15 March 2013

Yesterday, I cried.

Warning: if you are currently having a rough time with PPMD, you may want to avoid this post. It contains potential triggers.

Yesterday, I cried. It wasn't a messy cry. It was a quiet, gentle, soft cry, with small tears and no snotty nose. But it was still a cry.

Why did I cry?

I cried because Cynthia Wachenheim killed herself.

The story I linked above, from the New York Times, reads:

Sometime before 3:25 p.m. Wednesday, Cynthia Wachenheim, a lawyer who was on child-care leave from her job, wrote out a note. On lined notebook paper, it ran for 13 pages.
According to a law enforcement official who has seen the note, she wrote that her infant son, Keston Bacharach, had previously taken a few tumbles, including “two shameful incidents,” a fall from a Gymini play set onto the wood floor when she walked out of the room for five minutes, and off a bed. She blamed herself, and was convinced that those falls had led to a series of concussions and seizures that aggravated or contributed to maladies that would harm him for the rest of his life.
Her friends, family members and pediatrician did not believe her, she wrote. But she noticed changes in the baby — changes that only a mother who spends all day with her child would notice. For instance, she wrote, her son had grown sleepier and cried more frequently.
She wrote that she could not bear the thought that he might suffer because she had failed to protect him. She wrote that what she was about to do was “evil.” 
She then jumped out of her eighth-floor window. She left behind the note. She did not leave behind her son, strapping him to her body in a Ergobaby carrier, bringing him down with her as she crashed to the ground, the crack sounding like a gunshot to people passing by.
Ms. Wachenheim, 44, died. But her 10-month-old son, apparently cushioned by her body, survived. He bounced out of the carrier and suffered only a bruised cheek.
“I’m sure you understand, I’m absolutely overwhelmed with grief,” her husband, Hal Bacharach, said in a brief telephone conversation Thursday from his apartment at the Sutton, a new sleek building at 147th Street and Bradhurst Avenue in Harlem, where he had lived with his wife.
“I have my son, who was lucky enough to survive, in my lap,” Mr. Bacharach said, sounding in shock as he repeated similar words several times. “It’s unbelievable. Right now my crying son is in my arms.” A child could be heard whimpering as he spoke.
Ms. Wachenheim’s leap was a jarring twist in the life of a highly educated, socially conscious woman who had been active in a women’s group in her synagogue, B’nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side, and, according to her college class notes, had been a coordinator for a Harlem tutoring program.
She was on leave from her $122,800-a-year job as an associate court attorney in the Manhattan State Supreme Court system, court officials said. She had worked for the courts since 1997, doing legal research and helping judges write opinions.
Christian Johnson, a lawyer who lives a few doors down, said he had seen Ms. Wachenheim twice last week. There was no indication “that anything was askew in their household,” he said. “I was shocked.”
The baby seemed normal, he said. Mr. Johnson would sometimes ride the train with Mr. Bacharach, who never said anything about developmental issues. “Hal never mentioned that to me,” Mr. Johnson said.
But Mr. Bacharach’s mother, Barbara Bacharach, said that her daughter-in-law had not been her usual self lately.
Mr. Johnson said he had overheard the couple arguing — which he said was very unlike them — about two hours before Ms. Wachenheim jumped. He paused in the hallway to make sure it was nothing serious, then moved on when it seemed like a normal marital spat. “He was just asking her why she didn’t answer the phone and why wouldn’t she pick up the phone,” he said. “He just kept asking her and she wouldn’t respond.”
Several times in her note, according to the law enforcement official, Ms. Wachenheim expressed deep love for her son, referring to him as “beautiful.”
She said that she would give her life to bring his health back and that she hated herself for the first time in her life. She believed that her son’s falls might have brought about a serious medical condition, perhaps cerebral palsy or autism, which would have “lifelong consequences.”
Her belief that she failed to prevent it caused her to “crumble.” She wrote that she was depressed and could no longer socialize. She was sure that people would see her behavior as postpartum depression or psychosis.
Dr. Catherine Birndorf, a reproductive psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College, said the word “evil” in the note stood out for her. “Usually these intensely lethal acts happen in the context of losing some kind of touch with reality,” she said. “What mother in their right mind would kill their kid?”
Postpartum depression does not usually lead to suicide and homicide, she said, unless it is left untreated or progresses to more serious mental illness, like psychosis. She compared it to the case of Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who was found not guilty by reason of insanity of drowning her five children in the bathtub. Ms. Yates, who had been struggling with postpartum psychosis, thought that she was a bad mother and that she was protecting her children by killing them, Dr. Birndorf said.
About 10 to 20 percent of new mothers have postpartum depression, according to the state health department, and only 1 or 2 out of 1,000 new mothers have postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis is characterized by delusions, often about the baby, agitation, anger, paranoia, and sometimes commands to harm the infant. It has a 5 percent suicide rate and a 4 percent infanticide rate, according to the health department.
Ms. Wachenheim was valedictorian at Colonie Central High School, near Albany, and graduated from what is now known as the University at Buffalo, and from Columbia University Law School. In 1993, she traveled to Pakistan to work in a law office specializing in women’s rights and worked on subjects like “honor killings” of women suspected of adultery, according to an article at the time in The Times Union of Albany.
Mr. Bacharach said he met his wife on a bus to Boston and was smitten by her “innate kindness.” They were married in 2009, two years after she bought her apartment at the Sutton for $190,750, according to city records.
It is across the street from Jackie Robinson Park, where neighbors said Ms. Wachenheim took her newborn to the outdoor pool in the summer.
Randy Leonard and Sheelagh McNeill contributed reporting.

