Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hiding Isn't Helping

One more day to enter for a $25 Wal-Mart gift card here.

I also just put up a brand new giveaway for Angie's Kettle Corn here, with ten winners, so go enter!


I've debated posting this for over a month now for a number of reasons. I don't want to get pulled into a debate where I'm definitely not the expert. I want to keep some modicum of privacy for people - even though I'm admittedly a fairly anonymous blog. And I don't get it. I truly don't get it, and I can't wrap my head around it, which is my biggest struggle.

Earlier this week, I read a post by Melissa at Peanut Butter In My Hair, and sensing her frustration, I realized that a lot of that really doesn't matter. I have something I want to share, and it isn't about a debate, it's about people and about things they do that - inadvertently or not - are harmful.

Melissa wrote about Post Partum Depression and her desire that people not minimize it, not pretend like they know how it feels, not push it further into the darkness where it only festers and grows.

On Mother's Day, a woman whose wedding I attended killed herself.

She had a great job that she loved, she'd been in a great community where she was well-respected, and she had an adorable six week old baby girl. The following day, she was to return to work from maternity leave.

On the Thursday before Mother's Day, a colleague had called her to check in. "I don't think I can do this" the woman told her. And her colleague did what we all do, so very often. "Of course you can. We all feel this way sometimes; it's no big deal."

The woman was right. She couldn't do it, and she ended her life.

I can't begin to understand how she felt that way. I can't imagine ever being at the point where suicide is the only way out. I can't imagine ever feeling like leaving behind an innocent child is the right decision - and I'm profoundly grateful for that.

I'm lucky, but there are so many women out there who aren't so lucky, who suffer deeply - sharply - on a daily basis just struggling to make it not through the next day but the next hour and the next minute. While I can't put myself anywhere near the place they're in, I do understand it, and I feel for them. I get that the casual, unintentionally hurtful "it's not that bad" cuts more than they can bear.

This woman didn't always have the easiest life. She had gotten divorced since I attended her wedding, and her baby was an accident with a man she hadn't been dating long enough to decide that they were ready for this next step. But they worked through it, and they were making a go of it.

Does this explain why she fell so deeply into the blackness of depression that she couldn't see a way out, couldn't find someone who understood, lost all hope of ever escaping the darkness where she lived?

While her circumstances may not have been what she envisioned as a little girl growing up with fairy tale romances in her eyes, that wasn't necessarily the precipice that caused her to slide so far into post partum depression. There are plenty of women who do have the fairy tale romance who travel the same path, and plenty of women in circumstances far more dire who rebound with no issues.

Post partum depression doesn't care who you are. It simply finds you and seizes you, and good luck getting it to loosen its grip.

Part of what most scares me about this woman is the reaction of her family. The fact that she committed suicide is not well-known. All they shared was that she died suddenly. They saw her fall as something to be ashamed of, something to sweep under the carpet and pretend away.

It isn't.

The further you push it under the rug, the deeper its hold becomes. This isn't something that shows weakness of character. It isn't a character flaw or failing. This is a serious medical issue. It's valid. It happens.

It breaks my heart to think of that little girl growing up with not so much as a single memory of her mother. And she isn't the only one. Post partum psychosis has a five percent suicide rate. When you think about the number of babies born each year, that figure it staggering - even accounting for the fact that this "only" impacts one to two women per thousand births.

The next time I see a woman with a new baby who is struggling in the grocery store, I'll offer a sympathetic smile or more. When a friend says she's struggling, I'll encourage her to share with me - and to find some help. So many won't find help because of the stigma attached to it, feeling like a failed mother, being mentally ill, or more. There should be no stigma. It happens.

Even though this woman's mom doesn't want to admit it, wants to keep the illusion alive that there are no problems, her daughter is proof. And without getting help, the repercussions are severe. If you've suffered through PPD, hats off to you for not drowning. Your success and your survival are a tremendous feat and not something to hide away.

There's a baby girl out there who someday will wish her mother had been able to do that. And I just hope that other mothers and grandmothers and husband will and can shed some more light on the tragedy that can be avoided for those who need to be encouraged to find the right help.

I'm not an expert, and I don't pretend to be one. My heart just can't take hearing about another little baby like this one.


