The Monster In The Closet

August 18, 2010

sleep_of_reasonIt was just one night, and one night, measured against the course of a lifetime, doesn’t seem all that significant. But it was a dark night, and I have never been able to shed the weight of the memory of it. I have never been able to put it, as they say, in perspective. I never will.

Jasper was not quite six months old. I had not slept in weeks. I lay awake as he stirred and fussed, bracing myself for the moment when I would have to rouse myself fully to nurse him or change him or soothe him. The darkness that night seemed particularly black, the kind of black that has a density, a weight. To say that it felt like it was closing in would be to use a trope that gets overused when writers are trying to describe dark nights and oppressive fear, but in this case it was true. The darkness was closing in on me like a heavy fog, like an army of ghosts, like a slick of oil, like night made solid and sinister. I couldn’t breathe. Jasper continued to fuss. I fought the dark.

I fought the dark. I think that I won. Even at the time, I wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure.

Later, when I wrote about what happened, I couched it in the most delicate of terms. “I was groggy,” I said. “… (I was) confused, disoriented, as I held my squirming baby in my arms:”

He fussed, breathing heavily through a stuffy nose, truffling for the breast and then pushing it away. He squirmed and kicked and protested and snuffled and grabbed and pushed and with every kick, every push of his fierce little legs and arms I struggled toward wakefulness, needing to be awake, needing my strength and my composure but wanting oh so badly to just let the darkness overtake me and to slide back into oblivion. But he wouldn’t let me, he was too uncomfortable, poor thing, hungry and snuffly and demanding, he would not let me let me go and he would not let this be easy and in a flash, in one moment, I felt the frustration course through me like a current and there it was, for a split-second – a split-second and an eternity all at once – ANGER – sharp and hot and as I felt the tears prick my eyes and a sob burble in my throat I was overwhelmed by the brief flash of an urge to just drop the baby, just drop him to the mattress and throw myself off the bed and stomp away into the night.

I didn’t have an urge to drop the baby. I had an urge to throw him. And then to throw myself, right out the window. It was an fleeting urge, one that passed, as I said, in a split-second, but it also felt like an eternity, an eternity during which I was not in my right mind, and completely aware of not being in my right mind, and completely helpless to do anything about it. It was the most terrifying moment of my life. It was the moment about which I feel the most – the most everlasting – shame. In that moment, I was – or almost was – one of those mothers, those mothers that you read about, the Andrea Yateses, the horrible, terrible mothers who put their children in the car and drive it straight into the lake. I was a bad mother. I was a bad mother, the worst mother, the most horrifyingly terrible mother possible.

I sought help from a psychiatrist, but I downplayed the grimmer details. I am not a bad mother, I told myself. She will think that I’m a bad mother. I’m not a bad mother. Am I a bad mother? I denied parts of my own story. I denied having wanted to harm myself. She read me the referral report – reports intrusive thoughts… wanted to harm baby… – and I recoiled. It hadn’t been exactly like that. It was more abstract than that. I hadn’t been in my right mind. I hadn’t been in my right mind. But of course, that was why I was there, wasn’t it? In a psychiatrist’s office? I hadn’t been – I wasn’t – in my right mind.

Of course I wasn’t. I was depressed. I was suffering from postpartum depression, acute postpartum depression, acute postpartum depression bordering on postpartum psychosis. But even knowing that – even having a very firm grasp of that, having struggled with it for nearly three years; even having written at length about that – I was still ashamed. So ashamed, that I only went back the psychiatrist once after that. I took the prescriptions – leaving them unfilled, because I was still nursing, and shouldn’t a good mother continue to nurse her baby, regardless of her mental state? – and left after the second visit and never went back.

I didn’t have any more psychotic episodes. I continued to write about my struggle, which allowed me to gain – again, for lack of a better word – perspective on it, and which ensured that, in addition to my anxious husband, there was an army of sympathetic supporters – you, all of you – keeping an eye on me. But I still struggled with the shame and I tempered my stories, omitting the more depressing or frightening details of my experience; I hid my shame, I denied my shame. And I never went back to the psychiatrist. I was too ashamed. I was too afraid of talking, out loud, about whether or not I was a bad mother.

Even though I knew – even though I know – in my right mind – that I am not a bad mother, still… I came too close to being one of those mothers. I came too close.

And therein lays the problem. We still slip too easily into thinking of those mothers as those mothers, as bad mothers, as the worst kinds of mothers, as other. These are mothers who have fought depression and lost. These are mothers who didn’t have support. These are mothers who might have had support, but were too ashamed to ask for it. These are mothers who get described, in articles like this one posted today at AOL, as ‘psychopaths’ and ‘cold-blooded criminals.’ Bad mothers. The worst mothers. Mothers whose path, but for the grace of God and Ativan and the Internet, any one of us might have taken. I might have taken.

We have an emotional investment in characterizing these mothers as bad, as other. We want to keep our distance. We want there to be a clearly recognizable line between the mom who struggles and the mom who harms. We do not want to say, there but for the grace of God go we. We want to say, we could not possibly go there. That is a place to which we will not, can not, could not go. But in saying so, we put ourselves, and our children, at risk. In saying so, we create monsters, and in creating monsters – creatures that lurk in a netherworld that is foreign to us, closed to us – we shame, and in shaming, we close off the possibility of understanding, and of battling, the darkness that produces these so-called monsters, these so-called monsters (these monsters who are not monsters, who are not monsters; repeat, repeat, repeat) who might – but for the grace of God, but for the grace of good psychiatric care, but for the grace of community support – be us.

