Friday, February 5, 2010

I'm not surprised: Postpartum Depression hits the media again

The news about the mother in Millet, Alberta who murdered her children on Monday and then attempted to jump off a bridge in Edmonton was all over the Canadian headlines this week. Originally from Australia, she was involved in a custody battle with the children's father. News reports are saying that she suffered from postpartum depression. I'd hazard a guess and say it was more like postpartum psychosis. has a very simple definitions for postpartum depression and psychosis, although I don't think that postpartum psychosis is as rare as they say:

Postpartum depression can begin anytime within the first year after childbirth. If you have postpartum depression, you may have any of the symptoms of depression listed above. Symptoms may also include:
  • Thoughts of hurting the baby
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself
  • Not having any interest in the baby
Postpartum depression needs to be treated by a doctor.

Postpartum psychosis is rare. It occurs in about 1 to 4 out of every 1,000 births. It usually begins in the first 2 weeks after childbirth. Women who have bipolar disorder or another mental health problem called schizoaffective (SKIT-soh-uh-FEK-tiv) disorder have a higher risk for postpartum psychosis. Symptoms may include:
  • Seeing things that aren’t there
  • Feeling confused
  • Having rapid mood swings
  • Trying to hurt yourself or your baby

My heart just aches when I see news stories about children being hurt by their own parents, and the sad fact of the matter is that I am not surprised.  In the middle of an Alberta winter, broken up with her husband, day in and day out of just caring for two small children. Yes, it can take a toll. I've been there, maybe not in the cold of Alberta but in grey, rain soaked confines of Vancouver. I know you can crack up from it. I've had many a breakdown while taking care of my children, especially when they were babies and you are completely confined. What this woman did was completely heinous, and there is no excusing that. Maybe though, the blame should be spread slightly onto the people around there that didn't acknowledge the depression in the first place. Like the brother in law who saw here deleting photos of her children and giving away their toys. Didn't alarm bells go off? Was there a conversation about why exactly she was deleting photos of her kids? I have a hard time believing that she didn't want people to know what was going through her head, and this was her way of telling them. She probably didn't think it would end up the way that it did, so if she told someone how badly she was feeling she might lose her children. Damned if you do, damned if you don't, and stuck someplace in between.  Like I said, I'm not surprised this has happened, again.

Andrea Yates drown all 5 of her children in a bathtub. She was then accurately diagnosed with PPP.  Susan Smith drove her two sons into a river and left them there, then claimed she was hijacked. She is serving a life sentence, but also has been diagnosed with PPP. Maybe the media and lawmakers have scorned the diagnosis of postpartum because then it would look like these women had a free ticket to killing their children. As I said before, there is no excuse for harming your children and these women are rightfully in jail. I just feel that it's unfortunate that it had to happen at all.

Brooke Shields wrote the book "Down came the rain" about her experience with PPD, and although she did gain a small amount of publicity for postpartum, it certainly wasn't enough for mainstream media to put a proper label on other celebrity moms who had public nervous breakdowns. Britney Spears for example,  began to show her mental state when she was photographed sitting outside her house talking to everyone, crying. Two days later she shaved her head. She then hands over control of her life to some man she barely knows.  In all of the original media coverage about Britney going crazy, not a single one mentioned postpartum depression. Yet, this woman had just had her children 13 months apart and was recently separated from her husband. Two babies in 13 months? I'd say that qualified her for PPD about 10 times over.

The problem with postpartum depression is that there is stigma attached to it. Motherhood is what you are made for, it's the happiest time of your life. I'm thinking a man came up with this somehow, so that he could go out every weekend to the pub with no guilt. The consensus seems to be that it's a stress response, but not a big deal.  That really needs to change.

You see these moms in malls, on playgrounds, and driving to school. They have deep, dark circles under their eyes because they might have had an hour or two of uninterrupted sleep the night before. Maybe they were chatty at one time, but they aren't anymore. They might not set up playdates or want to come over for coffee. You wonder why, but you have a busy life right? Enough on your plate as it is. Shrugging it off and thinking that yes, it's hard to take care of little babies, she'll come out of it eventually is just the wrong thing to do.  After something happens like it did in Millet, and everyone is trying to make sense of it all, they'll stop short of asking themselves if they saw signs. Unfortunately for them, they probably just didn't want to see what was right under their noses. She failed her children, but everyone around that mom failed her too.

In the USA, there has been strides to lessen the stigma of maternal depression such as the law signed by Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey mandating a Postpartum awareness day on October 20th of each year.  The MOTHERS Act has recently passed the US Senate. This act provides education and screening, if desired, for postpartum depression. There appear to be some who oppose such an act, if only because it serves to make mothers look as though they can't handle the hormones, the rigors of childbirth, breastfeeding, sleepless nights, and the roller coaster that your body takes during the first year after birth. Sure, supermom, you go ahead and handle all of that on your own so you don't look weak. I'll take the help, thanks.

Until women stop trying to be superheros, until people start seeing things for what they really are, until law makers and politicians draw more lines in the sand, until, until, until...We will keep seeing tragedies such as the one this week in Alberta and we'll feel horrible, but we won't be surprised.

1 comment:

  1. I will openly admit that I suffered from Postpartum with my first child. Luckily I told a friend how I was feeling who advised me to call a help-line. I was given a prescription for an anti-depressant and joined a support group. I found out that there were SO many women out there feeling the same way as me. 3 years later I am still on a mild anti-depressant but did not experience postpartum with my 2nd child at all. My experience this time around has been SO different. I feel so sorry for all those women out there who do not have someone in their lives that they can turn to.