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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.
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.