The Face of Postpartum
A couple of months ago my son was working on his psychology homework; he was given an article about Andrea Yates, the mother that drowned her five children in the bathtub. The assignment was to read the article and then answer questions regarding was there any signs of the tragedy that could have indicated she suffered from postpartum depression.
When I had postpartum depression at the age of eighteen with my first son, no one including myself knew. It was not until many years later that I understood that I suffered postpartum depression, my son was eight-years-old. I wrote about it in last weeks post How my Second Child Made Me a Mommy.
My dear friends would we recognize a woman with Postpartum Depression? What does Postpartum Depression look like?
What Is Postpartum Depression(PPD)?
According to the American Academy Of Family Physicians postpartum depression is a “serious form of depression that comes after birth.” What simple definition, but what is postpartum depression? Let’s list the symptoms instead:
- A feeling of guilt or unworthiness(me)
- Fatigue (trouble sleeping) (me)Tricky cause you have a baby so that it can seem reasonable
- Mood Swings (me)
- Weight Loss or Loss of appetite
- Weight Gain or Overeating(me)
- Feeling uninterested in baby (me)
- Loss of interest in activities, especially ones previously enjoyed
- Feeling afraid to hurt your baby(me)
- Feeling afraid to hurt yourself
- Fear of for babies health excessively(me)
In some women postpartum can turn into postpartum psychosis, Sue Abell, MD describes postpartum psychosis “Women with this disorder lose touch with reality and may experience hallucinations (either hearing or seeing things that aren’t there) and delusions (believing things that are true).”(290) Symptoms of postpartum psychosis are as follows:
- Extream anger
- Actual thoughts of harming yourself or baby
- Strange thought or remarks
Also, Sue Abell, MD states that “Five percent of women with postpartum psychosis commit suicide and five percent kill their children.”(290)
Andrea Yates & Me
Postpartum Depression can go on for weeks, months, or even years. In the case of Andrea Yates, she presented signs of postpartum depression from her firth birth. The chances of it reoccurring after the first birth are “50% to 100%” (290) more with each birth after. Andrea Yates had a total of five children, ranging from the ages of six-months-old to seven years old. Since her first delivery was back in 1994, I am assuming that postpartum depression was not widely spoken about, leaving us to consider how long she has been suffering from postpartum depression.
When I had my son at the ripe age of seventeen, two months shy of eighteen, it was November of 1999. The only thing I was told at the time of discharge was “baby blues” if I felt incredibly sad to contact my doctor. Guess What? I was never unhappy! I felt more angry, disconnected, indifference, and shame. Based on the classification of what most people consider depression there would be no chance that someone would think I had postpartum depression including myself. I had my first son just five years after her first birth, we both had postpartum depression at a time when no one acknowledged it’s a possibility.
The reality is that many of the symptoms of Postpartum depression may seem like healthy motherhood symptoms and example of that is lack of sleep. What mom do you know does not suffer from lack of sleep, especially a mother with a baby. Another hard reality is that depression in itself is misunderstood, many things that a person needs to show definite signs of sadness like, crying, moping, gloominess, and misery. Even the mother suffering may think she is just having a bout of “baby blues, or may not feel those “signs” of depression. Andrea Yates herself did not believe she was depressed; she claimed: ” she never cried.” (McLellan 1951) The lack of awareness at that time would not have indicated to her or anyone that she had postpartum depression.
Hindsight is always 20/20
As I started researching Andrea Yates, I realized how many missed opportunities the people around her had to help remove her from the situation. Like many things in life, people don’t see the obvious till after the fact.
After the birth of Andrea Yates’ fourth child she developed the worst of the postpartum depression, she was now in full blow postpartum psychosis. During the period between her fourth child and her fifth child, she “attempted suicide twice, began self-mutilation, and heard voices.”(McLellan 1952) Though her actions did not go unnoticed and she was hospitalized on a couple of occasions, she would be released after a short period, one
marvelous therapist advised her husband, two days before the tragedy, that she should “think positive thoughts.” (McLellan 1953) Providing compelling evidence that once again postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are not treated as a serious as any other life-threatening disorder.
Looking back at my life, I can now see very clearly my sign of postpartum depression. Yes, mine was not ever to the point of Andrea Yates, but I had symptoms. The most prominent one for me is the lack of affection for my child, I can still recall hearing other moms speak of how much they missed their kids, yet I felt nothing. I could not wait for the days my son went to his dad’s or when he would take long trips with his grandparents. In those days I can honestly say I never missed him, not once. In the inside of me, I knew something was not right, that I must be the worst mother in the world, I felt like a failure. On top of all that I felt shame, lots, and lots of shame.
The Religion Factor
One of the arguments why people do not take psychological disorders seriously is religious beliefs. Many religions around the world have the view that mental illnesses are the works of the devil; others believe that by just adhering to your religious beliefs you don’t need any medical care. Adding to the stigma behind conditions as postpartum depression, PMDD, anxiety, and countless other mental illness.
Andrea Yates was raised Catholic, and in her years of marriage, she followed a particular religious belief system developed by a man named, Michael Woroniecki. Michael Woroniecki erratic view of religion and The Word of Christ mainly influenced the way the Yates’ lived. The Yates’ hosted bible studies three nights week instead of visiting a religious organization because of Woroniecki distrust and views against faith-based organizations. Unfortunately, his views were out of context and fundamentally untrue to what The Word of God speaks. One of those things was his “repent-or-burn zeal” that “Hell is right on the doorstep, waiting to bring you in.” (McLellan 1952), that Andrea Yates was drawn to the most. Which is evident when she proclaimed that “Satan made her do it” and not God, Yates firmly believed that she needed to be punished for her family to be saved.
