Talking About PPD (and All Its Friends)

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, so it seems appropriate to share this with you today: Yesterday I did an interview for a news outlet about why it’s important to talk about postpartum depression in the context of maternal suicide. You can see that interview and the rest of their reporting on the Global News website.

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The interview was prompted by a Canadian Medical Association Journal article about why it’s time to put maternal suicide under the microscope, which, in turn, was prompted by the case of Winnipeg mother Lisa Gibson who, it appears, killed her two small children and then herself and was said to have been suffering from postpartum depression. There are a few things I want to say about this issue and my interview with Global News.

I’ll start with this: Women like Lisa Gibson who kill their children are not monsters. That’s a bold statement, but I really believe that to be true. In fact, let’s make it a bolder statement:

Women suffering from postpartum mood disorders who kill their children are not monsters. 


Some of you are already in fits of rage, but hear me out. I don’t want to change your mind about this, because it’s such an emotional topic and I totally get that, but I do want to be able to have a conversation about it. I’ll share my thoughts and I welcome yours in the comments.

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First, women who do this are not suffering from your typical depression. Generally they are suffering from postpartum psychosis, which is as scary as it sounds. Some very brave women have shared their stories of postpartum psychosis and the completely unreal, not-based-in-real-life things they believed. Women like Jenni, who shared that she saw:

“…a figure, a dwarfish figure – a dark, person-shaped creature that scurried toward the bassinet, saw me, and darted away.”

Jenni thought it was this figure—instead of colic—that was responsible for her newborn’s crying.

And then there’s Heather, whose story I’ve shared before. Heather described finding herself naked on the side of a DC highway:

“When helicopters flew overhead, I was convinced the world was going to end and that presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain were headed to DC to join forces and save the world. I thought of a few ways I could help save the world: My husband and I could kill each other. Or we could kill our children. Or my parents…”

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So: Women like Heather do not have murderous motives. Often they truly believe killing their children is necessary for reasons that don’t make any sense in the real world. For others it’s less like a plot from a dramatic Hollywood blockbuster and more that they believe their children would be better without them as a mother. Don’t try to make sense of it. It’s psychosis. And until we make it okay to say, “I’m not okay,” and to make it better, easier, not-terrifying for mothers to ask for help, this is going to keep happening.

We need to make it okay to ask for help.


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And that’s why I did the interview. The news clip, of course, includes mere seconds of what was a much longer conversation and if you’re familiar with my story then you haven’t missed much. But the clip also focused on medication – partly because it’s a visual associated with the topic and partly, I suspect, because it’s sort of shocking. (Serious? Clearly associated with mental illness, in any case.) And while medication is one of the things I credit with helping me finally recover, it’s not the only option and it’s not what works for everyone.

The point I wanted to make, essentially, was this: Ask for help. You’re not alone. Postpartum depression is shockingly common and you’re not the only one and it doesn’t make you a bad mother. There are options, and whether you’re hiding in the bathroom crying or formulating a plan to take your own life, you can get help. There is another way.

Please, ask for help.

It’s going to be okay.

 
SUICIDE AND CRISIS RESOURCES

If you (or someone you know) is thinking about hurting yourself or your children, get help. 

Canada: Crisis centres in Canada: http://www.suicideprevention.ca/in-crisis-now/find-a-crisis-centre-now/

US – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Internationalhttp://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

And remember, you don’t have to be suicidal to call a hotline. If you need to talk to someone, call. You can also go to the nearest emergency room to ask for help.


 

Comments

  1. Thank you for this much needed post. More discussion means more awareness… more awareness hopefully means less stigma… which means more asking for help.
    You are a fine warrior, my friend.

  2. Thank you for writing this, Robin. And congratulations on the show, wonderful.

  3. Such a great post. People need this awareness and information. It takes a lot to put yourself out there like this, but you’re helping so many other parents by being so candid.

    • Thanks, Jody. I’m much more comfortable writing about this now, but I still expect some people to take it badly. As long as we can have the conversation!

  4. The three statements: I am not a monster. I am not okay. I need help. – those simple sentences can make a huge difference in a life. Thank you for sharing your story and for showing that there is a way out.

    • That’s it exactly. These women need help and until people are more comfortable sharing that they’re not okay they won’t get it.

  5. Thank you so much for this, and thank you for your bravery in saying it and publicizing it. When I first went back to work after having my first child, still suffering the effects of PPD (though I was being treated), a coworker I trusted randomly made a comment about how he didn’t understand how women could kill their own children. He called PPD an “excuse.” I did not know how to react, so I put on my poker face and ended the conversation. But his statement has stayed with me all this time because I know he is not alone in thinking that way. It’s time we stop “keeping our mouths shut” about this terrible ordeal and share it with the world, find funding for further research, and help others and ourselves seek out treatment.

    Thanks again for such an insightful post and for doing the interview.

    • Dawn, that’s just it. People don’t understand and it makes me so angry to hear people call PPD an excuse. It isn’t. Not at all! That’s why I want to talk about it more. It’s so, so important.

  6. I am in awe of you. There is nothing else to say. Thank you for speaking out for so many women who cannot. You are right. The women who suffer from postpartum psychosis are not monsters and it’s time we make it okay for women to talk about what they are experiencing.

