A note before we begin.
I did not know Cynthia Wachenheim personally. I don't know her family or her friends. I was just so moved and saddened by her story, that I had to write something. It may be presumptuous or arrogant of me to speculate how this happened. I apologize if you feel that arrogance or read it. It's just that when I read her story I saw a small glimpse of what may have been for me, and what could be for other moms out there. It's also a nod to the great debate about PPD. There is a vast difference between PPD and PPP, Postpartum Psychosis. Please know that what most officials and reports are saying, Cynthia suffered from PPP. Also throughout the piece I refer to her as Cynthia, not out of disrespect, but out of remembrance. To remember her and her story, so that other moms may not meet a similar fate. My hope is that one day, with more conversations,
that we can save each other.
that we can save each other.
I woke early on Friday morning, even though I didn't have to be at work. I spent those first few quiet minutes doing what I love. Checking Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, checking out some blogs, and reading whatever peaked my interest. That's how I found myself crying before six thirty in the morning. I came across a Tweet from Huffington Post. It was a report about PPD, to those in the know, Postpartum Depression for those not. The article included the stigma associated with PPD and the added stigma of PPP, Postpartum Psychosis. The two are very different and unfortunately get grouped in together in the same conversations. The article included the story of a woman, aged 44, an attorney, working for the Manhattan State court system, a mother of an 10 month old son, who despite all of those qualifications, all of those stellar achievements, strapped her baby to her body in an Ergo carrier and jumped from her 8th floor window. To her death, but thankfully not her sons.
And I cried. Tears running into my ears as I lay there. Because without help, without a life changing conversation, that could have been me.
Cynthia Wachenheim left a 13 page letter, detailing facts that she was to blame for the evil she was about to do. She said that she was to blame for the mental delays her son was experiencing as a result of two falls, once from a bed, another from a play gym. That she could see changes in her son that no one else could. Despite the insistence from the pediatrician and her family that her son was fine, she felt she was to blame. What devastated me is that Cynthia didn't get to the edge of that window in one day. That it's most likely that this was a journey that she made alone. Was there a time, when she was alone with her son, that she looked around and thought, "It wasn't supposed to be like this". Perhaps for Cynthia it wasn't that simple. Or maybe it was.
In reading her story, regardless of the guidlines and symptons of PPD and PPP I was forced to ask these questions. How did a mother, who prior to her "break" appear happy, healthy, and herself, meet this fate. When I thought about her, when I really thought about her, was her life in her apartment so different from mine just six short years ago? Would all of those feelings of inadequacy, the feelings of dread, all culminate into to a PPP break, if I hadn't gotten the help I needed? I don't know those answers, all I know is that her story haunts me. Is it possible to save someone like Cynthia? Could she have been saved days or months prior to her break? Would it have taken hospitilzation, medication, or conversation? Perhaps more education?
It's unfortunate that PPD sees no color or class, it doesn't take into consideration tax bracket or education. It can strike anyone anywhere, but for some reason a majority of women much like myself, believe that it can't happen to them. We, of the college education, the media education, the parenting book education, feel we know better. What on earth do we have to be depressed about? For many of us we are married. To good men, who have made good fathers. Many of us, like Cynthia have good jobs, excellent successful careers. All of us have beautifully perfect bundles of joy. So again what do we have to be depressed about?
But we are. We become devastated by the fact that the idea we had, while belly full and feet up with a pint of Ben and Jerry's, is not the reality we face when we walk back through the door as mommy. Our perfect babies are supposed to sleep, latch on, get on a schedule, like their swings or pack and plays. No book, no mommy friend, no nurse, will tell you that your perfect baby may not like your boobs. He or she may prefer one am, or may only be content in your arms, for 24 hour increments. As the days pass, things as simple as showers or hot meals go forgotten. Sleep is but a sweet memory, formula and bottle making are endless tasks. And before we know what hit us, we are in fact in an endless loop of somebody else's life.
This isn't the story of all mothers. I know plenty of mothers who enjoyed every fumble and bump in the road. They loved the dynamic nature of motherhood,. Yet for some of us, some like me who had never up until this point, met a task she couldn't learn and perform well, was a devastated mess. When I think about Cynthia, I think about what her life was like in her apartment. On "child care leave" from her attorney job. Where her greatest accomplishments were now her sons. Did she feel despair? Did she feel like her world was closing in on her? Were the every day tasks of motherhood wearing her down? Did she look at the dishes, the laundry, and a crying baby and think, "Who the hells life is this??". We will never know, because Cynthia never told a soul. She kept up the appearance of "fine". She smiled, she cleaned herself up, and went to battle daily the demons of motherhood, alone in her own head.
