It Could've Been Me

Today, the news has been filled with the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, so much so that even the political craziness on both sides seems to have cooled.  However, there's one news story that I don't want to be overshadowed because it is so important to me.

Today, a woman named Felicia Boots was detained in a psychiatric unit after CPS accepted a plea of diminished capacity and murder charges against her were dropped.  Who was she accused of murdering in May?  Her two children, a 14-month-old and a 10-week-old.  According to her husband, he found them suffocated at the bottom of a walk-in closet, and Felicia had tried to end her own life as well.

Felicia Boots is one of the millions of women who have and will suffer from post-natal depression.  I'm not condoning what she did, and I'm not excusing it, but I want to explain to you how it could have been me.  It could have been you.  Your sister, your daughter, your granddaughter, your friend.

Different studies suggest that PND will occur between 5 and 25% of women who give birth.  It can also occur in women who are undergoing fertility treatments and women who have had miscarriages, understandably.  That means that the net is wide, and there are somewhere between 36,000 and 182,000 women who will have PND in any YEAR (that's after some math, assuming there are 730,000 live births in the UK per year).  In the US, it is even higher.  Some perfect storm of hormones, emotions, worries about money and provision, lack of sleep and problems coping may trigger it, but a specific cause is still unknown.  I'm just hazarding a guess, but the fact that Felicia got pregnant within 14 weeks of having a baby might've had something to do with it.

This means that someone you love may be struggling with depression RIGHT NOW.  They may not want to tell you because you may shrug it off and say, "Just get some sleep.  Everyone feels tired and emotional after having a baby."  Fight that urge.  If you are close to someone who has had a baby, don't just assume that a sudden change in mood, general exhaustion or withdrawal from life is due to a new baby.  Ask how they feel.  I would always rather err on the side of nosy, but only ask the people who you are close to.  If you know a woman with no support system, definitely talk to her.  She may be most in need.

I think as women, we need to be more open about this, so I'm going to tell you how I felt, because one quote from the BBC article made my throat catch and tears well up in my eyes.

"She had been prescribed anti-depressants but had not been taking them after becoming convinced the babies would be taken away from her because of the effects of the drugs on her breast milk."

Maybe your knee-jerk reaction is: "She should've taken her medication! Those children would be alive if she hadn't been so stupid!"  I urge you to look deeper.  I felt this.  This was me.

I have bipolar disorder, and I am on medication for it.  (Big deal.  It's a chronic mental illness.  I've been living with it for 10 years.  I'm pretty sure I function better than many people who aren't "crazy.")

However, I was really, really convinced that this was reason enough for them to take Ella from me if I got depressed.  I had amazing care from a Perinatal Psychiatric Team who assured me over and over and over that this was not how things worked.  Josh said they would never take Ella from me.  Josh's mum, who used to be a social worker, assured me that they would not take her from me.  It didn't mean that my brain ever accepted that.  After she was born, and I started breastfeeding, it seemed to become worse.  My attachment to her was so strong that I became even more scared that they would take her from me.

There was one night, about 3 days after Ella was born, that I really needed them to take her into the hospital nursery so I could sleep.  However, my mind believed that if I pressed the call button simply to ask them to take her for a few hours, they would see me as unfit and take her permanently.  It does sound crazy now, but at the time, the emotion was so strong and so urgent that I called Josh, hysterical in the middle of the night.  I was absolutely convinced that they would interpret my need for help as "the crazy woman can't take care of her baby."  It went away after a few days for me, and my medication was never stopped.  I've had no more symptoms, which is a miracle, but I did have those thoughts still.  I had FREE, BRILLIANT NHS MEDICAL CARE.  I type that in all caps because I hope it comes up on Google.

I see where it went wrong for Felicia.  She stopped taking her medication.  Maybe she stopped talking to her family, her doctor, her husband.  Maybe they assumed someone else was taking care of her, that she was taking care of herself.  In a way, in her depressed mind, she thought that death was better than being separated from her babies.  She couldn't escape those thoughts the way I could.

Maybe, you can judge Felicia.  I can't.  It could've been me.


  1. May God bless you, josh and Ella. I'm so with you on this. I've had post natal depression twice and it's very scary. people really do struggle to understand it. I delayed treatment first time as my rubbish GP told me I had to stop breast feeding to take medication . . . which was rubbish. lots of love to you all x x x


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