  7. I applaud you for making your voice heard, Robin. And hopefully, by doing so, you have given others their voice in this very serious mental health issue. So proud of you!

    • Thanks, Alison! That’s such a great side effect of sharing my own thoughts – the idea that it might help others share theirs.

  8. I had PPD and PPP when my second child was six months. I also had a quick intervention and hospitalization thanks to family who saw the red flags and got me to excellent care. I was allowed to co-sleep with my baby and husband in the psych ward so that I could keep nursing–as rapid weaning can make PPP and PPD even worse for many moms.

    I wrote about my own experience with PPP which happened in 2005. Now I am expecting our fifth child, I work full time and love my job which allows me lots of time at home with my kids, and I have not experienced PPP again since that time. I have learned to protect my sleep, to eat really well, and to listen to my body. Here is my story in Mothering:

    http://www.mothering.com/community/a/losing-it

    Since 2006, I have a pen pal through a postpartum support network. She is serving a 55 year prison sentence for her child’s death when she was in the midst of PPP. She writes me weekly and has been my greatest encouragement. She is not a monster–she is grieving the loss of her child who died, and her baby who was raised by others. She misses her older children who were raised by foster care. Her mother left the US to go back to her homeland. My friend is mourning those losses and has spent 25 years grieving behind bars. She didn’t get the medical care that her urgent mental health crisis required. She would do anything to help prevent others from the same tragedy, yet she sits in prison and waits for her freedom.

    • Sarah, thank you so much for sharing your story and that of your friend. My heart breaks hearing that. So, so awful. But I’m so glad you got help and that you’ve been able to manage it since. Congratulations on your new baby!

  9. I am so proud of you for continuing to be a strong voice for this community and I am so excited that they chose you to talk about it on the news. How awesome is that.
    Keep fighting for those who can’t fight my friend.
    xoxo

  10. Awesome job Robin! The Canadian media couldn’t have picked a better person to talk about this!!

  11. You are helping so many with this. I’m so proud of you for asking for help, for persevering, knowing how serious and necessary these discussions are to have.

  12. Moly, postpartum psychosis is terrifying. It’s so, so great that you did this interview.

  13. THIS,a 1000 times yes. “Women suffering from postpartum mood disorders who kill their children are not monsters.” A coworker’s life was turned upside down when his wife killed their baby. She was suffering from postpartum psychosis. She is not a monster. She is slowly making her way back to recovery. I pray for her, for her husband and their entire family daily. Thank you for being such a fierce advocate for our community. xoxo

  14. Thank you for writing this, Robin. It is the truth and I applaud you for speaking out to help others. I had PPP after the birth of my son and couldn’t agree more with your message. I’m not a monster and the other women who have (or had) PPP are not either. They are dealing with an illness which unfortunately there is not enough awareness of the signs and symptoms. By speaking out, we’re helping to educate society so that things will change.

  15. I think some people are afraid to ask for help, do to the fact that it means C.A.S. will get involved, and no one wants that. I have heard stories of them (CAS)taking kids away from perfectly good homes and adopting them out, in fact it happened to people in my family. And also know of kids that needed help didn’t get it and ended up hurt by someone who abused them

    • Oh Jennine, I’m so sorry. The first time I heard about someone’s children being adopted out because of this I almost threw up. It’s so wrong, and it destroys families. That’s why we need to make people more aware of this issue. CAS doesn’t always get involved, or at least not if people get enough help soon enough, and that’s how it should be. It’s a medical issue, not a social services one.

  16. CPS visited me in the hospital. I learned to use my poker face early on. Luckily, my husband was there for me.

    I worry about the women who don’t have the support or strength to get thru those interviews. Having suffered from bipolar disorder for the majority of my adult life, I know what to say to make the questions go away. But the terror I felt… I can only imagine how that would be amplified if the worst were to actually happen, if they were to take your baby away.

  17. Thank you for advocating so very well for maternal mental health, Robin! Your eloquent and articulate voice speaks on behalf of thousands of women who suffer every year. Until we de-stigmatize mental illness and make obtaining quality mental health care easy we will continue to experience maternal suicide and infanticide. Sadly, I think we will have to stand up and demand it, and not sit back down until it is a reality. ~ Bobbi

  18. I’m so glad you wrote this and that you were in the commercial. It is so important to share this information and to let women and their families know that they are not alone.

  19. Great article Robin. I work with suicidal teens and depressed moms and they share the exact same trait: they feel all alone and that they’re messed up.

    My methods for dealing with both are similar. I assure them they are absolutely positively not the only ones who feel the way they do. And I praise them for asking for help as that’s the hardest thing to do.

    What I find upsetting about depressed moms is how people often judge them. I’ve even heard stories about people criticizing them for not enjoying motherhood. Ugh … that’s enough to send them right off the edge.

    Depressed people often don’t ask for help because they don’t feel worthy of help, that’s part of the problem. It’s up to those around them to reach out and help them.

  20. Pssst. You are awesome. That is all.

  21. I’ve sent this to a friend, whom I thought might appreciate it even though that period is over. There is so much in here that helps by its honesty.

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  1. […] of the lucky ones who didn’t have those intrusive thoughts, but even if I did – that doesn’t make me a monster, as my friend Robin wrote on her blog […]