This is not to say that every mother who harms her child is struggling with postpartum depression, or any kind of perinatal mood disorder or non-perinatal mood disorder or depression or mental illness. This is not to say that there is no such thing as abusive mothers. This is not to say that there is no such thing – no such person – as a really bad mother. It is to say that blanket characterizations of mothers who harm their children as cold-blooded and shameful and bad – as does the horrifying, appalling article posted at AOL – can have a terribly – possibly deadly – effect on women struggling with the darkness, inasmuch at these deepen and perpetuate the shame associated with that darkness. A mom that is ashamed of what she is going through – a mom who fears being labeled ‘bad’ because she is battling darkness at a time when she is supposed to be – supposed to be! – dancing in the light – is a mom who might not admit to what she is going through, a mom who might not seek help, a mom who might not get help.

A mom who might find herself, in the dark of night, battling a demon that she cannot fight on her own, and lose.

*Apparently, AOL has edited some of the original comments out of the article. That there was such an article in the first place, one that focused entirely on one ‘expert’s’ claim that mothers who harm their children are all cold-blooded criminals, is still evidence of the deeper problem that I’m speaking about here. (See also Katherine Stone’s excellent post on the subject, in which she cites some of the original remarks.)

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    Katherine from Postpartum Progress August 18, 2010 at 11:40 am

    I am honored to know you, and so grateful that you are always willing to speak openly and honestly about mental illness. Truly. Honored.
    .-= Katherine from Postpartum Progress´s last blog ..AOL News Story Makes Outrageous Comments About Postpartum Depression =-.

    Catherine August 18, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    @Katherine from Postpartum Progress, that goes both ways, lady :)
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..If A Troll Falls In The Forest- Does Anybody Hear =-.

    Jen August 18, 2010 at 11:46 am

    I’m glad AOL edited their article. I was appalled — more than appalled, horrified — when I clicked through to that article from your twitter feed and read the “expert” comments. PPD is so real, and so awful, and the shame that still hovers around it is what prevents the people who most need it from getting help. Thank you so much for being brave enough to share your story. I went through this as well, and I never had the guts to acknowledge it so openly and honestly. I took my Zoloft and I “got better” but my daughter’s first six months are a blur, and I still have a hard time forgiving myself for that.
    .-= Jen´s last blog now what =-.

    Jen August 18, 2010 at 11:51 am

    I had the unedited version of the article up in my browser window still. This is what the “expert” said…

    “Most claims — if not all — of postpartum depression are a crock in the sense that there is not a chemical imbalance that causes women to go so psychotic [that] they kill their children,” she said. “Most women who suffer depression after their children are born are suffering from post-how-did-I-get-stuck-with-this-kid, this body, this life? They may be depressed, but it is their situation and their psychopathic personality that brings them to kill their children, and not some chemical malfunction.”

    Catherine August 18, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    @Jen, Katherine @postpartumprog got the comments down, too, and posted them. I hope someone screencapped it, though. So appalling.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..If A Troll Falls In The Forest- Does Anybody Hear =-.

    Suebob August 19, 2010 at 9:15 am

    I have never had children, but I have had an extended period of sleeplessness/disrupted sleep and it made me absolutely mentally ill. My thinking was so disordered and I was so depressed. I didn’t ever feel good. I didn’t enjoy a single thing about life.

    I don’t know where they get these “experts.”
    .-= Suebob´s last blog ..So- two bloggers walk into a shitstorm =-.

    Erin August 19, 2010 at 11:34 am

    @Suebob, I think about this issue all the time, and it is one of the least discussed aspects of postpartum depression, or of the postpartum experience: the effects of sleep-deprivation on a human being. There’s a REASON why sleep deprivation is considered a form of torture. I think it’s possible to have acute disordered reactions to continually disrupted sleep without suffering from depression per se. For example, I can relate in a very deep way to HBM’s post. I’ve had that moment – perhaps not so dramatic (no imagined violence, but an intensity of anger that shook me, and one night for one second a fear that I *had* harmed my baby, even though I 100% knew that I hadn’t), and I wasn’t depressed. I’m not in denial either; I’ve been depressed, and I know what it looks like. I only have these moments with my babies at night, and only when I am in the in-between state of sleeping and waking. Fully awake and I know how to respond. In between, it’s like my brain is so desperate for five more minutes of rest it’s in agony and all it can think about is getting back to sleep – the result is a feeling a pure rage directed at the crying baby. Sometimes during the day, awake, I reach the end of my rope and have to put him in his crib for a few minutes while I leave the room and regroup. But those moments always feel controlled, though intense. The night time ones don’t.

    Labeling all mothers who hurt their children as monsters is just another sign of the profound disservice we do to women in our society. We give them no support, help, sympathy, or aid (I mean, just read a real discussion of Andrea Yates’s mental health history; it’s impossible not to feel how failed this woman was) and then scream monster when they fail.

    Bridget August 18, 2010 at 11:55 am

    I remember standing at the top of the stairs with a baby who would not stop crying and thinking “I could throw her down the stairs. She’d bounce, right? Babies bounce.” I knew it was crazy then. I knew it was wrong. And I scared myself enough to call my husband, who called a friend. She came over and sent me to bed and she mothered my children when the mother in me was broken. She put them to bed that night and we talked for hours. She helped me begin to help myself. Without her, I wouldn’t be the mother I am today. Without that support, I might not have my children at all. Community is invaluable. It really does take a village…
    .-= Bridget´s last blog ..Mouthwatering Monday- Chicken or Potato Makhani =-.

    vicky August 18, 2010 at 11:56 am

    I cannot believe that I am sitting here in labor today, a labor that is being induced because I was getting close to my previous PPD symptoms and this is what is published today. I cannot understand what AOL was thinking using this “expert”. It’s shameful and hurts so many. I hope they right this wrong.

    Catherine August 18, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    @vicky, AOL has removed some of the more offensive comments. Still, that it went up in the first place is deeply, deeply appalling.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..If A Troll Falls In The Forest- Does Anybody Hear =-.

    Sera @ Laughing Through the Chaos August 18, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Phenomenal piece of writing right here. Thank you SO much for your brutal honesty and for your oh-so-true words.
    .-= Sera @ Laughing Through the Chaos´s last blog ..Twice Tempted by a Rogue Book Review &amp Giveaway =-.

