We have to save each other {the one about Cynthia}

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.  

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 PostIt 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.

For more information on Postpartum Depression
please visit Postpartum Progress
For more information on Postpartum Psychosis
please visit Postpartum Progress: PPP in Mama English

A Royal Daughter


  1. this is an amazing post. I wont go into detail on a comment but I had my fair share of ppd and now that I am pregnant again...I am terrified of what lies ahead of me. I agree with you that she is not a monster at all.

  2. Tears friend. You inspire me. Thank you for sharing your writing and honesty.

    Kristine -The Foley Fam {unedited}

  3. This was so beautifully written <3


  4. I do not have children as we have struggled with infertility, but have had bipolar since I was 16. and according to most I meet "but you seem so normal" I have spent years trying to ascertain just what normal meant, but I was mostly struck by your comment, "we of the educated generation, etc" and the mindset that having a good husband and all that comes with a seemingly great life means we can't be depressed. That is the lovely thing about any form of mental illness, it just doesn't give a damn what we think is supposed to make us happy. This was a heartfelt post and thank you for sharing.

  5. That the baby boy survived an 8-floor fall will surround him all his life as his own personal miracle. That his mother felt so incapable and lost will haunt him, and he may always wonder why she felt she couldn't hack it ... for HIM. An article like this one, offering explanation, empathy and validity to the plight of women with PPD (which I experienced mildly, and undiagnosed) could be the boy's best hope to understand the clear confusion his mother felt.

    Beautifully written. Thank you.

    1. Amy,
      I wanted to comment via email, but I couldn't so I will do it here. Thank you so much for your comment. Her son is a true miracle. And I too hope that one day he is able to understand that his mother loved him so much, yet was so lost and confused. Thanks again for reading.

  6. Awesome piece. I am pregnant with my 3rd. Suffered with PPD after the 2nd. I am aware of how my friends had to recognize and pull me out of it. Glad to know that there is a support system. Hoping to tackle it head on if it comes to be again. Thanks for calling awareness to this

  7. I was so disheartened to read about Cynthia. So tragic. I suffered PPD with my first 2 kids. It was a "dirty little secret" that I hid for everyone and suffered through alone. When my last baby was born the PPD was even worse. It was a black cloud of doom that lingered over my head every single day, every single moment. Unfortunately I spiraled down the black hole of PPP before I knew what was happening. I tried to take my life, fortunately I did not succeed. I can tell you from my own experiences that my psychosis was the catalyst to my attempt to end it all. I never once thought about suicide or harming myself during my battle with PPD. But that psychotic break led me straight down a path where nothing made sense. My own brain was working against me, convincing me that I was evil and I had to die so my children could live. It was the scariest thing I've ever been through in my life and I don't even remember most of it.

    I feel so much for Cynthia and her family because it was almost me. I got lucky. There is so much misinformation out there about PPD and PPP. People don't understand. Women who have never experienced it think less of those of us who have. A former friend told me that PPD was God's way of telling me I was not a good mother. What?! Thanks for writing this Megs.

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  9. This gave me chills. That poor woman, I just can't imagine how she was feeling, and I don't think anyone can really. But I can sympathize with those feelings of inadequacy, of feeling like something is wrong but no one is listening, of feeling completely alone when surrounded by people. My heart goes out to her and her family.

  10. This kind of stuff always makes me cry because it's just so awful and I understand it all too well. Not only do I suffer from PPD but I'm also among the minority who suffer severe depression DURING pregnancy as well. Of course I didn't realize it with my first, but my husband and mom did and I got help. Of course, after I became pregnant with my second, I stopped the anti-depressants because I wanted to try breastfeeding again and knew the meds I was on were not good to use during breastfeeding. Needless to say, it wasn't long after her birth that I found myself back on meds, but different ones this time because I had moved 1400 miles and was on new insurance that wouldn't cover my old RX.

