While our senate heroes, U. S. Senators Robert Menendez and Richard Durbin of IL, co-sponsors of The Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act, and their supporters - including presidential candidate Barack Obama and many other bipartisan advocates, lost a battle in the U.S. Senate today, we have not lost the war against postpartum depression and services for our nation's mothers. Indeed, this setback is not due to the lack of national support for the legislation, but a defiant blockade by one Senator, Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma who has singlehandedly obstructed this and other legislation by using a procedural loophole never meant to overturn the will of the people.
While Senator Coburn himself failed to appear at yesterday's hearing, sparing himself and his conscience further consideration of facts which would have made such action impossible, he sent a surrogate whose mission was to continue his objection to the legislation thereby "denying relief to hundreds of thousands of mothers who suffer from the condition each year" said Senator Robert Menendez who advocated for the bill's passage.
Despite today's setback, Senator Menendez reaffirmed his commitment to continue this critical battle. "Hundreds of thousands of women across the country suffer at the hands of postpartum depression every year, and they deserve better than the ideological games being played with legislation intended to bring them relief," said Senator Menendez. "This is a cause I am committed to seeing through, and I will continue to stand up on behalf of mothers suffering from this condition until the blockade is cleared."
Among the MOTHERS Act's champions is former New Jersey First Lady Mary Jo Codey, Carol Blocker, mother of the woman for whom the legislation was named who died from postpartum illness (who prays everyday this bill will pass), Brooke Shields, who spoke passionately in support of the legislation at a Capitol Hill Press Conference, Valerie Plame Wilson, who wrote about her experiences with postpartum depression in her best selling book "Fair Game", Joan Mudd who lost her daugher to postpartum depression and formed the Jennifer Mudd Houghtaling Foundation in Chicago, IL, and many others who remain staunchly committed to this issue.
Congressman Bobby L. Rush who sponsored the bill's counterpart in the U.S. House of Representatives, saw it pass in October '07 with a nearly unanimous bipartisan vote. It would likely have enjoyed the same fate in the U.S. Senate long before now if legislators were as interested in representing the will of their constituents as they were in continuing current political stalemates that serve no one.
Birdie Meyer, President of Postpartum Support International, (www.postpartum.net) the bill's lead organizational sponsor said:
"The effects of pregnancy and postpartum depression and anxiety can be devastating to the mother, the baby, the partner, the family, and society. Passing the Melanie Blocker Stokes Mother's Act would have provided nationwide education and recognition of this illness. Childbearing women and their families deserve to have this education in every city, every hospital, every clinic, everywhere."
"After years of needless suffering, American women need the relief that would have been provided from increased research into the causes of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, better education of healthcare professionals to identify and treat these disorders, and grants for programs and services to help women recover," said Katherine Stone, former director of marketing at The Coca-Cola Company and creator of Postpartum Progress, (www.postpartumprogress.typepad.com) the most widely-read blog in the U.S. on postpartum depression. "It is critical to foster healthy family development by preventing the serious physical and mental health problems affecting both mother and child that stem from undiagnosed or improperly treated postpartum depression."
Dr. Shoshana Bennett, former president of Postpartum Support International, and a survivor of two life-threatening, undiagnosed postpartum depressions, said – I urge you to reconsider this bill and pass The Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act.
Sylvia Lasalandra, author of "A Daughter's Touch" and a longtime advocate for the legislation who traveled to Capitol Hill to speak in support of its passage stated, The Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS ACT would have provided supportive services to women suffering from postpartum depression and psychosis. It would have helped educate mothers and their families about PPD, an illness that effects close to 800,000 women in the U.S. alone! Shame on you Senator Coburn!
Susan Dowd Stone, MSW, LCSW, chair President's Advisory Council, Postpartum Support International (www.perinatalpro.com) stated, "It seems our Senate has lost its way - this continuing blockade by one Senator offers a troubling analogy to the current financial crisis. Within our federal mortgage agencies, decisions made by a very few deaf to constituent welfare and subject to minimal oversight have brought our country to the brink of bankruptcy. And today, a decision made by one person refusing to defer to his constituents will and the indisputable science, research and statistics that support the need for this legislation, means thousands of innocents will continue to suffer. More lives will be lost. More families will be irreparably damaged. And more children will suffer the consequences of untreated maternal depression. Only 15% of women suffering with these devastating disorders are ever diagnosed and treated. Billions for the guilty, not a dime for our nation's most critical and innocent social dyad of mother and child."
When did such legislators decide that in the world's greatest democracy, individual opinion trump society's need, consistent research findings and responsibility to constituents? Coburn is a doctor who participates in funding decisions for NIH and NIMH yet apparently remains unmoved by their perilous findings indicating that untreated maternal depression is a public health crisis. When one legislator can overturn the will of a country, we are no longer living in a democracy.
We will again await its inevitable passage at the next Congressional session when reason may more strongly prevail. Below is an outline of the bill's urgent and noble purpose:
The legislation would increase federal efforts to combat postpartum depression by:
· Coordinating and continuing research to better understand the causes of, and treatment for, postpartum conditions. Also, supports a National Public Awareness Campaign to increase awareness and knowledge of postpartum depression and psychosis.
· Creating a grant program for the delivery of essential services to individuals with postpartum depression.
· Conducting a study on the benefits of screening for postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis.
It is estimated that postpartum depression (PPD) affects from 10 to 20 percent of new mothers. In the United States, there may be as many as 800,000 new cases of postpartum conditions each year. The cause of PPD isn't known but changes in hormone levels, a difficult pregnancy or birth, and a family history of depression are considered possible factors.
Groups supporting the legislation:
Postpartum Support International
Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses
American Psychological Association
American Psychiatric Association
Children's Defense Fund
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
March of Dimes
Mental Health America
American College of Nurse Midwives
National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Suicide Prevention Action Network USA
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs
National Partnership for Women & Families
OWL- The Voice of Midlife and Older Women
National Women's Law Center
Susan Dowd Stone, MSW, LCSW
Chair, President's Advisory Council
Postpartum Support International
NJHSS Certified Perinatal Mood Disorders Instructor
Adjunct Lecturer, Silver School of Social Work
New York University