    AJ August 18, 2010 at 11:58 am

    I love your blog. I love the raw honesty. I had a very scary moment of “fuzzy mental clarity” (nothing happened…only bad thoughts) when my son was only days old. I couldn’t talk about it with anyone because I was very ashamed and very scared of what could happen. There needs to be a change in the way moms are educated about what can happen to them mentally after giving birth.

    Julie @ The Mom Slant August 18, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Thank you for writing this.

    Thank you also to my wonderful OBs, Drs. Kalish and Etten, and my PCP, Kettie Meyer, who helped me navigate the risks of PPD in my second and third pregnancies and post-partum weeks and months. The knowledge and expertise of those women ensured that I could anticipate and cope with the darkness in a way that I was not equipped for with my first child.

    If AOL News is looking for some experts who really understand the condition and have actually helped women who suffer from it, I will be glad to point them to sources who are far more qualified than the so-called expert they quoted.
    .-= Julie @ The Mom Slant´s last blog ..Did Don Draper do the right thing =-.

    Miss Britt August 18, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    Unfortunately, it’s not just about postpartum depression.

    We are quick to throw out big, broad, sweeping labels about all sorts of things without taking adequate time to understand what kind of internal darkness might propel a basically good person to do “bad” things.

    We do it about adultery.

    About addiction.

    About poverty.

    About quitting a job or ignoring someone at a party.

    If we have not walked in those exact footsteps, we forget to use our imaginations and compassion to at least try to comprehend how and why. We just proclaim that it could never be us, simply because we are relieved that it hasn’t been us yet.
    .-= Miss Britt´s last blog ..Step 1- Stop Shopping =-.

    Maria August 18, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    @Miss Britt, Compassion. That’s a better word than what I was reaching for. Yes.

    .-= Maria´s last blog ..We Stay Home =-.

    Catherine August 19, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    @Maria, @missbritt – you’re totally, totally right – we seem to have difficulty summoning compassion across a really broad spectrum of issues, and we all suffer for it.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..If A Troll Falls In The Forest- Does Anybody Hear =-.

    St. Louis Smart Mama August 18, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    I think a lot more women experience these kinds of thoughts than are ever willing to admit it – the type of comments in the AOL article being the exact reason why.

    Cheers to you, for starting a real discussion – I’m looking forward to reading more comments.
    .-= St. Louis Smart Mama´s last blog ..True Mom Confessions- I Sent My Daughter to Kindergarten Because She Watches Too Much TV =-.

    MainlineMom August 18, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Thanks for being so sensitive to the potentially harmful and demonizing language in these articles and calling them out. I totally agree with you, but might not have noticed. I think these fleeting thoughts hit every new mom at some time or another, PPD or not, but they scare us and for some…shake us into getting help…but for so many we never admit it to anyone.
    .-= MainlineMom´s last blog ..WFMW – Some Great Money Resources =-.

    Maria August 18, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    The story and the comments on perfectly illustrated the ugly way that people generalize things that make them uncomfortable or afraid.

    Sadly, the comments on the story often displayed blatant, stunning racism.

    No one SUPPORTS what this mother did. No one is defending the act of murdering two babies. But it’s okay to be HORRIFIED and also have pity for the kind of deep, profound mental illness that would drive a woman to murder her children.

    Is it so much harder to have pity than to call a woman a monster? To judge her based on the way her face looks?

    The whole story and the sensationalism of it makes me nauseated. To have this slight on PPD on top of it is too much. It sends me back into my little mental cave.
    .-= Maria´s last blog ..We Stay Home =-.

    Catherine August 19, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    @Maria, I know. I couldn’t read more than a few of the comments. Horrible, horrible.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..If A Troll Falls In The Forest- Does Anybody Hear =-.

    clearly depressed August 18, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Here are the things I have done:

    -contacted a charity that deals with my specific mental illness. They said there was one psychiatrist in the small country that can help me, in another city. First they said they’d arrange an appointment for me. Then they said they couldn’t do that, but they’d gotten in touch with his secretary and he’d agreed to see me. I called the secretary, she refused to get me an appointment, saying the request has to come from my doctor.

    -taken the entirety of the 6 weeks of employer-sponsored counselling.

    -seen my doctor and asked for a psychiatry referral. Twice. Once in December and once in June. I’m supposed to get a letter.

    -gotten an antidepressant prescription from the doctor. For 3 weeks. Used it up. Forgot to go to the follow up appointment. Feeling too embarrassed about that to call the doctor again.

    -told my husband that last point. He said he’d get me an appointment (without me requesting). He won’t, and I can’t, both because of my fears and because now if I do it it’s telling him that he is unreliable (which he is). So in another six weeks he will yell at me for not doing it myself, because of course relying on him to do it causes him to resent me. (he is mostly a good husband, and a very good father).

    -had a strong urge to hit my child

    -retreated away from my child to hide under the covers, when all she wants is my attention

    clearly depressed August 18, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Oh, and I forgot one. Paid out of pocket for about six weeks of counselling with someone who was clearly NOT the right therapist for me.

    Her Bad Mother August 18, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Finding the right therapist can be tremendously difficult. My psychiatrist was pretty good, but she still didn’t put me neough at ease for me to be able to continue therapy. And that was under the Canadian health care system, wherein I didn’t have pay to figure that out.

    clearly depressed August 18, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    I guess my point is that people say “get help” but help is not always easy to find or appropriate. Getting help is not a straightforward thing to do. I’m trying as hard as I can but it just isn’t working for me. And I’m a worse parent/spouse/worker etc than I think I could and should be.

    Her Bad Mother August 18, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Your point is totally spot-on. It’s so tempting to think that one just – JUST! – needs to get help and then it will all be okay. But getting help in the first place can be difficult, getting the *right* help even more so, and hanging on to that support, sometimes impossible.

    Anonymous August 18, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Exactly. I’m pretty sure that I should “get help,” but have yet to figure out any way to do so. Accute shortages of both time and money are stressors that are contributing to my struggle, but they are also the two things that keep me from being able to seek help.

