Yesterday, Miriam Carey was gunned down in front of her baby in our nation’s capitol. Not much is known about Miriam other than that she appeared to be an upstanding, job-holding citizen and mother. There is speculation that she was mentally ill and may have suffered from PPD (post partum depression). Did she have post partum psychosis? That is another very real and very scary condition. When I read about her, I felt like I’d been punched in the face and the stomach. While it is unclear whether or not she had an arsenal of weapons in her car, I feel like she didn’t. I feel like she was murdered when what she needed was help. Now the person who needs her most, her baby, will have to grow up without a mother. And why??
PPD is real. It is real and it happens to women all day long every day. I suffer from PPD. Big time. Admitting that on the internet was easily one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. Why is mental illness, and PPD in particular, such a shameful thing to admit? I know that one thing I’m supposed to do with my life is to increase, even slightly, the awareness of PPD and the women it affects. I have tried to reach out to new moms. I shared my struggles with them and said “it’s ok” and then I asked them how they were. “Fine,” they said. They all said that they were fine. Even when it was more than abundantly clear that they weren’t fine. Why do they say they are fine when they aren’t? Because in this country, we make villains out of women who are suffering.
Andrea Yates drowned her children in the bathtub in 2001. The country reeled. She was labelled as a monster and a demon. She was a mother with PPD. There are countless more stories just like Andrea’s. Many don’t end in unthinkable tragedy but too many do. Let me be very clear, women suffering from PPD are not monsters. They are lessons. This is what happens when severe PPD goes unchecked. This is what happens when family members turn their heads while their wives, sisters, and friends are going through unimaginable pain. This is what happens when women with PPD are gunned down in the streets. None of us want to be the next Andrea or Miriam.
I am terribly and horribly afraid that incidents like this have so polarized women with PPD that we can’t turn this ship around. The stigma might be too great. And in this country, we already have a real problem with mental illness. As long as this is our reality, things are only going to get worse.
I have said it before and I expect to say it again and again until the day I die, there is nothing shameful about mental illness and nothing shameful about PPD. It is ok to seek help. It is ok to admit how bad things are.
My heart aches for Miriam, her family, and especially her baby. I hope that next time, instead of police officers in bullet proof vests carrying semi-automatic weapons chasing down someone in the midst of a breakdown, they will lay down their guns make a peaceful arrest and say “It’s ok. We are going to get you some help.”
Maybe we can start by offering our mothers a little more support. Maybe we can start by lowering our crazy expectations for new moms. Maybe we can swing a home cooked meal by a home with a new baby (this RARELY happens anymore). Maybe we can give a mom an afternoon to herself. I don’t know what the solution is but I’m very clear that I know what the solution isn’t.
May MIriam and all others like her rest in peace. We have failed them.