I When I read this, I cried for Cynthia. In fact, I'm crying right now while I write this. I don't know that I know the exact pain she was struggling with, but I know the type of pain that leads you to think that maybe the best solution is to kill yourself. I know the kind of pain that makes you feel hopeless and like you're just hurting everyone around you. I know the pain that says "Everyone would be better off if I was gone". I know the pain of "What if I hurt my baby?".

I think it's important to note that this article does not say definitively whether or not Cynthia had a diagnosis of any type of Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders, but the article does list several things that can be symptomatic of PPMD, and there's the fact that the article lists her son as being 10 months old (PPMD can rear their ugly heads at any time in the first 12 months after giving birth, and does not necessarily go away just because a mother and baby hit the baby's first birthday). I feel that it's important to note that I am not diagnosing Cynthia with anything. I'm not an M.D., R.N., C.N.M., or any other type of medical/mental health professional, and I don't know nearly enough about Cynthia and her history/situation to make that call.

Regardless of whether or not Cynthia was suffering from a PPMD, she was obviously hurting and struggling with a great burden. I've never met Cynthia but I know that she was so upset and hurting so much in some way that she decided the best thing for her and her baby was for both of them to die, that that was the best way to protect them. I can't say that I can't imagine what she was going through, but I think I can, just a little bit.

Cynthia is the reason why I blog. Her baby, who could have died with her but didn't, is why I blog. Her husband and the rest of her family and friends are why I blog. They are why I cry now. The world is such a cold hard place and for some people that is more true than it is for others. And when I hear about stories like this, it makes my heart hurt. I wish I could go to New York a few days ago and hug Cynthia. I wish I could tell her "It's okay, Cynthia. You're not a bad mom. You need help, let's go talk to a professional. I'll go with you and hold your hand so you're not alone. But you don't have to do this.". I wish I could save her, save all the people she leaves behind. But I can't. All the wishes in the world won't change that. All I can do is hope that she is at peace now and pray for those she leaves behind.

I can't save Cynthia, and as much as I want to, I don't have the technology to be able to go back in time to tell her those things. But I can tell you. And so, I am.

If you are out there reading this and you are hurting, let me help you. If you feel hopeless, please know that there is hope. There is always hope, even when you can't see it. If you feel like you can't go on, you can, and I will go with you. I HAVE BEEN THERE. I was hospitalized twice after my first daughter was born for that very reason. I have survived Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, and Postpartum Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Cynthia's story is how mine could all too easily have ended if I hadn't gotten help.