    Catherine August 18, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    @Anonymous, just keep speaking to people. Tell loved ones – someone, anyone – what you’re going through. At a minimum, make sure that someone has their eye on you, knows to watch out for you. TALK. Just do whatever you can.

    (Comment here! There is lots of support here, always, even if it’s weeks after the original posting, I always get notified of comments and always read!)
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..If A Troll Falls In The Forest- Does Anybody Hear =-.

    Katherine from Postpartum Progress August 19, 2010 at 9:07 am

    @Anonymous and @clearly depressed,
    Email me at and let me know where you live. I’ll share with you if I’m aware of support groups or other healthcare pros in your area.
    .-= Katherine from Postpartum Progress´s last blog ..AOL News Story Makes Outrageous Comments About Postpartum Depression =-.

    Metro DC Mom August 18, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Thank you for writing such an honest account of your experience with PPD. I suffered from PPD with my first child and all I remember from the first few months was how dark it was. I dreaded every night, as I that’s when the demons got the worst. It’s hard enough to admit I went through it. Why must “experts” write articles that add even more shame?
    .-= Metro DC Mom´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday- Got Costume =-.

    Amelia August 18, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    I honestly can’t wrap my heart around this.
    Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, pain, experience, and (I hope) triumph. I went and read your post on breastfeeding, and it really hit home. It’s been a tumultuous 12 months (next week) with alot of sleep deprivation, breast feeding/eating issues, and a sadness that is alarming. We’re coming out the other side, finally, but it is still very fresh. Thank you for being an advocate, and willing to share your personal struggles, so that I don’t feel as alone.

    Sheri Bheri August 18, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Okay, maybe this is rare, but we were TOLD at our prenatal classes that this would happen and that it was NORMAL. That we would have ‘flashes’ of intrusive thoughts, “what if I walked too close to the railing and dropped my baby?” That it’s actually PROTECTIVE towards the baby, because you are SO horrified by it, you’re even MORE careful after thinking it.

    So, because I was warned, I had the thoughts, was more careful, and didn’t have a moments guilt over it.

    I guess we were smart to take the midwife-recommended class.

    Julie August 18, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    @Sheri Bheri, Thank you for this. I had a gut feeling that these thoughts were in the realm of normal, too. I remember having them about throwing my baby off a balcony, and at the same time getting so upset over the thought that I was physically shaking. It would have been so nice to have been given a head’s up on it.

    Her Bad Mother August 18, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    If more of us were told that this is not only NOT shameful, but even normal, we’d all be a lot better off. More than that: lives could be saved.

    seriously?! August 18, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    @Sheri Bheri, I have never heard that. I needed to hear that.

    It scared the living daylights out of me this time around, after my first baby was 10.5 months old and I wanted to suffocate him in a pillow while nursing him. It was premenstrual stuff at the time, and I didn’t realize it.

    But then, this time when my baby was only 4 days old with an flash of intrusive thoughts while sitting on the balcony… that was scary. I wish I’d been told those were normal thoughts. It is so scary to feel like I’m That Bad Mother.

    caramama August 19, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    @Sheri Bheri, Wow. Thank you for sharing this. What a great class, and a great point that those normal but intrusive thoughts actually can make you MORE protective of your child.
    .-= caramama´s last blog ..Fidgety Baby Growing Up =-.

    Annie @ PhD in Parenting August 18, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story Catherine. Stories like these are so powerful in helping people to understand what postpartum depression is like and helping them to understand how real it is.

    I wanted to clarify one point, since people have since been commenting on it on my blog (where I linked to your post). Breastfeeding and medication for PPD is not always incompatible. Most doctors are not educated enough on which drugs are okay while nursing, but for a mom who is suffering from PPD and who feels like one of the few things she is doing right is nursing her child, finding a way to treat the PPD while allowing her to continue to nurse is critical.

    There is some excellent info on this topic on the website, written by Dr. Thomas Hale, the leading expert in medications and lactation. Here is a link:

    Julie @ The Mom Slant August 18, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    @Annie @ PhD in Parenting, YES. Thank you for pointing this out. On the advice of my doctors, I took medication while pregnant and while breastfeeding. Both my children and I were better off for it. It’s not an either/or as many people make it out to be.
    .-= Julie @ The Mom Slant´s last blog ..Did Don Draper do the right thing =-.

    Jen August 18, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    @Annie @ PhD in Parenting, Yes. I took Zoloft through the last trimester of my pregnancy, stopped after my daughter was born, and started back again 3 months postpartum with the ok of my doctor and her pediatrician. Continued to breastfeed and felt like both taking he medication and breastfeeding were the two concrete, good things I knew I could do for my baby.

    Her Bad Mother August 18, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Good point, Annie – although I should say that in my case, the medications that were best for me were not deemed entirely safe (I can’t remember what mother risk category they fell into, but it had enough uncertainty that I was reluctant to take them). There ARE medications that are safe – but not all experiences of PPD warrant the same treatment, and so the safer medications aren’t always appropriate.

    Another PPD Survivor August 18, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Like a lot of the PP’s, I had/have PPD. It began when my son was 5 months old. I made so many comments about throwing him into the river or out the window that my husband made me promise to call my doctor because he was afraid to leave me home alone with the baby. I did, fully expecting to hear that I just had the “Mommy Blues,” and to my shock and horror my doctor instead asked me quietly if I thought I needed to go to the emergency room.

    My husband also made me promise not to forge his signature on any papers that would put our child up for adoption, because I talked constantly about that, too.

    I went on anti-depressants right away and sought therapy. That was tough: I had no one (and I mean, NO ONE) to watch the baby while I went to my therapy treatments, and my insurance didn’t cover a lot of good doctors. How was I supposed to get help when it seemed no one could help me?

    I finally saw a very good therapist but had to pay out of pocket for her. When we stopped being able to afford her I had to stop going.

