It was getting dark outside. Mayra knew that the clouds would bring the night a couple of hours earlier, and was hurrying to finish laundry. Several years from now, the young mother would witness the last nuclear bomb being tested outside of her window in a small town Semipalatinsk, and be the first one on the block to hear on the radio that the country, which promised to take care of her and her family, collapsed. Today, her chest was heavy from pain but mostly from milk, which her baby would never eat again.
Sauleu, a two month old baby girl with piercing dark eyes, was crying. It was the fifth hour of her screaming and refusing to eat. She looked at her child, and closed her ears and disappeared. Ten steps through a small hall with very low ceilings to the kitchen. She grabbed a cracked glass and poured the last bit of vodka in it.
The images were fresh. She could not stop them from coming back again and again, hurting her even more deeply each time. The man she loved and trusted left. He did not think twice about raising a child together. He left. Abandonment. After refusal to go through with an abortion, her father disowned her, and left her on the streets in the merciless winter of Syberia.
Mayra came back to the room and forcefully grabbed Sauleu. She went outside and looked into the basin of ice cold water that she had earlier prepared to rinse the cloth in.
The baby girl whimpered one more time.
Police. Paramedics. Neighbors. People. Many, many, people. They shook their heads. Some women cried. Mayra’s cheeks were cover with iced tears. The neighbor, who called the police and paramedics, brought an extra blanket to cover up the baby after the doctors made sure the baby was no longer in danger of drowning. A tall woman from child protective services was holding the child wrapped up in a towel and a blanket.
This would be the last time Mayra saw her daughter…
Valentina came from Mexico to sunny California six months ago. Her husband stayed behind.
It was getting dark outside. Valentina did not notice how the day passed. She was walking from wall to wall in her apartment in San Francisco, bouncing a two month old baby girl on her hip. Wide windows let lots of light into the room. A breathtaking view of skyscrapers, the ocean, and the magnificent Bay Bridge were not the reason Valentina could not catch her breath.
The walls were pressing in on her. She could feel the heat of anger, traveling through her veins. The anger made her heart beat faster and stronger, like it was trying to jump out of her chest.
Alina, a beautiful infant in pink pajamas, was a colicky baby. She could not find comfort in her mother’s arms, her cries growing louder with every breath. The room went dark; all Valentina’s attention was focused on the mouth of her baby with its awful screeching noise. The whole world blurred into the background. She put the baby on the bed, and tightly covered the baby’s mouth with both of her palms. The sound stopped.
The silence, something she once longed for, slapped her in the face like a bucket of ice-cold water.
Valentina called for help.
Police. Paramedics. Neighbors. People. Many, many people. They shook their heads. Some women cried.
Valentina spent six weeks in a psychiatric hospital battling post-partum depression while her mother was taking care Alina. She breastfed Alina, and pumped milk when the visiting hours were over. The neighbors were bringing her her favorite foods. After being discharged from the hospital, Valentina continued taking her medications, getting proper sleep, and meeting with her therapist once a week. A social worker visited her home every week to make sure she had the access to all of the available resources before she could be permanently reunited with her daughter.
Post-partum depression is real. It is dark. It is merciless. It affects every eighth mother in America, and yet, we close our eyes and ears. We come up with brilliant ways to make the situation worse.
“Cheer up, what do you have to worry about?”
“Oh, stop it, look at this cutie! How can you be depressed next to her?”
“You should be grateful you have a healthy child!”
“You know that there are women and children dying in the world, right? You are here. You are alive.”
The responses vary, but the message is the same–what you’re going through isn’t real. But it is.
Your heart is beating, your lungs are expanding, the oxygen travels through your body supplying every organ with livelihood. Yes, you are alive, but it sure does not feel like it. Yes, you are grateful, but only when you forcefully remind yourself that you are.
Post-partum depression is a severe mood disorder. It is a beast in your brain that messes up with the brain’s chemical composition.
No, you cannot just ”cheer up” and “snap out of it.” It is a disease that requires professional medical help, possible medication, and therapy to recover.
The above two stories illustrate how social support, and access to free, compassionate, and non-judgmental resources can change the lives of mothers and their children. Post-partum depression is treatable. There is no magic formula for recovery, but recovery begins with social support and medical help.
There is no shame in seeking help, and there is no greater honor than supporting a mother during her time of need.