When a new mom goes to the doctor for a postpartum checkup, the last thing she expects is to get taken away by police.
But that’s what happened to California mom Jessica Porten, who went for an appointment at her obstetrician’s office, four months after giving birth to her daughter, Kira.
During her visit, she opened up to the nurse practitioner who came into her exam room about her feelings of depression, Porten said in post on her personal Facebook page. What happened next stunned her—and led to an unsettling 10-hour-ordeal that outrageously underscores the need for much better maternal mental health care in America.
Porten wrote: “I tell her everything my husband told them when he scheduled me the appointment a week ago. That I have postpartum depression (PPD) that is manifesting in fits of anger, and I want to discuss my medication options. I tell them I have a very strong support system at home, so although I would never hurt myself or my baby, I’m having violent thoughts and I need medication and therapy to get through this. She rushed through my pelvic exam, barely spoke about medication, said she needed to talk to the doctor about my PPD, and left the room. They called the fucking cops on me.”
Recognizing the signs of postpartum depression The rest of the afternoon unfolded as follows: the cops escort her to the hospital emergency department, where she’s checked in, triaged, has blood and urine taken. A security guard stays with her at all times. They have her remove all of her clothes (“including my flip flops, which they replaced with socks”). About eight hours pass and it’s not until 10:45pm that she’s seen by a social worker, who decides that she does not need to be put on a psychiatric hold. Oh, and yes, she was caring for her infant daughter the entire time. (Her husband arrived while she was there, thankfully.)
Porten continues, in her FB post: “Not once during all of this has a doctor laid eyes on me. Not once. Not even before they decided to call the cops on me. The social worker hands me some papers and discusses the information in them, telling me she thinks these “will probably be good resources for you.”
It was midnight when Porten finally left the hospital ER, feeling more broken in spirit than ever —without any medication or even a follow-up appointment.
For this mother, simply telling the truth about postpartum life earned her an intimidating encounter with police and a 10-hour stay in the ER, with nothing to show for it but fear. “That’s what I got for telling my OB that I have PPD and I need help,” says Porten. “I was treated like a criminal and then discharged with nothing but a stack of xeroxed printouts with phone numbers on them.”
The painful experience has galvanized Porten to action—and she’s speaking out in support of a group called 2020 Mom, a nonprofit host of Federal Maternal Mental Health Lobby Day, the leading advocacy movement for maternal mental health (MMH) in California. Four maternal mental health bills are currently being introduced in Sacramento, making the timing quite perfect for more people to get involved. She’s also calling on anyone affected by her story to think deeply about how much worse her experience may have been if she were not a white, heterosexual woman, which she realizes affords her certain privileges in many spaces—even more impetus for better healthcare laws to protect and help all postpartum women.