This Isn't What I Expected

Notes on healing postpartum depression

Too Many Mothers Are Dying

Reflecting on tragedy

Today we lost another mom. With each gut-wrenching story, there is another mother whose cry for help went unnoticed.

Media swoops in to scatter the fragments of lost lives and obliterated dreams.

Shocking headlines grab our attention. Mother jumps to her death. Baby survives.

Lives are forever destroyed. Everyone scrambles to make sense out of something that makes no sense.

I do not claim to know the circumstances of this most recent tragedy.  The details will vary from one sensational report after another. What matters most, in the retelling of each story is that someone, again, slid off the radar. Some sweet mother, caught up in the matrix of unbearable pain and symptoms out of control, believed her distorted and powerful thought that others would be better off without her.

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Did this come out of nowhere?

I cannot say for sure.

But I suspect there were clues. Clues that are easy to miss if people don’t ask the right questions.

Is it possible that everything can really appear to be normal until that disastrous moment when things turn irrevocably black? Is it possible that nothing is said, no tear is shed, no desperate plea is uttered?

There is no one to blame. No one to hold accountable.

No one ever expects something catastrophic to happen.  

Sometimes we disregard the cues. Sometimes we misinterpret them. Sometimes, most of the time, we simply cannot fathom the possibility that something horrifying is imminent, or even possible.  

I am pleading for attention to this matter.  For almost three decades I have made an earnest attempt to educate and enlighten healthcare professionals and lay people to the dangers of depressive thinking.  Mothers who are depressed are not able to advocate for themselves. They will deny, protest, pretend, and resist all help. They will cancel appointments, they will refuse acts of kindness, they will convince others they are fine, they will suffer in silence and profound shame.  

We must tune in. Every single one of us must listen to any new mother who, in any way, shape or form, indicates that she is not okay. Any behavior, any spoken word, any emotion or impulse that seems even slightly out of character needs to be attended to.

We must not make the mistake of presuming that everything is fine.  We must ask the hard questions, even if she doesn’t look like the type of woman who would put a gun to her head or leap from a building.  We must error on the side of being overly cautious and intervene despite her opposition.

Depressive thoughts cannot and should not be trusted.  

Karen Kleiman is founder and director of The Postpartum Stress Center, a treatment and training center for prenatal and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. more...

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