A local mom turns a diagnosis into a conversation of support for others dealing with postpartum depression.
- Written byAmber Klinck
Ellie Berkowitz Handler scrolls through the collection of images saved on her phone, beaming with pride as she shows each picture of her adorable kids. With handheld photo albums at our fingertips, it’s easy to share these precious moments with our friends, family—even the occasional stranger in the checkout line.
What we’re less likely to share are the not-so-pretty pictures—the challenging moments in our lives. Ellie is trying to change this, however, particularly when it comes to the discussion surrounding postpartum depression.
Bright, warm and animated, Ellie’s can-do attitude, along with a little luck, translated into a healthy and active pregnancy. She felt great; she had the love and support of her family and even maintained a consistent running routine.
But soon after her first child was born, Ellie became riddled with anxiety.
“I didn’t know what was wrong, but I felt like a walking zombie,” she explains. “I remember my husband leaving and just crying and thinking, ‘I can’t do this.’”
After four months of struggling on her own, Ellie opted for a more proactive approach and spoke to a therapist. She was immediately diagnosed with postpartum depression, treated accordingly and within two to three weeks was feeling like herself again. She began spending time with other moms, joined a mommy-and-me group, and her perception of what it meant to be new mom began to change.
“This one woman had a baby who cried the whole class, and she would just laugh and say, ‘He’s a screamer.’ I used to be that mom who would ditch her shopping cart in the store if started crying in his baby carrier. These women saved my life; they gave me perspective,” Ellie explains.
Armed with a strong, female support group and a greater awareness of postpartum depression, Ellie approached her second pregnancy with optimism. “I thought I was going to be fine, and if something happened, at least I’d know what it was,” says Ellie.
After another great pregnancy and a successful, planned C-section, Ellie felt her postpartum depression creeping up a mere 12 hours after her surgery. “For me it’s very physiological,” Ellie says. “My heart was racing.” It would take five to seven weeks of treatment before she began to feel normal again.
By the time Ellie was pregnant with her third child, she was an active participant in Maternal Mental Health Now, a Los Angeles-based organization dedicated to removing “barriers to the prevention, screening and treatment of prenatal and postpartum depression.” Today Ellie is putting her PhD in art history to work by taking care of the organization’s design needs, in addition to serving as committee chair.
On November 8, Maternal Mental Health Now will hold its sixth annual Speak Up When You’re Down Gala at the Manhattan Beach Country Club—a name befitting of the organization’s push for women with postpartum depression to talk with others. “I’m very vocal,” Ellie says. “Being vocal has encouraged other women to come forward. I think it’s important to realize that anyone can experience postpartum depression.”
By working with additional organizations and professionals, Maternal Mental Health Now raises public awareness, offers training and technical assistance, and advocates for public policy that supports postpartum screening and care. Currently they are “working on this idea of integration by putting social workers or mental health professionals into a primary setting,” such as a pediatric office, Ellie explains.
“So many people are affected by ,” she continues, “and there’s not strong awareness.” But there are a growing number of resources designed to help. If you’re looking for a local solution, one of MMHN’s affiliates, The Mother Nurture Center, is located on the Redondo Beach Pier and offers a variety of prenatal and postpartum classes, workshops and support groups.
By sharing her story, this vibrant, accomplished, loving mother of three has started a conversation that may greatly impact a new mother suffering in silence. Ellie is actively and openly defying any stigmas or shame associated with postpartum depression, and that is a story worth sharing.
For more information on Maternal Mental Health Now, visit maternalmentalhealthnow.org.