want to admit to my mother that I needed to go seek help. You know Iím very, like I said, I keep things to myself, you know, I didnít want the shame. Even though, yes, Iím a nurse, the shame, the stigma, I didnít want people to know. You have your pride, you keep things to yourself. I called the doctor right, I called my OB/GYN and he referred me to a psychiatrist, they took me in right away. I went in to see the psychiatrist, I told him only bits and pieces. I knew how much I needed to tell him to get the help. I didnít tell him everything because I didnít want him to label me, I didnít want him to put me away. Thatís what it came down to, because the visions that I had. So I got the help, I started my medication, I went to therapy, all in one day. I even went to fill my presciption at a pharmacy that no one knew me because I didnít want anybody to know that I had postpartum depression.

So I got home and I knew, I said mom, I have to talk to you. She was like, what happened and I told her, I started crying. She started crying. She was like, was I a bad mother? I was like, Ma. So here I am going to therapy and I felt like I had to counsel my mom. So I said, mom, itís gonna be OK, weíre gonna get through this OK. Sophia and I will be OK.

So once I got to the counseling and started therapy I was in it for about over a year. Just from that day, that minute, I knew that everything was gonna be OK. I knew, it took me a long time to admit it Ė I canít get through this by myself. I spoke to no one. No one knew that I even suffered this. The only people that knew was me, my mom, my OB/GYN, my psychiatrist and my counselor, thatís it up until last year. So for three years I kept this in silence, I told no one. And my staff thatís here only found out a few months ago when the brochures actually circulated. So Iím here unning to my office, oh my gosh, and I still have that stigma, itís there with you. And itís something not to be ashamed of, you get the help, you get the help that you need in time but for me a lot of it is guilt. A lot of it for me is that I donít have that 10 months of time. I see pictures of my daughter and I just, I remember only bits and pieces of it because my mind was always fixated on, whatís wrong with her? Does she have this? Does she have that? And I had visions of her like I said being intubated, on all these lines, in a NICU, in a PICU, and the Ė ignorance is bliss. Let me tell you. These were the visions that I kept having and I donít get that back. And amazing enough, as soon as I got home that day from therapy, I started that journal again. So I have a journal from that point on but I donít have that 10 months where I just didnít have the energy to write in there. I didnít want to write my thoughts down on paper because then thereís evidence. I didnít want that. You know, I figured let me go get the therapy, take the pills, go to counseling, and Iím done.

So as a nurse, as a nurse-manager, and my staff, they know, the one thing that we all can do is get people to go out there and seek the therapy as soon as possible because once you lose that precious time, you donít get it back at all. Thatís it.

Mary Jo Codey: Thank you so much. I know how hard it is emotionally to open yourselves up like that. And I think that youíre all very brave women and I really appreciate you being here today. It helps erase the stigma for other women who are ashamed and wonít reach out and seek help. Thank you.

And thank you so much for being here today. You were a wonderful audience and you guys are the best. Thank you.

Perinatal mood disorders are treatable. But first you have to ask for help.

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