Thursday, July 30, 2009

Horrific Psychosis Case

I'm pretty convinced that my waves of depression--which have lessened--are merely the result of Anna's erratic nighttime nursing patterns, rather than post-partum depression or perimenopause. How soon a woman's menstrual cycle will resume depends, in part, on the nighttime nursing pattern. If there are nursings between midnight and 5:00 a.m., the cycle is delayed longer. Anna often nurses a few times during these hours, but one or two times she has skipped these feedings. That confused my body, which probably started a hormone shift to bring on my cycle. Now she's sleeping horribly, and nursing very frequently, so my hormones have shifted again--delaying my cycle longer, which is fine with me. Of all my children, her nighttime nursing is the most erratic. I'm still watching the moods closely, but as I said, I'm pretty convinced there's no real problem.

One of the Christian homeschooling moms I met at the park suffered post-partum depression with all five of her children. She now has a 3-month-old baby and this time she started taking the meds a week before she went into labor. I'm happy to report that she is doing well.

With the first two pregnancies she had trouble really being heard and taken seriously by her doctor. He told her that she would be fine and that it was important to continue breastfeeding her baby, and that going on depression medication would prevent her from doing that. Tragically, she became suicidal and went to another doctor after having her second child. He told her (rightly so) that the breastfeeding was not important in her case, as her depression absolutely needed to be treated. He allowed her to let go of her guilt and get the care she desperately needed.

It angered me to hear that her first doctor dismissed her symptoms and put guilt on her about the breastfeeding. And now that this horrific post-partum psychosis case is in the news, I find myself angry and frustrated that this poor women was not better cared for. She tried to let the people around her know that she was in trouble, but no one took her seriously enough. A week before the killing she left her boyfriend to live with her sister and parents--telling him that she was schizophrenic, which was consistent with her mental history. She was not taking her medication, which I suspect was due to her being a nursing mother.

Hours before the killing she told her sister that she was hearing voices. She was hysterical and kept giving her sister the baby. When the mother calmed down, the sister gave her back the 10-week-old baby, and then apparently went to bed. I hate to say it, but that sounds selfish to me--or completely ignorant. The sister didn't want to stay up all night with a new infant perhaps? She wanted her troublesome sister to deal with her own problems? I don't know and certainly shouldn't judge, but I feel this very ill mother tried to ask for help. The killing occurred early in the morning and resulted from her being alone with the baby. Exhaustion surely made her symptoms worse, with the middle-of-the-night exhaustion probably being especially draining.

I feel horrible for the baby and the mother, for the woman's family, and for all the law enforcement and medical staff who had contact with this woman in the weeks before this killing. They probably all wish they had done more--known more. All were apparently ignorant either of this woman's mental history, OR of the fact that mentally-ill women have a 50% higher chance of developing post-partum psychosis, which involves feelings of wanting to harm one's baby.

The boyfriend says this woman should get the death penalty for killing his son. He says she seemed like a loving mother--holding and breastfeeding and doing nice things for the baby. According to him the mother was treated for post-partum depression in a hospital setting a few weeks before, but she seemed fine to him. I feel angry at him for vilifying this mother, who so obviously was not fine at all--in the same way that Andrea Yates was not fine.

My husband and I argued about this case, as we did the Andrea Yates case. He doesn't understand why I feel these women are not guilty by reason of insanity. Understandably, he thinks such horrific crimes should be punished. Being a woman and knowing how powerful hormones are, I think I can see this differently--in a way I don't think a man could ever understand. For my part I think society needs to be better educated about the risks of mentally-ill women having children. If they choose to start families they should never be alone with their babies the first year or two--especially if even mild depression has set in. Additionally, someone needs to ensure that they take their medication, even if that means no breastfeeding.

I noticed that my pediatrician asked how I was feeling in the days after Anna's birth. I read that this is something new that pediatricians are trained to do. Doctors need to do more than ask though--the questions need to be specific about the woman's mental history, and the signs and symptoms of post-partum depression and psychosis need to be reviewed.

What is your take on this issue? Do you think these women should be held criminally accountable?

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