    Less than three months later I was pregnant for a third time and this was when my depression got completely out of control. My husband and I were having money problems, lost our van, were constantly fighting and I was often sitting in our tiny apartment with just me and the two babies and the one I was growing in my stomach. Before I even knew it, I was so angry all the time. I hated everyone and everything, and the slightest problem the kids had would send me into a rage. I finally realized that I was in big trouble when I started having dreams about doing horrible, awful things to the kids, and the dreams would stay with me when I was awake. I could SEE myself doing them and it was terrifying. At my next OB appointment I completely broke down and my doctor was so surprised, because I'm a damn good actor with an amazing mask. We talked and figured out what I needed to survive and went from there.

    It was such a weight off my shoulders to get that out in the open and not be condemned as a horrible person for it. It's not me, it's hormones and brain chemicals. All out-of-whack. I decided against even trying to breastfeed my third because I knew it was better for EVERYONE to have me mentally intact. And for the first time ever, I actually ENJOYED the first months of my new baby (after I almost died of pneumonia one week postpartum, THAT was not fun), because I wasn't stressed about breastfeeding and was on medicine that actually worked and kept depression at bay.

    Now with my fourth (and final) baby on the way, I've taken the initiative to get on and stay on the meds the entire time and it's really working for me. I do still have bad days, who doesn't? But I don't have dreams of hurting myself or my kids or anyone else. A new day is a new day and they always start out better than when I went to sleep, which I know is a good thing.

    I hope more women start finding the courage to come forward, because being alone with those feelings is far scarier than dealing with them. Women with PPD and PPP AREN'T crazy people, they're just people with hormone and chemical imbalances who need some help getting them back in line.

  11. Thank you for writing this. You are truly a wonderful, genuine, caring person, non-judgmental person, and it's rare to have all of those in one person ;) I remember seeing documentaries on Susan Smith, and it was determined that she was a sociopath to begin with. I don't remember how old the youngest one was. I remember hearing about other PPD cases, and it must be horrible to live in their heads. It's hard to blame someone, when they are really living in hell in the inside, instead of being selfish.

  12. It's funny - I read this post earlier in the day and didn't notice it was part of the Desire to Inspire linkup. It's only now I've clicked over again I made the connection. I think that society's need to demonise and catastrophise is really worrying. Why do people need to hold such extreme views and make such sweeping judgements on other people's lives?

    It's beyond me, that's for sure.

    Great post btw.

    Sarah @ A Cat-Like Curiosity

  13. Thanks for sharing this! It is good to see so many talking about it. It needs to be talked about more. I suffered with PPD mildly after my first and people around me noticed and I am so glad. Not only that, my doctor was very good about asking the right questions and sensing something was wrong. I feel so sad for this women and how alone she must have felt. I am so sick of the judgements and unreal expectations that are out there! Unless you have experienced it then you really just don't know the depths of it and how confusing it can be.

  14. I read this early this morning on my phone, and it is SO excellently written + encouraging + sad all at one time. Obviously I can't relate, since I've never had a baby, but I have a friend who went through PPD and she was really open about it so everyone around her knew what was going on and could help her cope. I'm so glad you shared this story and brought awareness to this issue.

  15. First and foremost thank you for sharing this. Since reading your post on Wednesday, it's been weighing pretty heavy on my mind and heart and I knew I wanted to comment, just wasn't sure how to say it. I feel so heartbroken for Cynthia's family. Imagining one day the father will have to explain to his son why his mommy isn't there....I just can't. PPD and PPP (bear in mind I'm no expert on either subject) are nothing to be ashamed of. I went through a very deep depression during pregnancy (darkest/worst time in my entire life) where there were some days I couldn't and wouldn't get out of bed. I understand how very real and scary those things are. I didn't know Cynthia so obviously I don't know exactly what she was going through and it does truly sadden me how alone and sad she must have felt. It's been a real struggle trying to sympathize with her and feel sorry for her, and at the end of the day, I just can't.