    It’s been over a year and I finally admitted to my husband that at one point, when I was at the very bottom of the dark pit of depression, I thought about letting my son’s stroller roll out into traffic because I could easily make it seem like an accident.

    It’s been over a year, but still. The other night our son woke up for the second night in a row, randomly, and inconsolable. I wanted to slap him, the way you would a hysterical adult. I was so tired, and so annoyed, and nothing would calm him down and I just wanted to hit him. The only thing that kept me from doing so was a little voice in the back of my head that told me I’d regret it in the daylight.

    Like you, the months of my son’s early life are a blur because I was deep in my hole. These days are much better. About 90% of the time I cope, at minimum, with the rough spots, and at best I laugh through them. But those 10% are still bad, and they still scare me. It’s a process, and some moments are still a real struggle for control.

    Catherine August 18, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    @Another PPD Survivor, the ongoing struggle IS a struggle. And it’s hard knowing that, fearing that it will just go on and on and on.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..If A Troll Falls In The Forest- Does Anybody Hear =-.

    Piper of Love August 18, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    I do so admire, and find myself so incredibly grateful for, the honesty and bravery you exhibit in sharing the darkest of your truths. I wish I had half of this strength.

    What I suffered with after the birth of my first son was so horrifying to me that I never once had the courage to tell anyone. I was so ashamed. But, I was also very ignorant of the fact that I wasn’t alone in severe PPD. I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know it had a name, much less treatment. I had no community of support at that time either, which made the depths of my inner isolation that much worse. And the 11 months of total sleeplessness I had, which I could not escape, made the drumming chaos in my mind grow.

    I never harmed my son, ever. But the thoughts that I had, the pictures that entered my mind, and the fear I had of them, and myself, made me too terrified to consider having another child for years. And even after my second child came, I continued to live alone in my darkness and fear. Still to this day, no matter how much I truly long to have another child, I still get stopped in my tracks with the fear of possibly enduring that darkness again.

    I wish I could have read this back then. It would have felt like saving grace. On behalf of all the women who are reading this, at just the right time, I want to thank you. You are saving someone right now, I know it.

    You are retroactively saving me, as a matter of fact.

    Meghan August 18, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    @Piper of Love,

    What a beautiful comment. I love the notion of retroactive saving.
    .-= Meghan´s last blog ..holy shit =-.

    Catherine August 18, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    @Meghan, I second that. SUCH a beautiful comment.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..If A Troll Falls In The Forest- Does Anybody Hear =-.

    kelly @kellynaturally August 18, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    The quote at the end of the ORIGINAL AOL article was so brazen, so lacking in empathy (was this woman a mother herself? Not possible!) and so WRONG… Making post partum depression out to be “fake” is appalling.

    If you have the original up in your browser still, be certain to save a screenshot. AOL should be ashamed. And it should be brought to their attention.

    Not every mother has post partum depression. But I do believe that every mother has dark moments when life with a newborn is really, really, really hard.

    If you have support through those moments, they go away (with time, or medication [some of which IS compatible with breastfeeding, just fyi - or FtheInformationofYourReaders - though obviously no one should ever feel they have to continue breastfeeding if they don't want to], or counselling, or help).

    If you don’t? If you are poor, disadvantaged, unmarried… then what?
    .-= kelly @kellynaturally´s last blog ..Nightwaking and Nightweaning =-.

    Megan August 18, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    @kelly @kellynaturally, In response to your last bit, “If you are poor, disadvantaged, unmarried… then what?” Then don’t have kids.
    .-= Megan´s last blog ..I’m Going to Need Seven Dwarfs =-.

    kelly @kellynaturally August 18, 2010 at 3:23 pm


    Really? You think only well-off married women deserve to have children?

    Sorry @hbm to derail the convo, but REALLY?!?
    .-= kelly @kellynaturally´s last blog ..Nightwaking and Nightweaning =-.

    Megan August 18, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    @kelly @kellynaturally

    That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that if a woman feels she’s not prepared to have a child or doesn’t have herself in a position where she’d be able to properly care for a child, then she shouldn’t. Common sense.

    I didn’t say anything about anyone deserving anything. Please don’t put words in my virtual mouth. K, thx.
    .-= Megan´s last blog ..I’m Going to Need Seven Dwarfs =-.

    kelly @kellynaturally August 18, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    The woman in question already had children.
    And the point I was trying to make was that all mothers find themselves in a dark place.
    Those mothers with access to help can usually make it through those dark moments. Those mothers without help cannot.

    Whether or not a person “shouldn’t” have had children is irrelevant once they’ve had the children (and I’d imagine you can understdand that things can happen to people, things even beyond their control which could lead to pregnancy, birthing, or raising children in a less than stellar atmosphere that have nothing to do with common sense). So I really don’t understand your point within the context of this post, or my response to the post.
    .-= kelly @kellynaturally´s last blog ..Nightwaking and Nightweaning =-.

    Marcy August 18, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    I know both my husband and I were shocked by the feelings and thoughts we had at times with our firstborn, even if fleeting. Moments of utter and deep frustration where he felt the urge to harm. Moments of desperation where I remember laying in bed at night, wondering how many times I’d have to get up that night, and thinking to myself, “If he were to get SIDS and not wake in the morning… my God, I’d have my FREEDOM back. I could sleep all day tomorrow.” And that’s in two people who I don’t think even qualified as having full-blown PPD. We were just normal sleep-deprived parents, trying to adjust to life with a newborn.

    I’ve only confessed having had those thoughts to my husband, and maybe one other person… and now here. That shame does a good job of keeping us silent.
    .-= Marcy´s last blog ..Oh right- theres a person growing in my belly =-.