Anonymous June 13, 2010 at 8:40 PM  

Thanks for posting this. It was beautifully written and perfectly stated.

Mrs4444 June 13, 2010 at 8:45 PM  

Heartbreaking. Yes, it's very serious, but thankfully, there is hope. It's just so sad that your friend didn't know it.

Pop and Ice June 13, 2010 at 9:17 PM  

I was hospitalized for PPD with my first child. It was hard. Really, really hard. When I look bad at the photos, it's impossible to think that someone in the family didn't notice I was falling apart. I sometimes doubted I would make it. I found a great therapist who helped me through it and I was able to return to work and handle the whole work and daycare scenario.

With my second child I was prepared - had a summer birth and went on antidepressants right away after the birth. The world was sunny and warm and it was a wonderful birth experience.

Not every Mom was so lucky me. I'm so glad to be here, for myself, and my children.

We Moms need to look out for each other and know when to ask for help.

Melissa June 14, 2010 at 5:45 AM  

Thank you Michelle.

This "This isn't something that shows weakness of character. It isn't a character flaw or failing. This is a serious medical issue. It's valid. It happens." is so true, so important and needs to be shouted from the roofs!

Tara R. June 14, 2010 at 7:06 AM  

This is a heartbreaking story. Sadly we probably all know a mother who has suffered silently with PPD. Thank you for starting this discussion.

Alexis AKA MOM June 14, 2010 at 12:57 PM  

really my dear this is a great post. So many go this and it's pushed under the rug or a drug is given to just cure you. But really is needed is something inside needs to be fixed and a bandaid is not going to be the answer to it.

It's a hard thing to go threw greatful mine with Caden wasn't a deep one but I just knew something wasn't right. I found a great doctor that told me she wasn't going to give drugs but help with the problem. I'm very appreciate to her. GREAT post and many prayers to your friends family and baby she left behind.

Pat June 14, 2010 at 7:39 PM  

Great post, Michelle, well done. I hope families, friends and physicians of women who are going through post partum depression will take seriously the pain these women are feeling.

Kori June 14, 2010 at 7:41 PM  

I disagree with alexis; maybe for every mental illness a drug isn't the answer, but who in the world has the right to tell a woman suffering that taking a drug is just slapping a bandaid on it? come on-I slapped a drug on MY bandaid, so to speak, after I had my last baby in similar circumstances as your friend, Michelle-and that drug, literally, saved my life. I cannot STAND those who seem to think that it is somehow a matter of pulling yourself out of it like a bad mood; it's like death, it is locking yourself in the bathroom at work and crying while you pump every three hours because it all seems so pointless, and then wiping off the tears and going back to work because otherwise people will tell you to get over it. It is looking at your baby and knowing how wonderful and blessed you are and yet feeling like jumping off a bridge is a reasonable option. It is thinking that you really, really CAN'T do this one more minute, and knowing you have to. it is the ruining of relationships and friendships because they just.don'

So yeah-I know this, I GET this post on a very visceral level, and it makes me so sad for every woman who is not given the support and care she needs, INCLUDING drugs and validation and love.

Regina June 14, 2010 at 8:52 PM  

A very true post. Having been there myself, it makes me very sad. Glad that you are giving her a voice!

Michelle June 14, 2010 at 9:36 PM  

Anonymous - Thank you! I just hope it helps someone.

Mrs4444 - There is hope, and I wish more people were able to find that hope.

Carole Lynn - You are lucky, and I'm so glad that you got the help you needed.

Melisa - This woman's mom doesn't want to shout at all, but I'm with you on shouting from the rooftops.

Tara - We absolutely do, especially given the responses to the post so far.

Alexis - Thank you. I agree that it's often pushed under the rug and that for some a band-aid is used, butthe drugs can absolutely be helpful (although I'm with you a good therapist is required).

Pat - To be honest, I'm less worried about the physicians, as most are trained to see it IF they are able to have a patient come in. It's the loved ones who need to keep an eye open.

Kori - It isn't a matter of willpower. PPD is much deeper. And the care and validation, absolutely!

Regina - I wish she were here to provide her own voice.