    It's one thing to feel like there's no other option to ending pain and loneliness by ending one's own life, and then it is quite another to strap your baby to yourself and attempt to take his precious life as well.

    Would people have felt differently ie less sympathetic and less sorry for Cynthia if she had succeeded in ending her child's life? Would you (not you personally, in general) have the same feelings had she lived and her baby died?

    That being said, I can't and do not feel sorry for her. It really truly is a shame that we live in a society where mental illness and disorders are so taboo. Not only that, getting the proper mental health care is damn near impossible for some people. I consider myself "middle class" I guess (who even know what that means anymore) and all I know is we make too much money for assistance, but too little to even be able to afford health insurance.

    I went through the comments on the article you linked to and was sickened by some of the responses. People remarking that her husband is to blame and belittling her condition because she was "well educated". Not ok.

  16. I've had this window open on my laptop since Wednesday because I kept reading over and over. Thank you SO much for writing this, Megan. SO, very much. Every woman and every man out there needs to read something like this. PPD and PPP are so very real. And, a reality for so many of us. I suffered from PPD with both of my pregnancies. Fortunately for me, it never got out of hand. But, it is such a dark, depressing time for any woman suffering. I wish so much that it wasn't such a taboo topic. Never have I hid the fact that I suffered. Numerous times I've been told by random people that PPD and PPP are just an "issue" that the mother needs to work out on her own. Nothing makes me more upset than to hear people talk like that about something that is SO real. My heart aches for Cynthia's family and for her sweet babe. My heart also aches for Cynthia and for the help that she didn't get, for the fact that she hid her PPD/PPP, because I canNOT imagine being in her shoes, in such a deep, dark place.

    Thank you Megan for bringing light to a very dark topic. I'm going to share this post. A lot!

  17. Your honesty is so moving. It was exactly what I needed to here. It is not always rainbows and unicorns. Raising babies is hard, worth it in every sense, but it is a struggle sometimes.

  18. Great post. Here in the UK its called PND (post natal depression) and the same stigma exists. I hadn't heard of Cynthia but my heart goes out to her.

    I suffered PND and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder, commonly suffered by veterans after war) due to birth trauma. Even now 3 years later its not something I talk about often due to preconceived ideas.

    Rambling now! This was a great post and really made me think x

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  20. Great post. Here in the UK its called PND (post natal depression) and the same stigma exists. I hadn't heard of Cynthia but my heart goes out to her.

    I suffered PND and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder, commonly suffered by veterans after war) due to birth trauma. Even now 3 years later its not something I talk about often due to preconceived ideas.

    Rambling now! This was a great post and really made me think x

  21. I completely resonate with so many things here. I hid my depression quite well. although it was within the span of the 2 yrs after I had Leila, I still blame a big portion of it on poor choices I made during that time. things I knew would not lead to hsppiness...but for me, it was a process I hid well. in the bathrooms, the shower and my general negligence of responsibility forced me to face what was really happening. you would think the suicidal thoughts would have clued me in that I.needed to talk to someone. I needed help. Depression does carry a lot of questions with it. and no matter what the cause, I doubt that anyone is a monster or murderer when they carry out the finality of that depression. I often feel bad for people I know that are getting themselves in trouble with alcoholism or other things due to depression. people tend to blame the "act" but forget the events and emotion and pain leading up to the act. and like you, having been there, I almost understand it. I don't agree with it. I know there is a better way. but I sympathize with it because I know that place of despair. before I went through it, I thought depression was just sadness and something you could just force yourself to snap out of. I even had a friend that hung herself with 3 little kids, the youngest being 6 wks old. and I was angry at her. but now I know...these acts arent usually momentary lapses, but the end of a long journey of despair, mostly inwardly and unexplainsble. its good now and then, as somber as it is, to open peoples eyes to truth. we can't blind ourselves to it. we need to be aware of it, not only in others ,but in ourselves before its too late.