Almost seven years ago, Donna Kreuzer was taking care of her newborn granddaughter in a hotel room in San Antonio. Her daughter, Kristi, was attending a law conference with her husband, and Kreuzer came along to help out.
During that trip, she says, her daughter revealed a secret she had been keeping for eight weeks.
“She came through the hotel door – and a mama always knows, the look on her child’s face was telling me something was deathly wrong here,” Kreuzer says.
Kristi told her husband and Kreuzer that she had been suffering with postpartum depression since the baby was three days old.
Kreuzer had been prepared for something like this; Kristi had a history with depression and was at risk for postpartum depression.
Also known as perinatal mood disorder, postpartum depression is one of the most common complications following a pregnancy. It affects about one in six new mothers in Texas.
When Kristi revealed what was going on, Kreuzer says, the family jumped into gear. They got Kristi a psychiatrist, a therapist. She went back to a counselor she had seen before.
“She had support and love and the resources from her husband and I and our families and her friends,” Kreuzer says. “So, it was immediately that we stepped in.”
But even with the help, Kristi took her own life. She was 36.
“I’m of the belief now – although, I don’t know that I will ever know the true reason – but I have to think that the delay in intervention [played] a major part in her inability to recover,” Kreuzer says.
Kreuzer then spent the next seven years as an advocate for increased screening for postpartum depression and access to mental health care for women who need it. She was among a group of advocates who came out in support of House Bill 2466, which increases screenings for low-income women in the state.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill last week as part of ongoing efforts to curb the state’s maternal mortality crisis. According to state estimates, about 200,000 mothers in Texas will be eligible for the postpartum depression screenings each year.
Once the law goes into effect in September, mothers covered by Medicaid or CHIP will be screened when they take their babies to a well-check appointment.
“Anything to help more women be seen by a doctor and try to identify any problems early is vital,” says Maggie Jo Buchanan, Southern director for the Young Invincibles.
But Buchanan says the state can’t stop at just improving screening.
“There’s still going to be an extremely strong need to expand access to treatment,” she says.
Women on Medicaid are kicked out of the program two months after giving birth, Buchanan says. Since Texas lawmakers did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, many low-income women don’t have insurance after that period.
Both Buchanan and Kreuzer say the new law is a step in the right direction, but it’s also important to make sure women can get the help they need.