    Karen August 18, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Thanks for your post and comments about the appalling AOL “news” article. (wow- calling that drivel news is amazing in itself.)
    I also suffered with PPD and it’s amazing how ashamed I still feel, even sort of coming to terms with the fact that I didn’t DO anything to cause it. But it’s so scary to know how close I came to hurting myself and my children.
    I’ve written about my experience here:

    And as a resource for others, discussed PPD with another PPD mom and an expert in perinatal mood disorders on my radio show here:
    .-= Karen´s last blog ..Inner Guidance =-.

    Catherine August 19, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    @Karen, thank you so much for those links!
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..If A Troll Falls In The Forest- Does Anybody Hear =-.

    Renee August 18, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Well, obviously, that so-called “expert” is nothing of the sort, and his comments were atrocious…What better way to ensure women keep their struggles a secret – better to suffer in silence (and risk hurting your baby) than be labelled a “psychopath.”
    However, as you noted in your post, we have to be careful not to apply the broad brush of PPD to every horrific act perpetrated by a mother on her children. It’s a real illness but not meant to be an excuse for child abuse. For example, in the case of Andrea Yates, her husband, her family, her community basically forced – FORCED – this woman who was obviously sick and unable to cope to continue having children. That is criminally negligent in my mind! And as for this woman, Duley, why on earth does she have 3 children ages 5 and under when she is unemployed, broke, living with her mother, etc…Hasn’t anybody here ever heard of birth control? I believe we have to be sensitive to the struggles a woman with PPD faces, but is it totally crazy/insensitive to say that some women (whether with PPD or not) just shouldn’t be having children, or at least not more and more and more children…

    Catherine August 19, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    @Renee, HER comments. That expert was a woman. Which makes it worse, somehow.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..If A Troll Falls In The Forest- Does Anybody Hear =-.

    Kelly August 18, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    thank you for your real here. i understand. these moments, who knows how to talk about them? that split second when eternity flashes past and we see vivid death in our grasp.

    i have set both of mine hard in their cribs and turned away from their cries to save us all, but i walk circumspect, knowing what is in me, what i am capable of doing if, as you said, it were not for the grace of God.

    i hold them closer for it.

    to deny that we all might be there – who are we that we are greater than God? put the justifications away, push the stigma far and look at truth. you may not have experienced it yourself, but these dark places are in you too. do not judge us who know the darkness, who fight daily to overcome it.

    thank you for this post.
    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..the weeping- freeze-frame celebration =-.

    Sugar Jones August 18, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    I was having coffee with a group of ladies after one of the mom-kills-baby stories a few years back. The subject of the story came up. The woman that brought it up didn’t have any kids. “Can you believe that monster?” The rest of us quietly reached for our mugs… and sipped… long… guilty… deliberate… awkward sips.
    .-= Sugar Jones´s last blog ..I Thought You Knew =-.

    jessica August 18, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Thank you.

    red pen mama August 18, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    I feel very lucky to have dodged the PPD bullet three times (so far). (as to my first post-partum period, I had situational depression caused by suddenly being the mother to a stillborn baby. As I managed to eat and shower at least once a day I decided against medication.)

    After the births of my daughters, I did have intrusive thoughts and I have had what I consider “normal” baby blues, but nothing like the darkness I have seen written about here and elsewhere, or expressed by people I know. Bless you for talking about it and not keeping it hidden. I was horrified by the original comments that aol published (and, of course, horrified by what that mother did to her children, which may have nothing to do with PPD).

    Monsters are afraid of the light, and you have to continue to shine on.
    .-= red pen mama´s last blog ..The Things We Do For Kids =-.

    Julie August 18, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    What a beautifully written and important post. Around 10 years ago, shortly after I’d given birth to my son, a woman in our neighbourhood drove to the subway station with her 6 month old baby, parked, went into the station and jumped, with baby, in front of an oncoming train. The woman was a psychotherapist whose areas of expertise included depression. Her story scared the hell out of me…if someone like her, who had the knowledge she had, couldn’t battle this awful condition, what chance did we have. But thankfully, we do have a chance. And because of posts like this, more and more women will realize that they’re not alone, that there is help and that they most definitely are GOOD mothers!!

    Issa August 18, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    I’ve re-read this about five times now. I am not sure I can come up with a good response. Except thank you.
    .-= Issa´s last blog ..Because it’s my blog and I’ll whine if I want too =-.

    Lauren August 18, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    Pat Brown’s comments on another site that asked for her response have me deeply shaken. You don’t “buy” that there’s a chemical component to mental illness? Okay, fine, but then you also don’t get to “buy” that diabetes is related to insulin production. It’s science.

    It’s 20fucking10. I can’t believe people still think like this, let alone throw those thoughts out as fact.

    Catherine August 19, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    @Lauren, I know, I saw her remarks. Filled me with rage that I’m still fighting.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..If A Troll Falls In The Forest- Does Anybody Hear =-.

    Gappy August 18, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    That was a hard post for me to read. I too have been on the edge of puerperal psychosis, years ago, after the birth of my first child. It is still painful to remember it. Everything you have written here is just so true.
    .-= Gappy´s last blog ..My Little Girl =-.

    Sixis August 23, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    @Gappy, Ditto. 13 years later, still painful to remember the dark days when the bridge over the river seemed to beckon.

    Tarasview August 18, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Well said dear one. I struggled through 3 bouts of extreme postpartum depression… my last child is 3 now and I expect I will stay on meds for the rest of my life. And I’m ok with that.

    When my oldest was 18 months and my middle was a newborn it was the darkest time of my life by far. I was scared to go near our balcony for fear of throwing myself off of it. I felt fear and anger and sadness and rage and all manner of horrible emotions pretty much constantly. It was truly awful.

    Before I had children I could never understand how a woman could hurt her kids like that but now? I was a hairwidth from full psychosis and God alone knows what I would have done. It is a veritable miracle we all survived.

    And oh that article made me so angry. I realize not every mother who does horrible things has PPD but my heart is filled with compassion for those who do.

    It would have been so easy just to jump.

