Two media stories have been sitting in my inbox for several days, both about the killing of young children by their mothers. I let them sit there because I always have a hard time finding the words to talk about such things. At the same time, there is plenty of speculation in the media about why the mothers in these two stories harmed their children, and whether it had anything to do with postpartum depression.
Maybe. Maybe not.
- ignored pregnancy
- assisted or coerced filicide (such as when a partner forces the killing); and
- purposeful filicide with the mother acting alone
The cases I've seen involving postpartum psychosis or severe postpartum depression with psychotic features have generally fallen into that last category. The MSNBC story doesn't say which percentage of all murders of children fall under purposeful filicide, nor does it say what percentage of all purposeful filicides involve infanticide, which is the murder of a baby younger than 1 year of age, so it's hard for us to know how often, among all murders of children, a murder is committed because the mom has a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. Once is often enough, of course, but still it would be nice to have hard data to show moms with postpartum depression so they know that their fellow sufferers aren't murdering their children all over the place. (They AREN'T, by the way.)
It seems fairly certain that one of the mothers involved in the news last week, Janet Thies-Kogh, had a perinatal mood disorder of some sort. Thies-Kogh has been charged with suffocating her 8-month-old, andThe Chicago Tribune reports that she is being treated now, according to her lawyer, for postpartum psychosis. As is always the case, I wonder what the advance signs were and whether anyone was aware that she needed serious help.
It will be more difficult to find out what happened in the case of LaShanda Armstrong, because she drove her van into a river, killing herself and four of her children. She cannot be tested by psychiatrists. Those who know her say she was depressed after finding out the father of three of her children was having an affair, according to the New York Daily News, so it may be that she didn't have postpartum depression per se.
No matter what, such tragedies often bring discussions of postpartum depression to the media forefront. I suppose I could be grateful that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are being discussed at all. I just wish the media was equally as likely to discuss PPD in other circumstances — positive circumstances — as it is in the cases of infanticide. What about the stories of recovery? What about the stories of moms helping moms? What about the fact that the vast majority of women with postpartum depression never harm even a hair on any child's head for any reason?
Maybe then we'd reduce stigma and more women would get the help they need. Maybe then more women would recognize when they are suffering, and more doctors would be looking out for them, and more family members would be there for support, and women who sought help would get it from people who know what they are doing.
Maybe then we could eliminate stories of tragedy altogether.