In writing this piece, which I'm calling a piece, because as you can imagine now, is way to long to be considered a post, I did some research. I Googled Cynthia, and I cried more tears. Already there is outcry that she was a monster, a murderer, a villain. I'll be honest, prior to six years ago, I would have thought the same thing. I, like many of us, are of the Susan Smith generation. We think about those mothers who are monsters. How could they, why would they? I'm not saying that what she did was right. I don't believe that jumping out a window is the answer, but when I read her story I didn't think monster. I didn't think murder. All I could think about was how alone she must have felt, how distraught, and how very very sad. Six years into this gig, I get that the mind of a mother so distraught, so lost, will believe and can believe anything they tell themselves. But this didn't happen overnight. Cynthia didn't wake up two weeks ago Wednesday and decide that she was going to jump. She had been thinking about it for months.
In regards to her suicide letter, thirteen pages in all, it has been reported she blamed herself for some developmental delays that she believed were a result of two falls her son had taken recently. He was 10 months old, and probably on the move like an average 10 month old. Is it presumptuous to believe that her son may have fallen in the short span of time that Cynthia was doing something for herself? Say using the bathroom, eating, or possibly taking a shower? Was she feeling the guilt because of the things she thought she did to her son, or because had "selfishly" taken time out her herself? We may never know, but I know how she felt. I know because once, my darling daughter cried for 25 minutes while I showered for the first time in 3 days so I could make a doctors appointment. I know because I was convinced that the crying, any crying would leave her damaged and in need of serious therapy. All I did was let her cry, so I can't imagine in Cynthia's mindset, how she felt about herself after those falls.
I've written in this space before about my struggles with PPD. That I went undiagnosed. That it took me the better part of two years to actually admit to myself and my friends that I had PPD. I was embarrassed. I felt like it was a dirty little secret. I was naive to think it wouldn't happen to me. I was lucky, though, I may have had the key to survival. I had a friend, who wasn't afraid to cut the crap, and ask me. I was lucky to have a friend who saved me. Who admitted she had the same fears I did. The same feelings of despair. The same feelings of terror. I was lucky that I was able to talk to her. That I could admit that my daughter deserved a better mother, my husband a better wife. I was finally able to admit that on more than one occasion I had wanted to run away, because it would have been better for everyone involved. It pains me to write that, but at the time I truly believed it.
In the many articles I have read about Cynthia, I have debated whether or not to publish this post. It's my understanding in reading those articles that Cynthia had Postpartum Psychosis. In reading about the condition, it's not something that builds up, it's more of a break or an episode. That's what the professionals say. I won't refute them, but I will say that I don't think this happened overnight. It may have escalated quickly, it may have taken months, but at some point, Cynthia needed to get helped or be helped. I do not fault her friends or family. Any journey of this nature is lonely, whether it's PPD or PPP. It's the one thing that scares us more than childbirth. I am no expert in either field. I just know what I experienced. What was going on with me, and when I have written about it, what goes on with other moms. This isn't a post to diagnose or cure, this is simply a post to take away the taboo. To talk about what's happening behind our front doors, and in our minds.
I won't assume anything about Cynthia. I don't think anyone will ever really know the answers to the numerous outstanding questions. Even if she had survived, would she be able to answer why? Maybe she thought that she was going to let someone down by admitting she needed help. Maybe she felt like cracking under the pressure was worse in the eyes of her peers, than getting the help she needed. Maybe she couldn't admit to herself that she needed help.
For whatever the reasons that brought Cynthia and her son to the ledge that day, it's up to us to continue to have these conversations. About women brought to the brink by motherhood. Who should not struggle alone. There is no shame in admitting that this life isn't the one you thought you would have. There is no shame in admitting or seeking help. And there should be no shame for Cynthia Wachenheim. She was lost. She was drowning. She was afraid. What she needed, she couldn't ask for.
So I'm asking you. If the only thing I ever do in this space is open the conversation about PPD, then I will have served a wonderful purpose. I ask you to open these conversations with mothers. Friends, family, and strangers. Talk about the things you love about motherhood, but more importantly the things you hate about motherhood. Someone may just need to hear that's its not all booties and bottles, but more about poop and puke. Someone may need to know that she is not standing in that, sometimes desolate park of motherhood alone.
Please. We have to stop this. We have to stop mothers from thinking that the only solution lies on the ledge of an 8th floor window.
We have to save each other.