I remember that day in 1995 with terrible clarity. I was sitting on a playground bench when a thought passed swiftly through my mind: I...
I remember that day in 1995 with terrible clarity. I was sitting on a playground bench when a thought passed swiftly through my mind: I wonder what would happen if I threw her off the top of that jungle gym. It was 20 feet high.
I was 30. She was 3 months.
I didn’t tell anybody about that overwhelming moment or the next one, when I found myself staring at a kitchen knife as my baby sat screaming in her swing. She was 4 months. I had spent the day weeping for no reason.
It went on. I never acted. But I thought, and with each thought and each panic attack came the internal accusations, “You are crazy. You are a terrible mother.”
It was not until my daughter was 5 months old, when I reluctantly joined a support group for new mothers like myself, that I discovered I was not crazy. We novice mothers had been sharing our challenges and triumphs openly and honestly for several weeks. One day, I blurted it out: “I think I am going to hurt my baby.”
To my surprise, two other mothers in the group nodded. One began to cry. I sat there stunned — I was not alone. The facilitator of our gathering raced to her office and returned with a sheet of paper. As she began to read to us the signs of postpartum depression (PPD), I felt a weight lift. It was all there: insomnia, daylong weepiness, lack of interest in almost all activities, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, moodiness, irritability, excessive guilt, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts. Thoughts of hurting your baby.
These thoughts had a name. There were a lot of tears that day as well as the promise by each of us who were experiencing PPD to talk to our doctors. I went on an antidepressant. Within weeks, the symptoms went away. A friend was referred to counseling and had the same experience.
What I learned that day has served me through two more pregnancies and another baby: There is treatment for postpartum depression. Women don’t have to live with its angry tentacles. Yet, nearly 20 percent of mothers of infants and children under age 2 do. Not because there is no help, but because they don’t yet have a name for their sadness, shame or uncontrollable thoughts.
The Legislature can provide hope and help to these women and their families. Senate Bill 5898 calls for a proactive, public-information campaign to educate families about the significance, signs and treatment of PPD. It is a relatively low-cost measure at $25,000. Yet, it will provide immeasurable savings in human suffering.
Studies are under way to understand the connection between PPD and child abuse and neglect by mothers of young children. The anecdotal evidence is considerable. In my practice as a professional labor and postpartum care support provider, I have helped countless women identify depression. One actually put her baby in the bathtub and walked away. The baby was 2 months old. The mother walked into the bathroom hysterical seven minutes later just as her newborn was slipping under the water.
It is not a reach to believe that educating young mothers and their families about the signs of depression and helping them get the treatment they need will potentially save lives as well as suffering. It is a fact.
I never hurt my baby. But I thought about it. I want to believe I never would have. But I can’t say that. I don’t know, because I found help.
We must give mothers the chance to say: “I don’t know, because I found help.”
Cheryl Murfin Bond is a certified Doula postpartum support provider. She also is the communications director for Children’s Home Society of Washington, which is advocating for Senate Bill 5898.