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Coping with post-partum depression

Women face emotional abyss after birth

by Wendy Cox - The Canadian Press
Journal Pioneer, Summerside, Prince Edward Island - May 1997

Three months after her third child was born, Lyn came to understand why some mothers kill their children.

She was curled into a fetal position on her floor, paralyzed by obsessive thoughts of harming her children.

"I was balled up with fear," says Lyn, 33, who doesn't want her real name used.

What were you afraid you would do?

"The worst." She won't elaborate.

Lyn was taken to hospital in Ottawa where she was diagnosed with post-partum depression.

Most people equate post-partum depression with the baby blues, but that bouncy label is given only to the mildest form of the illness.

Thousands of Canadian women suffer more debilitating forms of depression and even psychosis after they give birth.

The seriousness of the illness was underlined this week when Lorelei Turner and her husband were found guilty of manslaughter in Miramichi, N.B., of starving their three-year-old to death.

Court heard Turner suffered from post-partum depression after her son's birth and was unable to cope with the demands of a normal baby.

Psychiatrists say up to 70 percent of new mothers go through a glum period for about two weeks after a birth.

But up to 15 per cent will experience a deeper, more frightening form of depression which can include panic attacks, anxiety, sleep disruption and violent fantasies of harming themselves or their babies.

"You have no clue about what's going on with you," says Lyn, who only recently became about to look after her children without her husband or a relative nearby.

"You don't know yourself anymore," adds Christina, 38, who is coping with the lingering effects of a bout with the illness.

"It's a deep, cavernous thing you've fallen into. You just think you've gone crazy."

The Vancouver woman, who also didn't want to be named, said she never thought of harming her child. Instead, she had to force herself to care at all.

But while at the grocery store several months ago, Christa had an overwhelming vision that she was about to be stabbed from behind.

"I could see the blood splattered over all the groceries."

She started seeing a psychiatrist and is now on anti-depressants.

In a very few cases, it gets worse.

One mother in 500 will become psychotic, with vivid hallucinations and paranoid delusions.

"When she starts incorporating the baby in her delusions, that's when you worry. It's at that point that you really become concerned about infanticide," says Dr. Shaila Misri, and obstetrician at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver.