Health & Fitness

Documentary puts focus on the dark side of pregnancy

Documentary from Coconut Grove filmmmaker explores postpartum depression and the struggle women have in getting their condition treated.
Documentary from Coconut Grove filmmmaker explores postpartum depression and the struggle women have in getting their condition treated.

Maureen Fura had her first suicidal thought the morning she found out she was pregnant with her first son seven years ago.

Fura saw herself hanging from the tree in her backyard. Throughout her first pregnancy, she said she felt panicky. She couldn’t look at the tops of buildings because she was afraid she would want to jump from them.

“I didn’t know if I was going to make it through that,” Fura said. “I dropped out of school. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t be left alone. I made my parents and husband watch me 24/7.”

Fura, a filmmaker living in Coconut Grove, shares her story and the stories of several other women in Dark Side of the Full Moon, a documentary about women who suffered from postpartum depression and the roadblocks they had in seeking care. The documentary will be screened as part of the 10th Women’s International Film and Arts Festival on Sunday at the Collins Theater at the Deauville Hotel, 6701 Collins Ave., Miami Beach.

Fura wrote and directed the film, and Jennifer Silliman, a maternal mental health advocate living in Wellington in Palm Beach County, produced it. Silliman launched a social media campaign to get moms to talk about mental health during and after pregnancy.

Silliman battled postpartum depression, too. A few months into her pregnancy, she started having thoughts of stabbing her pregnant belly.

“The thoughts were frightening,” Silliman said. “I thought I was going crazy and I didn’t share it with anyone.”

Fura and Silliman traveled the country to meet women who had similar experiences and were willing to share their stories.

A Charlotte, North Carolina, woman attempted suicide with the Xanax her doctor prescribed for her depression. Her husband asked for a divorce days later, and she can now see her daughter only a few weeks each year.

A woman from Saginaw, Michigan, went to her local hospital and told a nurse she was suffering from postpartum depression. The nurse told her everyone was out to lunch and to come back for an appointment in four days. The woman couldn’t tolerate her symptoms for that long. She returned home and cut her hands off with a saw in her garage. She still has the baby.

A woman from Rockville, Maryland, kidnapped her daughter because she thought her husband wanted to take her child away from her. She was on the run for 10 days.

The women who were interviewed sought help from medical professionals, but said they didn’t receive adequate care for their depression. Some of the women said their doctors never asked them about their mental state. Others said they were turned away or that their doctors didn’t take them seriously. Others said they had to wait months for psychiatric appointments even though their symptoms required immediate treatment.

The big question Fura and Silliman pose throughout the documentary: Why? Why were women not being adequately taken care of? Why were doctors not asking or talking about depression during and after pregnancy?

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 14 to 23 percent of pregnant women experience depression during pregnancy, and 5 to 25 percent of women experience depression after giving birth. Obstetrician/gynecologists can screen women for depression during and after pregnancy.

Up to 80 percent of women experience “baby blues,” a period of worry, unhappiness and fatigue after having a baby. The feelings are mild and usually last one to two weeks and go away on their own, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Dr. D. Jeffrey Newport, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said the stress brought about by having a new baby can leave women vulnerable to depression.

“To have a very happy event occur, but for the happy event to be stressful and bring tremendous social, biological and psychological changes — it’s normal to have positive and negative emotions come out of the experience,” he said.

What is not normal, he said, is to feel so depressed that it interferes with the mother’s ability to care for her child. To make sure it’s nothing more than baby blues, Newport advises mothers to contact a clinician if symptoms persist for more than three or four days.

“One of the biggest concerns with postpartum depression and anxiety is that mother-infant bonding can be sacrificed,” Newport said. “Mothers can sometimes feel they’re not up to the task of motherhood. They can be prone to delegating the care of the baby to others because they are so worried they’re going to make a mistake.”

Silliman said she didn’t feel an emotional connection with her daughter when she was first born. She didn’t like to hold her, and she said everything she did felt robotic.

When her daughter was diagnosed with autism, she wondered if it had something to do with the anxiety and depression she felt while she was pregnant.

“My first thought was, ‘I wonder if I’m the reason why she’s autistic,’” she said. “Is it because of all the panic attacks I had in my third trimester? Is it because I caused her to come early? Is it because I didn’t bond with her?”

Fura wondered the same thing about her son. He was diagnosed with selective mutism.

“He doesn’t speak at school. He only whispers,” she said. “I wonder if it’s because the entire time I was pregnant I was constantly in a panic while he was forming his brain and body.”

Silliman and Fura hope the documentary will spark a conversation about maternal mental health and that the medical community will change the way it thinks about postpartum depression and other mood disorders during and after pregnancy.

“I love being a mom, but it almost didn’t happen for me,” Fura said. “I just want to get this film in front of everybody and I hope it’ll create a catalyst for communities to come together and address the issues.”

If you go

The documentaryDark Side of the Full Moon’’ will be screened as part of the 10th Women’s International Film and Arts Festival at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Collins Theater at the Deauville Hotel, 6701 Collins Ave., Miami Beach.

To purchase tickets, visit www.womensfilmfest.com/event/dark-side-of-the-full-moon/.

For help, call Postpartum Support International at 800-944-4PPD.

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