Nurse, Mood Disorder Expert, New Mom’s Advocate: Meet Birdie Meyer
August 29, 2017
It isn’t always as it seems, explains Birdie Meyer in a tone taut enough to make one take notice. “New moms don’t just walk around openly sobbing, or threatening suicide or incessantly talking about how they need help. These women often stay silent. They feel guilt or shame. They know something isn’t right but they often aren’t sure what to do or where to go.”
And that’s where Meyer steps in.
As an obstetrics nurse with a master’s degree in counseling and the coordinator of the Perinatal Mood Disorders program at Indiana University Health and Riley Hospital for Children, Meyer is a renowned expert in the field of perinatal mood disorders. In addition to her duties at IU Health, she has also served as a past president of Postpartum Support International, gaining international notoriety as a top perinatal mood disorder educator.
In her 42-year career with IU Health Meyer says she has worked with women suffering from a range of issues. “Perinatal mood disorders are more common than people think. One in 7 women will suffer but less than 50 percent of women will seek treatment.” And it's not a problem exclusive to mothers either: 1 in 10 men will also suffer from postpartum depression or anxiety after a new baby arrives, she says.
What is a perinatal mood disorder? “It’s an umbrella term but it can include postpartum depression or anxiety. Anxiety is a common one,” she says.
Why? “We, as women, often have an image that we are going to play house and we are going to love it all the time,” explains Meyer. “And after you have a baby it can be a shock to realize that you don’t have a clue what you are doing. Everything changes overnight. You lose all freedom and take on an unfathomable role. Some women begin to feel inadequate.”
According to Meyer, perinatal mood disorders can develop during pregnancy or the first year after giving birth. There are many reasons why these disorders occur, she says. Family history and hormonal fluctuations can play a part but their development is never a woman’s fault, Meyer maintains. “Patients often ask me, I have a great life. Why did I get this? What did I do wrong? They often believe it’s a moral weakness.”
Meyer always makes an effort to put new moms at ease. She’s a natural advocate. Yet Meyer’s career didn’t initially move forward the way one would suspect. Born and raised in Frankfort, Indiana, the seasoned nurse first had her heart set on becoming a school teacher. Meyer enrolled at the University of Indianapolis with high hopes, but when she discovered that the market was being flooded with teachers (with many of her friends unable to find post-college jobs), she swiftly switched to nursing.
Placed at IU Health’s Methodist Hospital fresh out of school, the new nurse toiled in a ‘corony care’ unit assisting patients with heart issues. “I was a cardiovascular critical care nurse for a few years before I moved to working in a post-partum unit,” she recalls.
It was a move that changed everything.
Meyer then became a lactation consultant and childbirth educator as well and decided to go back to school. “I got my masters in psychology at Butler University and picked up other projects along the way.”
One project of pride: “Back in 1995, we set up a mother/baby home visit program at Methodist. This was back in the nineties when women who gave birth were only being allowed a 24 hour hospital stay. New moms were going home feeling like they had no idea what they were doing so we set up a program where these ladies would receive a home visit from a nurse within their first week of returning home. And then I trained the nurses to do the home visits. They helped moms with breastfeeding, questions about health and well-being, and more. That program existed for 10 years,” shares Meyer who says it ended when the system returned to allowing a 48 hour hospital stay.
Her work with women and perinatal mood disorders entered the picture unexpectedly. Meyer admits she herself wasn’t even aware of these issues until a coworker broached the subject with her. “Someone asked me if we had any programs for women suffering from postpartum depression. That was in 1997. Since I had never experienced anything personally, I knew nothing about it. I said to myself: I’m an OB nurse with a masters in psychology--I need to learn more.”
After Meyer brushed up on the subject, she asked her supervisor if she could begin holding weekly perinatal mood disorder support groups for moms. It started out at Methodist but soon spread to other locations at IU Health North and IU Health West. “My phone number became the contact for perinatal mood disorder resources for Methodist. I wanted to help women the best way I knew how so I flew out to California to complete two-day training from Post-Partum International, too.”
She also started talking to clinicians about perinatal mood disorders in a quest to educate them about screening and remind them of the resources that she and her team had to offer. It’s paid off: “Today, women can find me through their OB provider. I offer an appointment of evaluation and then together we develop a plan of care.”
The mother of two older daughters, Meyer currently enjoys travel when she’s not on the job but admits that’s not often. “I genuinely love the work that I do—and I consider myself very lucky to be able to help women in such an important way.”
-- By Sarah Burns