This past week, a very real and very heart-wrenching tragedy struck in my city. Not close to my home but very, very close to my heart. 2 young children were found in their home, unresponsive. Both later died in hospital. Their mother had disappeared. This quiet community and the entire city surrounding it were in shock. As this story took a life of its own, it was believed (though no details were made public and no confirmation came from the police) that the children’s mother was suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) at the time this tragedy took place.
I first learned of this tragedy on Facebook when suddenly the status updates and comments surrounding them were filled with sorrow, tears and in some cases, utter hatred toward this mother and accusations that PPD isn’t real and that no “real mother” would ever bring harm to their children. To excuse her would be the same as allowing a serial killer to roam free.
My heart broke in so many ways and it continues to ache as more details of this horrific story are brought to light. As a living, breathing human-being, my heart broke for the unjust loss of life. As a mother, my heart cried out for these two innocent children, babies really, who lost their lives through no fault of their own and without ever having the chance to fight. My heart broke for the father who left for work one morning, only to have his world stolen from beneath him. And yes…my heart cried many tears for this mother, in spite of all indication that she was responsible for these deaths and was now missing and unable to be questioned.
One might ask why anyone would feel sorry for an alleged killer and why I would even think to sympathize and set her apart from a heartless thug who kills for thrills.
The simple answer is this: It could have been any mother. It could have been me.
In spite of many who believe that PPD is simply crying a lot and feeling blue, I can attest to the fact that it is far from that. As a PPD survivor, I have been in that blackened pit. It is a hole filled with despair, desperation and an extremely false sense of reality. PPD is a place where there is no bottom and no top. PPD is a place where there is only black and white in a world full of colour. PPD is fear. PPD is despair. PPD is anxiety so overwhelming it consumes you. PPD is prevalent in many mothers and is often a silent cry for help that goes unanswered. PPD causes the most irrational, unthinkable and unforgiving thoughts to become the only rational solution. PPD can also cause psychosis in a small number of women, sometimes driving them to do the unthinkable.
In the midst of my battle with PPD, I was consumed with anxiety. I cried the second my husband left for work and literally counted down the minutes until I knew he would return. I paced for hours while my colicky baby cried in my arms. I paced when he calmed. I walked for hours some days, in hopes that in those moments, I might catch a glimpse of the person I used to be and feel whole again. I saw no colour, I saw no hope. I didn’t have visions of harming my child but I had many of harming myself. My anxiety fueled my belief that I needed to leave my child and my husband in order to save them from me. I would often leave the house after my husband got home, saying I had an errand to run. I would spend that time fighting the urge to keep driving and never look back. In my own mind, this was the definition of logical and rational. My mind was not well. It was very ill.
Thankfully and only through the grace of God, I found the courage to ask and was treated by a midwife who knew I needed help. In my case, I was able to channel my anxiety into counselling and running and slowly find my way again. I was eventually able to see the colours around me, I was able to find the light at the end of this darkened tunnel and I was able to be a mother to my son. It took months and every now and then, I feel that anxiety creep over me. I fought and overcame the hardest battle of my life.
In short: I was lucky.
Not every story starts this way and not every story ends this way. These two innocent children paid the ultimate price and there really is no justice in that. Their mother paid an ultimate price. After being missing for over 3 days, her body was found in the river close to her home. There are still many unanswered questions and it has not been proven whether she was responsible or a third victim of someone else. What is known is that there is a debate on the validity of PPD and Post-Partum Psychosis among people who have clearly never dealt with it. I can say without any hesitation that judgement on your abilities as a mother is the most hurtful and fear-provoking thing. To assume that if you’re sick, you should simply get help is grossly underestimating how devastating this illness is and how much fear accompanies this diagnosis. Fear that no one will believe you, fear that you will be judged and persecuted, fear that your family will abandon you, fear that your children will be taken away from you, fear of what could happen if they aren’t taken away from you.
Do I think that taking a life is ever justifiable? No. There is never a good reason to take the life of another, especially a child. But I do believe that there are means of preventing such tragedies before they occur. Education, watching for signs of depression, and most of all: tolerance. After all, who really wins in situations like these when we lash out and judge the act, not the situation?