There is only one thing I follow more closely than articles that relate to Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs), and that is the comment section that follows these articles.
As I mentioned before in an earlier post about Sonia Hermosillo, articles on PMADs usually highlight recent cases of infanticide, which (contrary to popular belief) is more likely the result of Postpartum Psychosis than a Postpartum Mood Disorder. (Want to know what the difference is? Click here.)
This week, one of my colleagues forwarded me an article about Lorna Valle , a mother charged with infanticide in Los Angeles. While I was certainly pleased that the article forwarded to me was written with a great deal of sensitivity to the complex issues surrounding this tragic case, I was deeply troubled by the harsh judgments embedded in many of the comments.
Of course, I am sympathetic to the fact that infanticide is a topic that angers many people. Infanticide should infuriate us, because it doesn’t need to happen. What saddens me is that there are people whom, without thorough knowledge of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders and Postpartum Psychosis OR the circumstances surrounding specific cases would be so quick to judge the women and their family members.
Making judgments such as these without examining the details is a detriment to the families who are going through this awful tragedy, and also to women struggling with PMADs. Our lack of thorough understanding and persecutory attitudes towards women who are suffering with these horrendous illnesses contributes to the many thousands who suffer in silence because they are afraid to seek help.
While I am certainly not softening the reality of a child dying at the hands of a mother, I am suggesting we put all judgment aside and ask ourselves these important questions: Did the mother have a prior history of violence towards her children? (In most cases of Postpartum Psychosis, the answer is no). Did she receive competent care from an expert in treating Postpartum Psychosis? (If not, there is no way to be sure that whomever was treating her was capable of recognizing the real risks and responding appropriately). Did she have a supportive spouse, friends, and extended family? (If not, it is unlikely that she would have had enough support to examine “other options” that many people mention in their commentary).
I am not making an excuse for anyone here, but I am saying that Postpartum Psychosis is an illness that, under specific circumstances, can cause ANY highly functional woman to take the life of her child. In many cases these are women who are described as healthy, outgoing, loving, responsible, social, professional, and are well-loved by many. These are women whose spouses and families would never, ever in their wildest dreams imagine that this could happen to them. Which is why competent care is important—Nobody could possibly estimate the risk unless they know EXACTLY what they are looking for. The symptoms of psychosis are often very subtle in these women.
I’d like to share some examples of the comments I found to be particularly troubling. Please note that I am in no way attempting to disrespect the commentators. I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I am simply highlighting the ways in which our statements, especially when uninformed, can be harmful someone who desperately needs help.
[Her husband] could have got her locked up in a mental hospital for (its 72 hours here) and gotten her checked out.
Why would any parent let a mentally ill parent near their kids alone?
Seriously, I work in a doctors ofc and i swear nine out of ten women who walk thru the door seeking antidepressants are white women, i don’t get it [.]
I’m so sick of the I was depressed so I hurt/killed my kids. Hope they provide some help for you in jail because no matter what is wrong with you…you’re a murderer plain and simple.
If the father knew the wife was depressed and needed help (which sounds like he did) he should have never left the children with her alone. He is as much to blame as anyone. It is like giving a depressed person a gun.
I’m so tired of hearing how all these people are victims…victim is an excuse. She could’ve walked away. She could’ve did a million other things than what she did.
[P]eople who think she is victim because of postpartum depression, you are as guilty as her.
*Shortly after publishing this post, my phone started ringing. A former client of mine had read the post, and called to ask me to make an important point on her behalf. She reminded me that her own (multiple) hospital stays were not helpful to her in the least. Fraught with what she calls an “overwhelming feeling of adrenaline,” she was unable to sleep for months during her pregnancy and after her baby was born. What would have helped her, she said, was being allowed to “catch up on sleep” at the hospital. However, she said that she was awoken every morning at 6:30am, and was expected to participate in activities and groups all day, which only increased her anxiety and dread. As a strong self-advocate, she would say to each new professional she met at the hospital, “I have Postpartum Depression. What experience do you have with this?” Of those direct care providers she encountered in the hospitals, not one claimed to have any experience with treating Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders.
She wanted me to highlight this point because my post struck a chord for her. When I said that competent, specialized care is vital, this is exactly what I meant. This is a woman who struggled with Postpartum Depression for almost a full year, despite the fact that she sought services from the early stage of her pregnancy, and had excellent support from family and friends. Unfortunately she was met again and again with professionals who were unclear about her diagnosis and appropriate treatment, and were therefore unable to provide her with the care that might have liberated her sooner. Thankfully, she has made a full recovery, but she is still haunted by certain aspects of her experience.