I'm sure most of you have by now heard of Lisa Gibson - the mother of 2 from Winnipeg that went missing and was found lifeless in the Red River. If not, read more here. She was discovered missing at the same time her 2 very young children were found close to death in their home and eventually succumbed to their fatal injuries later at the hospital. It has been reported that Lisa was diagnosed with and being treated for Postpartum Depression (PPD) and it is presumed that she is responsible for the death of her children (although it should be noted she is not yet convicted in the eyes of the law of this crime; however, my post is based on the assumption that she is implicated).
Whenever I read stories of mothers who hurt their children while suffering from a mental disorder I am overcome with different emotions, all equally as intense: sadness, anger, fear, panic, sympathy, and horror. I think about the mom, spiraling into such a terrifying darkness that she can see no other alternative than to hurt her children and/or herself. What was she thinking in those final moments? How alone and desperate she must have felt to believe that she and her children were better off not living. And I think about the children, innocent and beatific, unaware of the black hole their mother was living in and the fate awaiting them. It is especially difficult for me to imagine the children, scared and confused, betrayed by the person meant to protect them.
I feel anxiety and panic having myself caught glimpses of the despair, helplessness, and isolation Lisa must have felt (probably 100 times worse than I ever did). My heart aches knowing that the distance between my own depression and Lisa's mental state is perhaps not as far apart as I tend to think, and that not knowing where that line exists scares the hell out of me. It's distressful thinking about my darkest days when I would cry uncontrollably and fight the urge to leave, to run away from stress I could see no other way of getting relief from. The days I resented my children, couldn't bear to hear another scream from my two-year-old, and wondered where the joy in my life had fled to. I never broke the way Lisa did and I chose to lock myself in my room or bathroom rather than.....than what? Find an alternate way of dealing with the overwhelming anxiety that blinds one to the consequences of irrational actions, I guess.
I have read comments from people who don't seem to understand that PPD is a real illness that 5-25% of new mothers suffer with, and Postpartum Psychosis occurs in approximately 1-2 out of 1,000 births (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postpartum_depression). Luckily for them, it would appear as if those people have never had PPD nor deep depression. I read one comment in which the individual stated he/she is tired of PPD being used as an excuse and we should call these moms what they are - murderers. I don't think anyone is arguing against the fact that some moms have murdered their children, but in any homicide, filicide, or infanticide case it's important to try to understand the cause or contributing factors in the hopes that these tragedies can be prevented in the future.
Perhaps if there were less of a stigma attached to depression, anxiety, and PPD more women would feel comfortable seeking out the help they need. Fathers and family members should be educated with respect to the signs they should watch out for and those that shouldn't be ignored. Moms should be encouraged to take part in activities outside of the home to avoid the isolation that can envelop us as a result of too many days inside. A resource for these activities and helpful organizations should be our doctors who could advise moms on where to go and who to contact since we are at our doctors office so often in the first days, weeks, and months of our baby's life.
Society needs to be more sympathetic, helpful, and resourceful for new moms, especially those suffering from depression. I waited so long to talk to my doctor because I felt weak and guilty and thought I shouldn't feel the way I did, that I should be able to handle the stress of being a mom. I didn't come up with the expectations on my own - the thoughts in my head were fostered by other moms, grandmothers, and the general consensus that being a mom is tough for all moms and it's normal to feel overwhelmed. That might be true, but then it's confusing to know when we've crossed the line into depression because we're constantly told it will get easier and given so many alternate reasons as to why we're feeling the way we do ("You're just sleep-deprived", "It will get better when they sit up, crawl, walk, talk, etc.") When things don't get better, we feel as if maybe we're failing as moms and may then be too embarrassed to get help. And by that point it could be too late. Moms suffering with depression, and moms in general, need more acceptance and support, and less judgment and finger-pointing. It could mean the difference between life and death.
Sleep peacefully sweet Nicholas and Anna.