LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Three months after her daughter was born, Rebecca Leader could tell something was wrong.
"I started to feel anxious," she said.
Attending a support group for new mothers, she said she felt she didn't fit in.
"They were all happy," Leader said.
Last December, she met Sarah Workman Checcone, who was forming a new group for mothers with a focus on postpartum adjustment distress, often called postpartum depression or the "Baby Blues."
The Postpartum Society of Florida meets every Thursday at the Women's Center at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center. The society, which has applied for 501(c)3 nonprofit status, has a three-pronged approach: education, preparation and support.
The group is also encouraging pediatricians, obstetricians and other health care professionals to participate in a screening initiative to identify patients with postpartum issues.
A long-term goal is to collaborate with other groups across Florida, obtaining grant money to allow health care professionals to get continuing education in postpartum issues.
Checcone said the group offers a safe haven.
"Moms in the groups tell me, 'It's a safe place where we can tell the truth, good and bad, where no one will think I'm a bad mom.'"
Leader said her discomfort was taking over her life.
"It was a horrible sense of anxiety, a fear of the future," she said. "I went to bed thinking about it. I would wake up thinking about it. And I would think about it during the day."
Luz Corcuera, program director of Healthy Start of Manatee, said the group is an important resource.
"It's a wonderful group of women advocating for themselves," she said.
Corcuera said expectations of motherhood are often too high.
"We expect pregnant women to be happy, to feel wonderful," she said.
But new mothers often feel tired and overwhelmed.
"We prefer not to talk about that. We don't necessarily address these issues," Corcuera said.
Several moms at a recent meeting said the weekly get-togethers offer a lifeboat.
"It's a chance to vent, to decompress," said Lisa, who asked not to be identified further for this article. "Just knowing other women are going through the same thing at the same time," helps a great deal, she said.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 13 percent of pregnant women and new mothers have issues with depression.
Dr. Barbara Fleener, a Sarasota pediatrician and a member of the society's board of directors, said she fears many cases fall through the cracks because screening for postpartum distress is not uniform.
"There may be communication issues, language barriers," Fleener said, between doctors and patients.
Even determining when screening should be done is inconsistent.
"Pediatricians often think obstetricians are taking care of it," she said. "I wonder how many we're missing. I wouldn't be surprised if the number of cases aren't double or even triple" what is reported.
Checcone is presenting a workshop 2-5 p.m. Saturday at the Healthy Start Coalition of Manatee, 410 43rd St. W., Bradenton, for new parents and couples expecting a child. "Becoming Us," participants will take a personality assessment before the workshop, Checcone will interpret the results and lead the group through identifying different personality types, stress triggers and what couples can do to help each other cope. Information can be found at postpartumflorida.org.
The support group will continue to help moms keep child-rearing in perspective.
"We're not crazy. It's just normal stuff," Lisa said. "The troubles that seemed so huge in my head, once I talked about them, seem manageable. I don't come every week. I come whenever I need a sanity check."
Jim DeLa, East Manatee editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter@Jim_DeLa.