    (by the way I really hope I get to meet you IRL at Blissdom Canada just so I can give you a hug and thank-you for your consistent REAL-ness! )

    Nanna August 18, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    My dearest girl I can tell you with no qualms that I bet we have ALLLLLLL been there. When I first read the story of the woman in South Carolina, I cringed, and cried, because yes, there but for the grace of a lot of stuff, go we all. My hat is so off to you for writing this.

    Elina August 18, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Thank you all for your openess. You have given me the tools I need to manage my expectations well, which for me is key. <3

    Cloud August 18, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Thank you for writing about this.

    Before I had kids, I could never understand how a mother could hurt her own children. I remember that at some point, a few weeks after my first was born, I realized “now I understand where child abuse comes from” and it was such a startling thought.

    I did not experience PPD- I have had only mild “baby blues” with both of my kids (although I had “relapses” as I started to wean my oldest, which took me off guard). But even so, I had some dark, dark moments brought on by sleep deprivation. Thankfully, I had my husband and my extended family to fall back on. And I have the money to buy some sanity every now and then, in the form of babysitting. I can only barely begin to fathom how hard it would be to make it through the first year or so without those things.

    Our culture is so screwed up about motherhood. We peddle some happy-sappy false image of what it will be like, isolate new mothers in their homes on their own- to the point of saying nasty things to people whose babies dare to act like babies in public, making it even harder for new moms to get out- and then we are surprised when sometimes this recipe for disaster indeed produces a disaster.
    .-= Cloud´s last blog ..Dinner during Dora- Carrot Cake Pancakes =-.

    Jennifer August 18, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    What a great post. So many don’t realized that 65% of adoptive parents get Post Adoption Depression (PAD)too.
    I think as parents we should support instead of judge.

    Catherine August 19, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    @Jennifer, PAD is really under-discussed. Do you know of any links to good resources on that?
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..If A Troll Falls In The Forest- Does Anybody Hear =-.

    audi August 19, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    @Jennifer, Okay…I just posted a comment much further down and am now reading up through the comments…so, SO true! A couple of weeks after we were home with our new babies (18mo/5mo), we received a flier in the mail, from our adoption agency, with info on child abuse and the child abuse hotline. I realized for the first time that the blackness we were just starting to wade around in was probably, actually, perhaps, common. That knowledge alone helped more than I realized at the time.

    There are a few good books on Amazon if you just search for PAD. Melissa Faye Green has also written about it some.

    Jennifer August 23, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    @audi and @catherine,
    Unfortunately, it really is under-discussed and if you discuss it in “public” aka family, they might turn on you. Especially, if your depression is from the behaviors of your children and these said children do not display said behaviors for others. Gotta love it!

    I don’t have a lot of articles or resources, but if you google it there are quite a few out there. This is the article where I got my 65% from
    There is a yahoo support group too that is very helpful.
    .-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Why Love Isnt Enough! Part Two =-.

    emily August 18, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    I’ve had those thoughts. I had them for years…those fleeting moments where I would vividly, mentally lose control and cause my children pain in my head, because I was SO ANGRY and SO FRUSTRATED and SO TIRED.

    I have never acted on those thoughts. I’ve yelled, yes. But I have somehow, barely, managed to keep those horrible thoughts inside my head. I can remember the first time it happened. It was my first, she cried all of the time. ALL of the time. She didn’t sleep. I was practically delusional. And I felt it: I wanted to shake her, scream at her to SHUT UP AND SLEEP OH MY GAWD and just make it all go away. I FELT that. It was horrible. I kissed her, I calmly put her screaming little body into her crib, walked out of the house, shut the door, and sobbed for an hour. She was pissed, but fine, when I calmed down and started feeling pity instead of pure anger.

    I think this NEEDS to be talked about. I find out so often that these things are common. I’d almost say they’re normal. We live in this time when we, as mothers, feel this major pressure to do everything ourselves. We’re left alone after the baby is born; we need to take care of everyone else AND a new baby. It’s a ridiculous notion. Our families should be stepping in. Our friends should be making us dinners, cleaning our houses, and taking our other children while we recuperate. And, maybe even most importantly, WE NEED TO LET GO and ALLOW people to help us.

    It certainly wouldn’t make things perfect; but I can tell you that if I hadn’t felt so alone, so cut off from the world…my mental state would have been so much healthier. Or maybe, if someone had been with me, they would have seen the signs and gotten me the help I really should have had. Just having that non-sleep-deprived set of watchful eyes could make ALL of the difference in the world.
    .-= emily´s last blog ..Toot =-.

    Catherine August 19, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    @emily, the watchful eyes can’t be overestimated. if nothing else, having someone, anyone, keeping an eye out – that can make all the difference.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..If A Troll Falls In The Forest- Does Anybody Hear =-.

    Julie August 22, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    @emily, yes, you hit it right, so very right on the head. I couldn’t have said it any better, or any clearer. My sons are 18 & 20 yrs old, and I remember (like it was yesterday, omg) the terrible pain I felt in the night. It was horrid, and I felt out of control. It was the hormones fluctuating, and the sleep deprivation. I never entertained PPD, not even for a fleeting second. I was/am a nurse, and I knew what I knew. I had NO help, no one, no family, no in laws, and my husband was a clueless idiot. I had all of the responsibility, and NO HELP. I wish that some woman would start an earth shattering movement out there somewhere, and bring back what has been gone for so long– women helping women. It would give so many ladies the peace of mind that will not shake their world and turn them upside down. Knowledge.

    I wish someone had told me about the 3 week and 6 week growth spurt in a newborn, too. I would not have given up on breastfeeding my oldest son, if someone had just told me that they will cry for days at 3 weeks of age, and 6 weeks of age. If you can get through this period, you will be golden. But–again, no one told me, I read it nowhwere, and I gave up nursing at 3 weeks. At 10:30 at night, when my last nerve had been shred with the shreking screaming cries of a large newborn not getting enough milk. I went out to the supermarket, bought a case of formula, handed off the baby to the very startled husband, and left the house. To cry and shake. Not to sleep (oh, no!). It’s just about education. And a little help.

