On 13th March 2013, a 44-year-old New York woman named Cynthia Wachenheim took her own life and attempted to take the life of her 10-month-old son.
Fortunately, baby Keston survived.
She thought those falls may have led to seizures and she thought that would affect her son for the rest of his life. “I love you. I’m making you suffer,” she wrote in the 13-page letter.
Wachenheim’s friends and family were shocked by the lawyer’s death. They described her as a “highly educated, socially conscious woman who had been active in a women’s group in her synagogue” who was on leave from her $120,000-a-year job as an attorney.
So what was it that made Cynthia change so suddenly? What would make the first-time mother want to take her own life and that of her son?
Investigators now believe Cynthia was suffering from a mental health condition called postpartum psychosis (also known as puerperal psychosis). Postpartum psychosis is an incredibly rare illness that occurs in one in every 1000 women who give birth. Usually those who suffer lose touch with reality and start believing things that are not true.
Postpartum psychosis can occur in women of any age and, while it is more common with a woman’s first baby, it presents itself almost randomly. It’s only if a woman has had a previous episode of postpartum psychosis that she has about a one in three chance of getting it again with another baby.
Unlike postpartum depression (more commonly known as post natal depression), which affects around 13 per cent of mothers usually in the first three to four months after they give birth, postpartum psychosis usually occurs in the first month and receives very little attention in the media. It’s usually only when the stories are incredibly horrific, like that of Cynthia or that of Andrea Yates (the woman who drowned all five of her children in the bathtub of her Texas home) that people take notice.
But more often than not, the stories of women who suffer from postpartum psychosis but do not to take extreme actions like taking the lives of their children or themselves are rarely told.
Hayley* is one of those women.
When Mamamia ran a story about Wachenheim earlier this year, we were contacted by 23-year-old Hayley who had recently recovered from postpartum psychosis.
Hayley contacted us in the hope that she could tell her story and help make other women aware of the illness that had consumed her life for more than a year.
It all started for Hayley just a day after her daughter Lillian was born via caesarian section on 21 October, 2011.
“The day after she was born, I just started getting very giddy and very happy,” Hayley says, adding that she was “talking a lot more” and that she wanted to talk to “anybody and everybody that (she) could find in the hospital”.