She already struggled with PTSD and depression, which stemmed from when she was 14 and lost her mother. Now, an unplanned pregnancy was weighing heavy on her.
“In the very beginning of my pregnancy, I was diagnosed with depression,” Sloss said.
She isn’t alone.
It’s estimated that 15 to 20 percent of new mothers are affected by perinatal depression, a term that includes prenatal and postpartum depression. Maternal depression can affect a baby’s health before and after birth and is one of the most common and costly obstetric complications in the U.S. when untreated, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Approximately 50 percent of women who are depressed during and after pregnancy go undiagnosed and therefore untreated.
A program a Cox Medical Center Branson is working to change that.
Healthier Mothers, Healthier Babies is designed to identify new and expecting moms suffering from depression or substance use, and help them get healthy. The program is made possible by a grant from Skaggs Foundation.
Sloss meets regularly with Judy Yoakum, a patient care coordinator with more than 40 years of social work experience.
“Judy has been there from the beginning for me,” Sloss said. “When you are pregnant, you can get lost in your own head but they have resources and people they can send you to for help.”
While Sloss has a network of family and friends, she said it’s nice to have an outside support person.
“Judy is very personable, very relatable and she actually listens,” Sloss said. “I like that even if I’m just having a bad day, she’s there to listen to me talk. I can talk to her about any time. A lot of places are not like that.”
And Sloss has had a lot to process during her pregnancy.
During an ultrasound at 10-weeks, doctors discovered Sloss had a large and fast growing teratoma tumor on one of her ovaries.
“I didn’t even know I had it,” Sloss said. “I just thought I was pregnant.”
The 10-pound tumor had to been removed, and quickly. Doctors estimated it had been growing for about 6 months. The surgery to remove it didn’t come without concern. Her baby only had about a 20 percent chance of survival, but without it the tumor could have been fatal for both.
“I didn’t want to lose my baby,” she said.
Miraculously, Sloss and her baby are doing great.
“If I hadn’t gotten pregnant, I wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Yoakum and the Healthier Mothers, Healthier Babies team have supported Sloss throughout it all and she credits them with her new outlook on life.
“From where I started to where I am now... it’s hard to describe,” she said. “I’m now off all the anxiety medicines I’ve been on since I was 14 years old. I now have people I can talk to.”
And, Sloss is excited to welcome baby Mason. She’s due Sept. 3 and looking forward to being a mom and nursing student.
“I just want to see what he looks like,” she said showing an image from her ultrasound. “They say he has a lot of hair and is chunky.”
Helping Mom, Helping Baby
“Identifying and addressing maternal depression in a timely fashion is essential to the health of both mom and baby,” explained Yoakum. “When we are able to help mom get well, we are changing entire families and potentially the health of that baby for a lifetime.”
Through the Healthier Mothers, Healthier Babies program, expectant moms are screened for maternal depression during their first prenatal appointment. In the spring of 2017 when Cox Branson was looking to start the program, 33 percent of postpartum moms suffered from depression.
Since the program launched a year ago, 25 percent of moms screened during their first prenatal visit have shown to be positive for maternal depression. These expectant moms who test positive are then provided resources, help and support.
“Now, with these added layers of intervention in place, the new postpartum depression rate at 6 weeks postpartum is 14 percent, down from 33 percent just two years ago,” explained Women’s Center Director Tracey Williams, MSN, FNP-C.
The national average of new moms suffering from postpartum depression is 15 percent.
In addition to identifying depression, the Healthier Mothers, Healthier Babies team is also identifying and working to help moms struggling with addiction. Yoakum explains to the new moms the dangers of substance use and the harm it can cause the baby, then, with their permission, she helps them get the help they need.
“I tell them, ‘I’m not here to take your baby away, I’m here to help you keep your baby,’” Yoakum said. “There is so much that mommas go through these days. Our No. 1 goal is to help these women be healthy mommas raising healthy babies.”
The program also connects moms with Melanie Lavoi, a lactation consultant, to support their breastfeeding efforts. Moms who smoke are encouraged to quit and offered resources to help and even diapers as incentives to stay quit.
Finding hope after hopelessness
In December 2017, Jaylene Heston lost her baby in a miscarriage. A few months later when Heston found out she was pregnant again, she was overcome with fear that something bad would happen.
“While I was pregnant, I was hit perinatal depression really hard and Cheryl (Chambers, care coordinator) and Judy helped me get through all of that,” explained Heston, who gave birth to her daughter Claire in January of this year. “I had some real personal hardships going on and those really took a toll on me. I knew something wasn’t right and I had a sense of hopelessness all the time.”
The screening confirmed Heston had depression. The Healthier Mothers, Healthier Babies team quickly found Heston the help she needed and walked alongside Heston throughout her pregnancy.
“I was very thankful and appreciative,” she said.
Today, the cloud has lifted, but she continues to keep in contact with Cheryl, knowing that she has someone to support her when she needs to talk. Grateful for the support she received, Heston has been inspired to start a nonprofit so she can help lift the spirit of others.
Honest conversations and new beginnings
“I don’t know where I’d be without their support,” said Shandi Whitaker, of Hollister, who welcomed her son Ransom on May 5.
Whitaker, a recovering addict, had just been released from prison when she got pregnant last year.
“They’ve been completely honest with me,” Whitaker said about Yoakum and Chambers. “It’s not always what I wanted to hear, but it’s been what I needed to hear.”
From helping Whitaker find recovery support and resources to dealing with depression and anxiety, to learning how to be a mom, Whitaker has found what she’s needed to be successful with the help of Yoakum and Chambers.
“I’m really really thankful,” she said. “They are really helpful and they really do care.”
Whitaker wasn’t just scared she was going to relapse. She was worried she didn’t know how to be a mom. Through Yoakum and Chambers, Whitaker was introduced to Centering Pregnancy, a group for pregnant women that combines prenatal exams with interactive group sessions with other moms due at the same time.
“I knew nothing about babies,” Whitaker said. “I was an only child and I’d never been pregnant before. It’s been awesome to learn and grow together with other moms.”
And, being a mom is the best, Whitaker said.
“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said. “I’ve never felt love like this before. It’s really awesome to get to come home to my son every night. It’s just so great.”