I recently received an email in which it was stated that we, the advocates for women with Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders, often only raise the battle cry when a woman or child dies. That we are hypocrites because we don’t help or raise the cry for women who cry out for help before a tragedy – or after a tragedy they have survived. This is simply not true.
We may raise the cry even louder when a woman or child dies but this is simply because we are angry that our previous cries have clearly not been heard and yet another mother/child dyad has been failed by multiple levels of the system designed to help them survive and thrive.
As I explore in the post “Is the Postpartum Depression Defense a Cop-Out“, the defense in the legal sense, is not at all a guaranteed path to freedom. When used, this defense often leads to a mental health incarceration of some form for a very lengthy period of time dependent upon the severity of the incident.
Often, when mother has harmed herself and/or her young child(ren), before it splashes headlong into the mainstream media, there’s mention of postpartum depression. Once the story hits, the term is bandied about as carelessly as a bubble blown by a toddler on a sunny summer day by pundits, analysts, reporters, bloggers and the like.
What is this phenomenon and why is there such a horrific misunderstanding of the classification of postpartum depression vs. postpartum psychosis? And even more chilling, has postpartum depression become the new go-to for women who commit crimes against their children or families?
First, let’s get rolling with a little definition education here.
Postpartum Depression, a commonly used umbrella term for the mood disorders on the Postpartum Mood Disorder spectrum, is also the term for one of the disorders on the spectrum. Postpartum Depression may consist of but is not limited to: sadness, crying for no reason, lethargy, lack of interest in previous activities/hobbies, distance from baby and family or social activities, anger, irritability.
Postpartum Psychosis, the most serious of the Postpartum Mood Disorders, often involves (but again, is not limited to): auditory or visual hallucinations, the inability to care for oneself and make decisions. Considered a medical emergency requiring immediate hospitalization, this particular disorder also carries the deadliest rate of both infanticide and suicide.
Second, mothers with Postpartum Depression are less likely than mothers with Postpartum Psychosis to harm themselves, their children, or their families. With Postpartum Psychosis there is a disconnect from reality during which the mother is truly unaware of her actions. It is a very scary place in which to find yourself.
So why is it then that when a mother harms her children it must be because of Postpartum Depression? Why the confusion of terms? This happens time and time again. Everyone immediately jumps on the Postpartum Depression bandwagon.
There may be issues related to a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder for many, as with the recent case of Miriam Carey, who was reported to be delusional to police by her boyfriend not too long after the birth of her now 1 year old daughter, but there are also cases in which the leap is made to a Perinatal Mood Disorder as the root cause where it is not at all the issue.
There are those who feel Miriam’s case, is a difficult one to address. And it is – for a number of reasons. So much is involved. She is far removed from the immediate postpartum period. Then you have the family stating she was hospitalized but other family members minimizing Miriam’s mental health battle despite some strong meds being found in her apartment. Miriam also experienced a head injury which her employer, according to certain accounts, says changed her mannerisms. Miriam also lost her job and had been sued by her townhouse organization. Then there’s race, politics, and the argument regarding the alleged excessive force used by Capitol Police which ultimately ended Miriam’s life.
We won’t ever know what made Miriam drive to DC with her 1 year old daughter in her car unless someone finds an explicit note somewhere. Even then, there are so many factors that people can extrapolate whatever they want to from it.
Is it right to seize the tragedy to educate the public regarding Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders? Is it okay to talk about Miriam’s life as if we knew her or understood her battle?
There will be people who will say no.
There will be people who will say yes.
There will be people who will say there are no such things as Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders.
There will be people who will claim excessive force was used because of her skin colour.
There will be people who… you get the point by now, right?
We cannot make every one happy with this regardless of how we discuss it.
It happened in the public venue, however, and in a city central to a political firestorm and still reeling from another tragedy just a few miles away from where Miriam died. So it is being discussed. Postpartum has been dragged into the discussion.
So I will discuss it, even if the primary focus cause of Miriam’s action on Thursday is not directly related to a PMAD. Because the media has jumped on the PPD sensationalism bandwagon, I will fight back and educate, I will correct, and I will make sure that I do all I can to keep women from falling through the cracks even when, like Miriam, things continue to stack up against them.
When you’re fighting against a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder, your best chance at recovery is to focus on recovery. But when you have a snowball effect of things following it, eventually you want to jump out of your life just to get everything to stop – it’s like wiping off a cluttered table, if you will. You either take the time to put things away neatly or you just shove everything to the floor and let it fall where it may because you don’t have the energy to focus on being neat and organized about it.
My goal, the goal of every advocate and survivor I know, is to re-organize their lives into some semblance of normal. For advocates, we are dedicated to providing women who reach out to us with the tools they need to reach their semblance of normal. We know we can only save those who reach out to us and we try to expand that access by any means necessary because when someone like Miriam is failed, we take it personally.
This loss has raised many voices and not all of us agree on how to proceed. That’s okay, though, because we are all going to react the way we need to react. It’s okay to process this how YOU need to process it – if that means you need to write about it, great. If you need to stay quiet, fine. You have every right to do so. We still love you and respect you. You are not alone.
I hope, that through the discussion of this loss, we are able to stay strong, stay connected, and stay passionate, despite our differing viewpoints on how to handle this tragedy. Because our strength, our compassion, our knowledge – it is all we have to fight back against misinformation. If we manage to educate just one person, seizing the tragedy will have been more than worth it.