Hyacynth June 16, 2010 at 8:43 AM  

My heart hurts for that baby girl and for her mom. The stigma, the questioning from other mothers about if her ppd was "real", the lack of survival stories -- it all contributes to unfortunate, tragic, life-altering moments, like with what happened to your friend.
It's time we stop asking if mom's are really suffering and start asking how we can take their hands and lead them toward help.

Lisa Hanneman June 16, 2010 at 5:05 PM  

Great post and heart breaking story. I had my fair share of baby blues due to a terrible delivery, lack of sleep, and moving into a new house when our child was born. I was never to the point of PPD, but whenever the doctors asked me how I was feeling, I would say, "fine!" The thing is, I wasn't. I just didn't want to admit it.

Emily June 16, 2010 at 7:07 PM  

Oh no. That is just an unbelievable story. That poor little baby! I can't stand it. I think that health care professionals are getting better at screening for PPD. In Illinios, pediatricians, as well as OB/GYNs, are now required to screen new moms for PPD. Hopefully, it will catch some of these moms who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

Karen June 16, 2010 at 9:14 PM  

Oh, Michelle. I'm sorry for your loss of a friend. And the poor baby. My heart just aches.

Unknown Mami June 17, 2010 at 12:37 PM  

I am very very proud of you for writing this. Thank you! I did not suffer from post partum, but I had horrid, horrid panic attacks during my pregnancy and I was so lucky to find help. I really thought I was losing my mind and if I hadn't been surrounded by people that took the time to take care of me and make me understand that I was not alone, that this happens to many, many women, I truly do not know how I would have survived. They also kept a close watch on me afterward to make sure that we could deal with post partum if it came up. I had to go on medication while I was pregnant and the amount of judgment that I got even from some medical professionals was overwhelming. I did not take the decision to medicate lightly. I was terrified that I was doing something terrible to my unborn child. The thing was that for me there was no other way out. The panic was so severe that it was considered a much higher danger to the pregnancy than a low dose of medication. These are things that are sometimes out of our control. Our bodies have all these hormones going through them and some of us do not do well with it. We can not reason it or think it better. We are not weak or dumb or careless. It is also so unbelievably devastating to have anything other than the ideal pregnancy and experience with motherhood because it is so idealized. We can't even complain about it without adding, "but it's totally worth it of course." We really need to speak openly about all the possibilities and stop shaming people for being human. Anyway, thank you.

Unknown Mami June 17, 2010 at 12:41 PM  

I had to add one more thing about the medication. I had issues with panic before my pregnancy and chose never to medicate because I could "handle" it other ways and I thought medication was a cop-out. I was wrong. I never needed the medication until I needed it and then I was so grateful for it. The medication helps get you chemically back to a place where you can work on your issues with other processes, but sometimes without it YOU CAN NOT DO ANYTHING because your brain will not let you, you feel trapped.

anymommy June 17, 2010 at 7:28 PM  

A powerful post. Thank you for writing it. May we reach a place where no tiny babies are left without their mothers.

Michelle June 17, 2010 at 9:04 PM  

Hyacynth - The survival stories and even the "fear tactics" of the ones where survival doesn't happen... they all need to be out in the open and shared. And as a community, we've got to find a way to support these women!

Lisa - It's hard with all that transition on top of a new baby. I moved when Little Miss was eight months, and it was hard. I can't imagine with a newborn. And "fine" isn't the necessary answer. It's OK to say we aren't fine and need help and a break!

Emily - Getting better, but not close to perfect. This happened in Illinois, and she absolutely fell through the cracks. It breaks my heart.

Karen - I know. She's lucky that her dad is stepping up and taking her in, along with his gaggle of sisters - she'll be loved, but she'll never have her mom.

Unknown Mami - Absolutely. There are times when our brains do trap us, and we have no way out without significant help. I'm glad you found help during your pregnancy and didn't need it after. I wish more followed in your footsteps.

Michelle June 17, 2010 at 9:07 PM  

Stacey - Amen. And a place where no mommies are left without babies.

Mrs4444 July 4, 2010 at 11:31 PM  

Michelle, this was a great pic. Thanks for linking up.

Michelle July 10, 2010 at 10:54 PM  

Mrs4444 - Thanks. It's something I feel strongly about obviously... and so wrong for so many people, sadly.

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