Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I am in a very dark place. At a time when I should be filled with joy and gratitude, I pray for death to end this mental anguish that envelopes me. It robs me of sleep, it denies me the will to eat or drink and I have no one to whom to turn for fear that they will think I am mentally insane. You are the only one I pin my last hope on to pull me back from that deep, dark whirlpool that draws ever closer with each passing day and threatens to consume me. So please hear me out as I reach out to you from the depth of my pain and help me find my way back to the world of the living.
Four weeks ago I gave birth to my first child, a boy, but it was a very hard birth, long labor and, in the end, I had to have a C-section because the cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck. The baby was born and b”H, he was OK, but my husband was upset that there would not be a pidyon haben because it was not a normal birth. Otherwise everyone was happy for me but something wasn’t right. From the minute I held him, I didn’t feel all those things everyone told me I would feel. I didn’t want to hold him, because I was afraid I might hurt him. I couldn’t understand why, or what was happening to me but I couldn’t stop the thoughts and the heaviness in my heart and I couldn’t stop the tears.
My mother became angry with me because I couldn’t nurse my baby, even with the help of a lactating consultant who came. She said if I didn’t nurse I wouldn’t have milk, so she suggested that the baby be put on formula. This only made things worse. In my mind I understood that I was hurting my baby and that he didn’t deserve to have such a mother. I could not bring him into the world the natural way and now, I couldn’t even feed him. The thoughts got worse and I felt such pain and misery. I had no one to talk to.
Whenever I thought I could turn to my mother, or sister who had three kids of her own, they told me to stop the crying and grow up, that I was a mother now, responsible for this baby that I brought into the world and that people were beginning to notice. Did I want people to think I was crazy? So I sat wrapped up in my robe and cried into my Tehillim praying for Hashem to lift this blackness from my heart. No one else can help me. Am I really going mad? Have I already crossed over the boundaries of sanity and entered the world of the mentally insane? I reach out to you with shaking hand and paper covered in tears, in the hopes that you will be the one person that will read between the lines and see the hopelessness there. Please help me. I am afraid of what I’m thinking to do.
As I write to you in this public forum, I must make the readership aware that we have been in contact with each other just as soon as I was able to track you down. It took a little doing as you didn’t provide me with too much information. So, I am happy to inform everyone that, at this writing, you are b”H, well on the way to recovery and I am grateful that you wrote when you did. I dread to think what might have been had you not had the courage and the will to reach out for the help that is now available .
You are not Ezevel! You are a good and loving person who, sadly, was surrounded by ignorant and uneducated people. You are also not crazy. What you are suffering from is called Postpartum Depression, a condition that has been around for as long as women birthed children and has much to do with the drastic chemical and hormonal changes brought on by pregnancy and birth. I cannot understand why your doctor or the hospital did not address this immediately, because there are provisions for dealing with this in most maternity wards, but the new mother has to let someone know what she is going through so that she gets the proper help immediately.
Postpartum depression is very frightening and because it comes on so suddenly it can give a new young mother the fear that she is suffering from insanity. Years ago, such cases were indeed misconstrued and misdiagnosed because no one understood it. Many women did end their lives because the pain, suffering and fear that they were going insane left them no other choice. It is only recently, with the onslaught of many studies and courageous women who came forward with their own experiences with PPD, that the medical profession now recognizes it as a legitimate medical condition. To quote from a recent article: “Postpartum depression, like most other depressive episodes, often involves feelings of self-blame, guilt and sadness,” says Doctor Rebecca Weinberg, clinical director of the D’Achille Center for Perinatal Mental Health at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh. “It can have a very rapid onset and involve a lot of negative thoughts about the baby and one’s identity as a mother. Treatment is usually a combination of medication and psychotherapy.”
Anyone feeling that they see themselves in this column or knows someone who is going through postpartum depression, please offer understanding and a supportive suggestion to have them call Postpartum Support International’s helpline at 800-944-4773 or text “STRENGTH” to the crisis text line at 741741 to be connected to a trained crisis counselor. Compassion and immediate action is advised because a life is at stake and the life you save may be your own or that of someone you love.