By Beth Sanfrantel

Many expectant mothers get so caught up in planning for a child – registering for the latest gadgets, reading up on child care, designing a nursery – that one possible side effect of giving birth can be overlooked until it’s too late: postpartum depression. What many families don’t realize is that there is a side of being a new mother that brings the exact opposite of joy. 

Postpartum depression, which affects many new mothers, plagued Jenny Gibbs Bankston in the form of sadness and depression after giving birth to her first son Graham in November of 2007. Jenny and her family resided in the city I now call home, Birmingham, Alabama, where her husband Chip was completing his residency.  I too recently gave birth to my third son in the very same hospital. The difference is – I am still here. 

The reality of postpartum depression (PPD) is that it affects close to 20 percent of all mothers. For many, this doesn’t make sense; this should be one of the happiest moments of their lives. Most think, “It won’t happen to me.”

One minute a new mom may feel overjoyed and the next minute she may feel sad and anxious.  Sometimes the feelings go away after a few days. Other times they become more severe and last longer.  Again, most mothers think it won’t happen to them and they can’t wait for the day their child arrives. I felt the same way, and with my education in social work, I knew I would be just fine. So I concentrated on planning – bedding, colors, clothes.

I am sure Jenny felt fine at first as well. But in a devastating turn of events, a month and a half after Graham was born, Jenny purchased a handgun and took Graham’s life and then her own. Her family didn’t have any warning signs and her friends saw her just days before her death and never knew she was going through anything. She silently suffered from a severe case of PPD. 

My experience with PPD didn’t materialize until six months after Mac, my second son, was born.  The truth was, I was anxious and thankful when he slept, because I couldn’t quite figure out why I had so much trouble focusing on caring for him and myself. My oldest son needed me as well and so did my husband Scott. The tears for me came and went but emotionally I felt sad.  I wanted to do everything just right and I hated to admit I was not at my best.  Sometimes I wanted to go back to the way things were before him. I thought to myself, Why should I be sad? I have a brand new baby and a wonderful family. I love Mac so much. 

Shortly after the realization that something wasn’t quite right with me, I started researching postpartum depression online. I dug out the hospital paperwork, which included a pamphlet about PPD and statistics about who is most likely to suffer from it. Friends even said to me that I just needed to find myself. And that’s when I found Jenny’s Light, a non-profit organization started by Jenny’s family to help mothers and families deal with PPD. 

I like to say that Jenny’s Light was a godsend. Jenny’s story made it real and a huge weight, which still gives me chills, was lifted off my shoulders. She was a smart, beautiful young woman with her whole life ahead of her. Her story was so meaningful to me not only because it helped me understand my tears but because my family and I were in the process of relocating from Atlanta to Birmingham, where Jenny had lived.

Today I feel great. Six months ago, I delivered my third son, Beau, in the very same hospital where Graham was born. I thought of Jenny while I was there and it was emotional. I have gotten to know some of her good friends while volunteering for Jenny’s Light locally. I thank God everyday that Jenny lives on in our hearts and that her family’s organization has been able to help moms across the country to understand and deal with PPD.  It’s our responsibility as mothers, wives and friends to help educate people about Jenny’s Light and PPD.  After all, we are all beautiful as women and mothers and we define that beauty as BELLA’s tagline reminds … for ourselves.

Jenny’s Light continues to support moms and help educate women and families across the U.S. for postpartum depression. The support they receive goes directly to fund everyday operating costs of their website, their program brochures and information cards. Their grant program has given more than $100,000 to programs that are in line with their mission to improve and save lives by increasing awareness of all prenatal mood disorders such as postpartum depression. 

Tidbit: For more resources and information, visit JennysLight.org.

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