By LUCY ORMONDE
On the 13th of March, 44-year-old New York lawyer Cynthia Wachenheim sat down and wrote a 13-page note to her friends and family.
In the handwritten letter, written on lined notebook paper, the new mother wrote about a fear; she was convinced her 10-month-old son has autism or cerebral palsy – despite assurances from doctors that he did not. She blamed herself for two falls her son has sustained while in her care and which, in her opinion, had led to a change in his personality.
“I love you. I’m making you suffer. You’re going to think I’m evil,” she wrote.
A little while after Wachenheim wrote the letter, she strapped her baby boy Keston to her chest and jumped from the eighth floor of the New York apartment she shared with her husband, Hal.
Wachenheim died from injuries sustained from the fall.
But her baby Keston survived with just a bruise on his cheek.
This from the New York Times:
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.
Wachenheim’s friends, family and colleagues were reportedly shocked by the attorney’s death. According to the New York Times, she was a “highly educated, socially conscious woman who had been active in a women’s group in her synagogue”. She was on maternity leave from her $120,000-a-year job as an associate court attorney.
So what would lead a woman like Wachenheim to jump from the balcony?
According to media reports, Wachenheim believed people would assume she was suffering from post partum psychosis (or puerperal psychosis) which is a rare mental illness experienced by around one in 1000 women after childbirth.
Beyond Blue suggests post partum psychosis is “very serious as the mother may be at risk of self-harm and there is risk of potential harm to the baby and/or other children.” People with post partum psychosis usually experience manic and depressed symptoms and often have strong beliefs (for example, about someone wanting to hurt their baby).
US statistics suggest five percent of the one in 1000 women with post partum psychosis commit suicide and four per cent commit infanticide.It’s fair to say that Wachenheim was not in a sound state of mind when she killed herself and attempted to kill her son. Because no woman in their right mind would want to kill their child.
But that hasn’t stopped some people – and one writer in particular – from calling her a “monster,” “evil” and a “selfish, awful woman”.
This is part of an article from Elie Mystal who writes for Above the Law.
Screw this woman….
Having just been through the process of having a newborn, I’m acutely aware of all the time hospitals, pediatricians, and psychiatrists put in telling new parents how to handle the feelings of anxiety and sometimes depression that affect new parents.
She’d give her life to make him healthy, but apparently couldn’t commit to nursing him through the fake diseases she made up for him in her mind.
Mystal says Wachenheim was not a “victim” just because she chose to kill herself when she tried to kill her child. Mystal argued that Wachenheim was selfish because she didn’t access the services available top her before she committed suicide
But in the days since the Mystal article was written, Wachenheim’s good friend Elizabeth Nowicki – who had known her since high school – wrote a letter in response.
My impression is that she likely had post-partum PSYCHOSIS, not post-partum depression, and, if I were a betting woman, I’d bet her doc missed it, and treated it with anti-depressants, which are known (by mental health experts) to make this type of psychosis WORSE. PSYCHOSIS, Elie.
Not depression, not anxiety, not sadness. PSYCHOSIS.
But it wasn’t easy to recognize (if I am right about it), because she wasn’t hallucinating unicorns and spirits — she was hallucinating about her baby perhaps having something like cerebral palsy… due to her allowing the baby to trip (like every other baby in the world has done).
So it *seemed* that she was rational and was just obsessive about taking her baby to doctors. But she wasn’t, as best I can tell. If I am correct, she was far, far, far more ill than was realized, with the tragic result that ensued.
Be clear: this woman NEVER would have harmed herself, much less her infant or *anyone* else, in her right mind. Never. Moreover, her 13-page missive is described as “incoherent” — INCOHERENT. She wrote for judges for a living. If she were in her right mind, the missive would not be “incoherent.”
“This is not a crime, not an act of a selfish woman, not an act of evil,” Nowicki wrote. “it is an act of grave, grave mental illness that appears to have been woefully missed.”
Rather than criticize, she said, we need to “raise awareness regarding serious mental illness”.
Anyone who thinks they could be affected by post partum psychosis – or any other form of post natal depression – should seek urgent help. Details can be found on Beyond Blue’s website here.