By Kristine Sorensen

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Postpartum depression affects one in six new moms, but many still don’t get the help they need.

Michelle Fogle, of Mount Lebanon, is opening up about her own struggles with postpartum depression in the hope that other women will learn from her experience. She says a new treatment program called NEST, through UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, saved her life and the life of her daughter, Claire.

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The joy of being a mom is clear when Michelle plays with Claire, who’s now 2, but it didn’t start that way.

“I didn’t feel that instant connection that everyone talks about. I had her and I was just kind of empty. I didn’t really feel anything,” she told KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen.

When Michelle got home from the hospital, it got worse: “I’m on week four, and I’m still crying every day, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘What did I do? I just made the biggest mistake of my life. I had a kid.'”

Even after she went to several doctors and counselors, Michelle’s thoughts spiraled out of control.

“Maybe I should just, know you, commit suicide…This is dark, but, there were even thoughts of hurting her (Claire). I was thinking to myself, ‘I can pretend that she’s in the bathtub. I’ll just walk away and maybe she’ll just drown and that will solve my problems,’” Michelle told Kristine.

She continued, “These are not things that normal people think, and no one could help me.”

With the encouragement of her family, she went to UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital and then to UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital for four nights. She got on medication for depression, which studies now show is safe for most women during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

When she was discharged, she joined the then newly-formed NEST program, which stands for “New and Expectant Mother Skills Training.”

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The program recently expanded to a new location in Wexford where they added a child care room. New moms come with their babies three days a week, three hours a day, for individual and group therapy and medication.

The NEST program treats more than 100 women a year. The new location is on the bus route which makes it easier to get to, and the women sometimes come from an hour away, from all over the region.

Psychiatrist Dr. Eydie Moses-Kolko, who helped Michelle and other women in the program, says, “Early detection is often the key to success, so getting women into treatment in pregnancy, if they’re already exhibiting symptoms of depression or anxiety, is a really good idea.”

Michelle says the group therapy saved her life and Claire’s life.

“There’s no way that I would still be here, or that she would be here, if I didn’t have those women… because it’s very lonely when you have a child and you’re experiencing these devastating feelings,” she says.

Michelle hopes by sharing her story, others will be more honest about their own challenges.

“If people just talked about it more and were more open about their experiences, I think a lot of women wouldn’t even get to the point where they are in their depression.”

Michelle and Dr. Moses-Kolko also say screening women for anxiety and depression in pregnancy and soon after childbirth would help. Many states now mandate that, but Pennsylvania is not one of them.

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Kristine Sorensen