You do not have to go through PPMD alone. Let me walk with you. You are not alone and you are not a bad anything. You are the most beautiful and fantastic you that could ever exist.

If you need help, let me help you.




  1. Beautiful post.

  2. Esther,
    I went to school with Cindy. We weren't very close - but maybe had a sleepover once or twice in younger years. We didn't hang out throughout high school - but I do remember her always having a smile. Always 'listening intently' when you spoke to her. I remember her being one of the sweetest girls in school. She was brilliant as well. What she did was unfathomable... but, she was no monster. There were things written on the Daily News about that. Even though I haven't seen her or spoken to her in many many years - I can say that something must have gone terribly wrong in her mind for this to have taken place. I wish she had gotten the help she needed. And, I thank you. I thank you for writing on a topic you know about and I thank you for trying to help others. It is a wonderful thing you are doing. Keep it up and take care of yourself as well.

    1. Of course she wasn't a monster! I get so irritated when people say those things, and I have yet to see the people saying those things be anyone who's ever struggled with any type of mental health issues, suicidal ideations, intrusive thoughts, etc.

      It's further proof of why we need more education and awareness, so that this stupid stigma goes away and women aren't afraid to reach out for help.

      I'm so sorry for all of you who knew her who are having to put up with such insensitive and cruel comments. :( My thoughts and prayers are with all of you.

  3. I'm with you Esther. These things break my heart down into even smaller pieces every time. And yet it continues to happen because we don't do enough to help moms.

    1. Yup. I feel an urge to go write my congressmen and the President some more. Ugh.

  4. I also want to say thank you for sharing in such a compassionate way. Cindy has been a close friend of mine since we were 8 yrs old and I have been blessed with her friendship throughout my life. She has always been someone I admired and cherished as a friend. Her warmth and love for others and desire to help the world to be a better place is who she was. She was part of my wedding and I am so lucky to have had her there to share that with. I flew in from across country to grieve her father's death and rejoice in his life and was thrilled to hear that she was pregnant. That was the last I saw her. I know that Cindy was going through something terrible. I have guilt that I didn't do more as a friend when I didn't get responses to my e-mails. I know that in her mind she felt like this was the right thing to do and that none-of us have the right to judge her. I have had just brief experiences with depression and it can be so consuming that in such a small way I understand. My heart aches in a way I have never experienced before. She was a wonderful person who brought light to this world and she will be greatly missed. In honor of Cindy I promise to do what I can to support other women suffering from PPD. I know that's what she would have wanted.

    1. Erika, I know it's easier said than done, but please don't feel guilty. You didn't do anything wrong.

      Please feel free to shoot me an email (estherdale84 at gmail dot com), or tweet me (@cornmuffinsmama) or look me up on Facebook (facebook dot com / cornmuffinsmama) if you (or anyone else) need to talk. There's also a fantastic network of PPMD survivors on Twitter at #PPDChat and Katherine Stone has a wonderful community going at postpartumprogress dot com. PLEASE don't hesitate to reach out to any of us. We may not have known Cindy but I feel comfortable saying that we are more than willing to comfort and support those of you who did.

      You might also look into counseling. Survivor's Guilt is very real.

  5. Esther, this was beautifully said. So real and so touching. Thank you for sharing and working to heal our hearts.

    To those who have lost such a special woman, I'm sorry for your loss.

    Moms need so very much support to get through - it makes me ache that we can't help (or save) each and every one of us.

  6. Well said, Esther.
    And to anyone else reading, if you have reached out and been dismissed, or rebuffed, or ignored, or rejected, or whatever, reach out again to someone else. Don't assume that just because one person (or ten) treated you poorly that everyone will. Reach out to Esther. Reach out to her parents (Hi!) Reach out until someone grabs you and holds on, and helps love you through this, whatever that looks like.

  7. Esther, this story broke my heart. I wish we lived in a world where the stigma and shame was not there. The more we talk and share our story, the more we can continue to smash this stigma.