On October 3, Miriam Carey was shot and killed, while her young daughter sat in the backseat of the car that she had just stepped out of. Miriam drove from her home state of Connecticut to Washington D.C for reasons which are still unknown.
After the initial report of shots being fired by the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., the nation anxiously waited for new developments in the story. Soon the mainstream media was back to announce that the shooting was not related to terrorism and quickly shifted the story from a new mother being gunned down by Capitol police to the frightened elected representatives inside the building debating a solution to the government shutdown.
By the next morning the country seemed to forget about the killing of Miriam and news channels were actively reporting the latest non-important Miley Cyrus story.
I couldn’t help but feel upset, let down, and perplexed at how quick the story of Miriam Carey was soon forgotten and written off. As new personal, extremely relevant, and important details as to who Miriam was came to light her story was still under or misreported.
Friends, family members, and acquaintances of Miriam Carey reported that Carey had been dealing with postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis since giving birth to her daughter in August of last year.
The fact that Ms. Carey was, in all likelihood, experiencing a very public meltdown in our nation’s capital at one of the most stressful and difficult times in many American’s lives is no coincidence to me. Unnecessary and unrealistic expectations placed on new mothers in America combined with the lack of comprehensive postpartum legislation and the gross cultural misconception that mental health issues should not be discussed openly and honestly are the reasons that there is no public discourse about the reality of postpartum depression in new mothers.
When the shocking and heart wrenching story of Andrea Yates, a Texas stay at home mother who drowned and killed all five of her children in the bathtub of their home in 2001 made headlines, the nation paid attention. Many people were confused but most were angry–at Yates. The state asked for the death penalty in the case and many citizens across the United States echoed these sentiments.
Very few people stopped to question the role that her diagnosed severe postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis (the same diagnosis as Miriam Carey) played in such a heart-wrenching story. For a short while, postpartum depression was spoken about on a national level but as quickly as it was brought up, it faded into the background for the general public but not for the women and their families who were dealing with it.
Postpartum depression is real and more common than people think. The American Psychological Association estimates that 9-16 percent of postpartum woman will experience PPD and mothers who have experienced it once are 41 percent more likely to experience it with subsequent pregnancies. PPD can be caused by several things which include but are not limited to changes or loss of employment, being a single mother, lack of help from family and or your significant other, stress, lack of sleep, and hormonal changes during pregnancy and after. However, many feel that the actual number of women suffering is much higher than what statistics show. The stigma and shame that is attached to mental health issues and being told “you don’t know how lucky you are” and “how could you not be happy or love your baby” makes PPD a double edged sword. Many women feel the issue’s not worth touching and thus suffer in silence.
The reality is that Yates and Carey’s stories are not some farfetched make believe narratives of PPD. In fact, they are so relevant that perhaps many are afraid to discuss them so openly. American culture as a whole needs to re-evaluate the way woman are treated while pregnant and the type of postpartum laws and maternity leave available to them and their significant others. Postpartum depression is real and if goes untreated or under treated can and does pose a threat to the new mother and her child.
Miriam’s story of a new mother suffering with PPD and postpartum psychosis should not be silenced. Miriam’s story is relevant to all mothers and another wake up call to the stigma mental health issues face and the mistreatment of pregnant and parenting women.
Women who have experienced or are experiencing PPD are not bad mothers, flawed, or weak. They are women that need to feel safe, reassured, and listened to when expressing their concerns. Women who are experiencing or suspect they are experiencing PPD should seek mental health help and evaluation right away. If mental health services are not readily or they would like to speak to someone immediately they can call the Postpartum International hotline.