I was raised Catholic; it was ingrained from a young age that sex was only for married couples who wanted to have children. My mom’s solution to my transgression, after she found out I had sex with my then boyfriend, was sending me to a Catholic Church Retreat aka Jesus Boot Camp. YUP, I was sent to a place that for three straight days they ingrained in us how wrong of sinners we were and that we needed to do certain things to be forgiven by God. On the third day I apologized to my family, I cried because I was so ashamed of my actions. It was clear to me then that sex led to bad things and that it was not good. (something I still struggle with)
One night I was watching Nightly News with Brian Willimas (before he got fired) they had reported on two young girls that killed their friend because as an offering to Slender Man. Since I didn’t know what that was I did what most mom’s do, I asked my teen son, so he explained it to me. All I’m going to say is that it’s horrific and disturbing. That night I became obsessed that Slender Man was in my house. When I looked into my babies beautiful dark brown eyes, I believed I was going to see Slender Man’s reflection. I could not sleep due to the fear I felt when each time I closed my eyes, it was awful. Thankfully, I knew what was going on, so I called two of my Christian friends, they came over right away and prayed for me and my home.
The people of the world have taken religion and distorted it from what Christ truly wants for his people. They use it to gain power, manipulate, and judge others. Because of that, they made it hard for me and possibly Andrea Yates, to express distress and unhappiness after childbirth. The reality is that many religions believe that it can all be resolved if you just where a little more religious. That is what I thought after I left my Catholic camp all those years ago, so it’s no wonder that I had sex again and ended up pregnant at seventeen. To then feel extream shame both for breaking God’s trust and then by not being a good mom.
Then God Showed Up
The Andrea Yates story is and was tragic. God has made something beautiful out of that tragedy. People took notice of the failures in postnatal care for women prompting them to find better ways to detect and treat postpartum depression. In Texas they created a bill the Andrea Yates Bill, it requires all providers that give prenatal care, to supply moms with resources on postnatal depression. Also, her attorney claims the case was “life-altering, and turned him into an advocate for mentally ill criminal defendants.”(McLallen 1954) Even in the darkest tragedies God can redeem and shine a new light to make it His again.
My life changed the day I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and my eyes were opened to the truth! God restored me by giving me a second chance to be a mom. He slowly won my heart over by providing unconditional love and support. When I think of my past, he calls me to put my eyes on him. I was in a place of deep postpartum; I looked like everyone else, I had no visible sign of sadness. But, he knew and forgave me anyway.
Many may not like what I am about to say, but it does not make it less real. God already knew what Andrea Yates destiny was, and guess what he forgives her anyway. There is no measure or scale on how forgivable a sin may be. Andrea Yates’ crime is not less excusable than mine and if or when she invites the real Jesus into her life he would have already forgiven her and would then redeem her.
The Face of Postpartum Depression is Every Woman!
Here is the point… Postpartum depression could happen to any woman. It can manifest its self in more ways than just sadness and tears. Are there more women with a higher chance of getting postpartum? Yes, some things that can contribute are stressful life, poor marital relationship, history of depression or anxiety and PMDD.(Alici-Evcimen and Sudak 210)Even some of those conditions can go undetected for years or misdiagnosed making it harder for a provider to treat a woman with postpartum depression.
Finally, I did not write this post to advocate Andrea Yates case, nor to criminalize her; I intended to draw a comparison between similar behaviors between two women at different levels. It is essential that we stop making women feel less than, or ashamed of their feelings after giving birth. We need to have an open mind as people and as followers of Jesus Christ. Many women suffering in silence are scared of the backlash of speaking out, suffering in silence and no reaching what God intended for their lives.
If you or someone you know is experiencing or you suspect is suffering from any form of postpartum depression, use this resources to help you better understand and seek help.
Postpartum Education for Parents: Our mission is to ease the adjustment of the developing family after the arrival of an infant. Whether this is your first baby or your third, there is always a period of transition when a new family member is born. By meeting other people going through the same stage of parenting at the same time, an undeniable bond is formed. We have PEP Groups that continue to meet on a weekly basis for years and years, even through second generations! We’re thrilled when we see friendships form that lasts a lifetime.
The National Women’s Health Information Center: (OWH) was established in 1991 within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). OWH coordinates women’s health efforts across HHS and addresses critical women’s health issues by informing and advancing policies, educating health care professionals and consumers, and supporting model programs.1-800-994-9662
Postpartum Support International: Postpartum Support International (PSI) was founded in 1987 by Jane Honikman in Santa Barbara, California. The purpose of the organization is to increase awareness among public and professional communities about the emotional changes that women experience during pregnancy and postpartum. Approximately 15% of all women will experience postpartum depression following the birth of a child. Up to 10% will experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy. When the mental health of the mother is compromised, it affects the entire family.
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Abell, Sue. “Ask Dr. Sue- Postpartum Depression.” Clinical Pediatrics, vol. 46, no. 3, Apr. 2007, pp. 290-291.
Alici-Evcimen, Yesne, and Donna M. Sudak. “Postpartum depression.” Primary Care Update for OB/GYNS, vol. 10, no. 5, 2003, pp. 210-216.
“American Family Physician-Postpartum Depression.” Home | American Academy of Family Physicians, www.aafp.org/afp.
McLellan, Faith. “Mental health and justice: the case of Andrea Yates.” World Report, vol. 368, 2 Dec. 2006, pp. 1951-1954.