SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Mary Jo Codey, wife of former Gov. Richard Codey, spoke to nursing students at Seton Hall University Wednesday, explaining how understanding of postpartum depression has changed in recent years.
Codey, who earned her master’s degree from Seton Hall, shared the story of her struggle with postpartum depression to highlight the evolution of its diagnosis and treatment.
“I wanted to speak at the nursing school because there are the people who are on the front lines,” she said. “These nurses see these women through the entire process, even after they have their baby.”
Codey said that when she went through her first bout of depression after having her son Kevin there was almost no information available on postpartum depression.
“I went through it 29 years ago, and there was almost nothing back then,” she said. “I went to the book store and I could only find one book that even mentioned postpartum depression in the index. So I frantically flipped through to the one page that talked about it and there were only two sentences. ‘If your wife has postpartum depression, look out. She might accuse you of cheating.’”
Codey shared her journey through postpartum depression, from her initial feelings of detachment from her children to her successful treatment years later.
“Imagine laying in the hospital bed, when the ordeal (giving birth) is over, and the doctor asks if you want to hold your son,” she said. “And you feel nothing. No joy. No love. No relief. Nothing. You don’t even want to see the baby.”
She said that in the weeks that followed her son’s birth, she began to have suicidal thoughts and considered killing the child.
“I remember one night I was in the kitchen,” she told attendees. “And I remember opening the microwave oven in a trance to see if I could fit the baby inside.”
Even after Codey began seeking professional help, she said, it was still a humiliating experience because postpartum depression was not well understood even within the medical community.
“I checked into a psychiatric hospital, but even there my shame was only worsened because of some of the nurse’s comments,” she said. “’You just had a baby? You’re 29? You’re just used to having a lot of freedom.’ I was discharged every bit as depressed as when I was admitted one month earlier.”
She also shared her negative experiences that came with the countless treatments she was prescribed during her second pregnancy.
“In those days, shock therapy was considered the only safe way to treat depression during pregnancy,” she recalled. “One effect of the shock treatments I wasn’t made aware of was that they could lead to severe short-term memory loss for months after therapy.”
She said that she went back to teaching after her shock treatments and couldn’t remember who any of her students were.
“It was the end of may now and I’d had all these students since September,” she said. “I couldn’t remember anything about them except what was in my files. They were complete strangers to me.”
Finally, she talked about the strides that have been made to better understand postpartum depression since her struggle with it.
“Today, every birthing hospital is required to screen women before they give birth,” she said. “There’s a 24-hours hotline for postpartum depression support. I started an awareness campaign with Brooke Shields, and there are a lot of organizations that support women with postpartum depression. We just finished creating the Codey Fund for Mental Health. Women now have ways of asking for help without going through the humiliation and shame I had to.”
The takeaway from her speech, Codey said, was that medical professionals should continue to be aware of and learn more about postpartum depression.
“You, being medical help professionals, are on the front lines to help those with postpartum depression,” she told the attendees.
The reporter is a student participating in hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts.