Former NJ First Lady Shares Powerful Postpartum Depression Story

By Brenda Flanagan

“The intrusive thought came: ‘Smash the glass on the side of the sink and cut the baby’s throat.’ I envisioned the bath water turning all red with blood,” said former New Jersey First Lady Mary Jo Codey.

Codey told a rapt audience at Monmouth Medical Center a brutally frank story about her terrifying, dark journey through deep postpartum depression and thoughts of killing her baby son, Kevin, in 1985.

“I went into the kitchen one night in January when my husband was out giving a speech and opened up the microwave to see if I could fit the baby inside,” she said.

She couldn’t. Kevin survived and thrived — as did his brother, Chris — after Codey got proper treatment. But postpartum depression imploded her world. It affects one in seven women nationwide and here at the new Center for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, Codey’s story made women in the treatment program weep in recognition. Jessica Montalto of Brick considered suicide after having her son, Luca. Her family didn’t understand.

“And they’re like, you’re being over-dramatic, this is ridiculous. You’re a mom now, get over it,” she said.

It took support groups and therapy for Montalto to cope. The clinic here’s treated more than 500 patients. Their kids played during today’s official ribbon-cutting. A CDC survey shows about 9 to 10 percent of New Jersey women self-reported PPD symptoms in 2012 and 2013.

“Because they’ve waited five months, they’ve waited eight weeks, they’ve eight months to see if tomorrow would be better. Would I feel better tomorrow? Would I not feel like this? Ashamed. Stigma,” said Lisa Tremayne, director of the new center.

New Jersey’s one of only a few states that screens women for PPD before they leave the hospital.

“Now we’re going to move to taking good care of them afterwards. So that’s why this program was developed. That’s why this program is very successful,” said Dr. Robert A. Graebe, chair and program director of the OB-GYN department at Monmouth Medical Center.

But participants expressed concern about what impact changes in health care coverage could have — particularly after the Obamacare rollback vote today in the House. Amy DeStefano needed intensive counseling for depression after little Charlotte was born.

“Mental health is a necessity. Definitely. But if it’s between taking your baby to the pediatrician or going to therapy, they’re going to choose taking care of their baby if it comes down to money,” she said.

While they’re concerned about the status of health care coverage for postpartum depression, the program director says they’ll make sure that patients here get the counseling they need regardless of their ability to pay.