A close friend of mine, Marcie Ramirez, a Co-Coordinator with Postpartum Support International in Tennessee, sent me the following piece last night. She wrote it to process her feelings after watching Joseph’s very poignant video about his daughter, Crystal. Marcie used to live in San Diego and was newly recovered from her own journey through postpartum when Crystal’s tragedy occurred. I immediately asked if I could post it as it was beyond fabulous. Sheer power and emotion are captured so magnificently here – I couldn’t let it just sit in my inbox. With no further fuss, here is the piece I received:
Today I was watching a montage that my friend had posted on her blog. I had read the article which had the basic nuts and bolts…a story of yet another mom who didn’t survive the first year of her child’s life. A mom, who just like me felt like her family would be better off without her and for whatever reason didn’t feel like she could ask for help.
As I watched the video I not only read the words but I noticed familiarities in the pictures. It was a landscape common to San Diego, my home until not quite two years ago, where I gave birth to both my children and where I went through the most terrifying experience of my life. I watched and my suspicions of this woman being from my home town grew when I saw the name of the cemetery. My heart sank. I clicked on a link in the blog that took me to the man’s original story and it turned out that he owns a restaurant my husband and I have been to on many occasions. It was also the restaurant my family and I would go to every Christmas when we would look at the lights on Candy Cane Lane and Christmas Circle. La Bella’s was one of the few perfect memories of my childhood.
As suspicion turned into reality I realized that I went through my Postpartum hell at the same time she was pregnant and when I was really starting to see a light at the end of my tunnel she saw nothing but darkness. What if our paths had crossed? What if I had been able to say something to her that would have allowed her the freedom to ask for help? I never asked for help. To this day I am still confident that if I hadn’t have been screened that I would be dead.
San Diego is on the forefront of Postpartum Mood Disorders. I say this because I know first hand how incredible my access to maternal mental health services was. I was screened through my pregnancy, before leaving the hospital and again at my six week postpartum checkup. When I didn’t pass my screening there was a therapist onsite who saw me before I went home. I saw posters, I had access to a psychiatrist who specialized in maternal mental health. I wanted to kill myself many times but somehow was able to hold on because I knew if I could just make it to my next appointment that I would have a soft place to fall. I spent close to two months in a mental hospital when I just couldn’t handle it anymore…but I survived and am thriving. I am not only a better mom but a better and more empathetic person than I ever thought possible.
Still, when I read the words of this courageous father I was left wondering why she didn’t get the same help? Was it because she wasn’t screened? Was it because she developed the PPD after her last screening? I don’t know and will never know. What I do know, though is that just as we call our medical professionals to screen new moms we have a responsibility to do our own screening. We don’t necessarily have to whip out the Edinburgh every week but we can sincerely ask a new mom how she is REALLY doing. We can learn the signs of PPD and ways that we can help minimize the stress on new moms. We can offer to bring lunch over and then have a real heart to heart conversation. We can talk about our own experiences so that the one in seven who are suffering realize that they are not alone. We can offer to take them to their appointment or watch the baby so they can take an uninterrupted nap. There are so many things we who have been there can do to make a difference.
Ironically maybe an hour after I read the articles and watched the heart wrenching video, I was at a restaurant with my two boys who are now seven and three. For some reason my oldest son asked if we could sit at a particular table in a section we had never sat in before. At the same time a family sat down at the next table. Mom, dad and a beautiful little girl who was maybe a year old. The little girl, however screamed over and over and over…and every time she screamed I saw the life draining from her mother’s face. The mom would bury her head in her hands as if trying to escape.
I was instantly back into my first year postpartum. I could see, smell, taste and hear the very things that were going on when I was in that place. My heart sank and I just wanted to walk over, hug her and tell her that she would be able to get through this. Normally when it’s just a mom and baby I can easily strike up a conversation and casually mention that I had PPD. This was different, though because dad was there. He seemed like a wonderful and supportive father from what I could tell from my few minutes watching the family. He was trying to take over with the daughter so mom could eat in peace. Eventually he got up to get a drink and I was able to speak briefly with the mom. I gave her my card which had my contact info for the work I do with Postpartum Support International.
Hopefully this mom was just having a bad day. But what if she wasn’t? What if she felt completely hopeless and was ready to escape by any means necessary? We don’t know. That is why it is so important for each and every one of us to love new moms and be there for them. Sometimes a kind word can be the beginning of changing someone’s forever.