    Chrissy August 18, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    I just want to say that I appreciate you Catherine, and that I appreciate every single woman that isn’t afraid to tell the truth. I think we’re all starting to chink away years of sadness, shame, and misunderstanding. Thank you, Catherine.
    .-= Chrissy´s last blog ..Justine and the Raven =-.

    neena August 18, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    You are in no way, shape, or form a bad mother. Period. You are just as normal as the rest of us – only your brave enough to say out loud something so many of us have thought for a split second in time.

    Adventures In Babywearing August 18, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Oh God, I think anyone that has loved so much, and given so much of themselves to a point of hallucination (in vision or in mind) can also be driven to *that point*- it’s just that no one EVER wants to admit they had that thought or feeling or start of such action. Shame on anyone that would judge knowing it could be them. We are all the same. It could be any of us. (and truthfully, it often is, behind closed doors on a dark sleep-less night.) Maybe if more knew they weren’t alone, more would reach out and would find a hand to lead them through it.

    .-= Adventures In Babywearing´s last blog ..We Are Big Family =-.

    Meredith August 18, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Thank you for speaking out on this important issue. So many of us have been down the dark PPD road.
    .-= Meredith´s last blog ..Vacay! =-.

    Christy August 18, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Bravo! Thank you for writing such a brave, honest post.

    Kristin @ Peace, Love and Muesli August 18, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    Very early in my motherhood career I understood a mother’s despair and frustration that could lead her to harm her children. I am eternally thankful that my frustrations we easily solved and short lived.

    Mom101 August 18, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Thank you for giving voice to those who don’t have one. Thank you for battling the fear of honesty and winning. I’m so proud to know you.
    .-= Mom101´s last blog ..Men are from Wars =-.

    Missives From Suburbia August 18, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    Yes, yes, yes! No one says you have to take killers by the hand and shower them with rose petals. But compassion in cases like this is something that wouldn’t hurt anyone. I had the same thought you did: There but for the grace of God, go I.

    Such a beautiful post. Thanks. I’ll be Tweeting my butt off with the link.
    .-= Missives From Suburbia´s last blog ..One of Those Days =-.

    Lizzy August 18, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    I’ve felt the same way and I’m not ashamed of it- I’m not PROUD, mind you, but I know that at 2 in the morning one is not in the best frame of mind.

    Here is my thought, for what it’s worth. ALL parents go through extreme, gut wrenching anger that makes us think violent thoughts regarding our kids. (I say this with experience as my 11 year old daughter rolls her eyes at me for the zillionth time.) Our ability to restrain from these acts is what makes us adults. We have mastered our impulses. Granted, I’m not even touching on the post-partum thing: that is a whole ‘nother can of worms that I don’t have the experience/knowledge to tackle. Raising kids is tough, tough business, and I weep for the teenage mom who doesn’t have the brain capacity to put a stop to her id.

    Great job on the post. The more this is discussed, the more it puts the subject in the forefront of our brains. And I know there is someone out there reading this thinking “I’m not alone”, and hopefully “I can deal with this”.

    .-= Lizzy´s last blog ..This =-.

    Molly Isola August 18, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    That post was the very first I read of yours. Another blog I read linked to it as something the author could relate to. I was so struck by your honesty (even gently phrased, as you’ve said now) I’ve been a regular reader every since.

    Ellen August 18, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Bravo, Catherine: for your usual extreme honesty, for helping people see this mother deserves sympathy, not hatred. I was “allowed” to have PPD because of what happened to my son at birth; nobody questioned why I was drowning in despair for the year that followed. Friends and family supported me. I was my own worst enemy—I didn’t want therapy, I didn’t want to take pills. I just wish I would have let myself be helped sooner. Part of the reason I didn’t was because of the stigma you mentioned.

    I hope other mothers going through PPD get the help they need—and deserve. More resources for moms in all walks of life is critical, but society also needs to take the shame out of post-partum depression.
    .-= Ellen´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday- A trip to the railway museum =-.

    Meghan August 18, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Thank you. I had no idea until I had my first son why women quilted and cooked together in the ‘olden days’. I now know. The support I received from the women around me when I had my son changed my life. I don’t know where I would be without them. If a new Mom calls me and asks for anything I try to change my schedule that day. Minutes are like hours during this period. We must not isolate ourselves so the darkness overtakes. God bless you for your voice.

    Natalie August 18, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    I’ve also been in the darkness. It’s scary. I have never and hope to never again feel that…”feeling” again. PPD is all that I thought it was, but since then, I’ve continued to stay on medication and fight the darkness.

    Thank you for being so brave to share your painful story. You definitely weren’t a bad mom; just one that needed some help like so many of us.
    .-= Natalie´s last blog ..The Tent =-.

    Barnmaven August 18, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    For anyone who has suffered from severe postpartum depression, it is easier to have compassion for this mother and for each other. Even though we often don’t tell all of the truth of what when through our heads during those dark, dense days (“She’d be better off if I were dead” “She hates me” “I hate her” “I just want to smash something, anything, even her”) when we talk to another mother who has been there, we are understood.

    What has been distressing at times is the reaction from people who never dealt with PPD. They don’t understand it. I try to open dialogue with them, they look at me like I’m some kind of strange insect, and I retreat, ashamed and confused.

    Keep this dialogue going. People need to hear it over and over again. The moms who don’t have any support in their lives need to be reached. Sure, its about keeping babies safe. But its also really about improving the quality of life for new mothers. No one should have to go through this alone and ashamed. Every mother who suffers from PPD should have resources and help and understanding. I was lucky – there’s a lot of things I can’t stand about my soon to be ex, but back then, when I was in the throes of it, he was amazing and admirable. He made sure I got help and he never, ever judged. He stood up for me when other people in our lives were bitchy and didn’t understand. I am forever grateful that he was there for me, because no one else was.
    .-= Barnmaven´s last blog ..Assessed =-.

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