October 10, 2013
On Thursday, October 3rd 2013, Miriam Carey, a 34 year old mother was shot dead after a car chase through Washington DC. Ironically, on the morning of October 3rd, I had a telephone interview with a producer of a Canadian news program that is planning to do a show on postpartum psychosis. I had a busy day so I only read a brief news headline about the incident later that day. It was not until the next morning that I learned of the reports that she had her one year old in the car and had been being treated for “postpartum depression.”
Immediately, I began to have a clearer understanding of what she may have been experiencing. You see back in early 1996, I was struck with an illness that my family and I did not even know existed. My son was 8 weeks old when I was forcibly hospitalized and initially told I had postpartum depression. The initial diagnosis was wrong. Two weeks later I had to be hospitalized again but this time my family made sure I got a second opinion. It was then that I received the correct diagnosis of postpartum psychosis.
Sadly, Miriam Carey, will never get to tell her story. Although the media and other sources have been reporting information (often inaccurate) on what they believe happened, as an overcomer of postpartum psychosis, I feel I have some understanding of what she was going through. Every situation is unique but understanding comes from having walked in similar shoes. I do not know Miriam’s medical history or direct experience but I imagine she was experiencing similar things that I did during my nearly 2 year recovery period.
Although I did get the correct diagnosis of postpartum psychosis 2 weeks after the first onset of serious symptoms, my condition gradually turned in to postpartum depression and anxiety. Having no history of mental illness, these experiences were all new to me. I do not know the details of Miriam’s situation but I do know that even if the correct diagnosis is given and correct medication is prescribed that alone is not enough. Even under the best circumstances, the recovery process can be long and difficult.
For me, and I imagine for Miriam as well, I had supportive family and friends but I never had the opportunity to talk to a mom that had experienced anything like I had. Guilt, shame, anxiety, fear and isolation were often present for me long after the diagnosis was given.
Although the statistics of postpartum psychosis are often cited as 1 to 2 out of 1,000 births, I suspect the numbers are higher. Regardless of whether or not the occurrence is higher, when you look at those statistics worldwide, they impact a large number of families. Many families are affected that we will never know about but for Miriam and her family, tragedy has happened and is being projected for the whole world to see. My heart breaks for them. Why is it that it takes tragedy to happen for maternal mental health to get the needed attention it deserves?
I wish Miriam would have had the opportunity to connect with other mothers’ who could relate to what she was going through. In my case, I ultimately did but it was not until after my recovery when my child was 3 years old. Mothers should not feel guilt, shame or isolation but rather should be lifted up, encouraged and receive the proper care and treatment that is deserved. As a result of my own experience, I now speak out for those mothers that are unable to speak out for themselves. Tragically, Miriam is now one of those mothers.
Every mother has a voice yet not every voice can be heard so for those of us able to lift our voice, let us shout out to all mothers “You are not alone.”