The Big Silence

Yesterday, my husband texted:

Woman with child in car rammed White House barrier.

I responded:

She must be post-partum.

From preliminary reports, it looks like I might have been right.   Turns out, Miriam Carey, the woman behind the wheel, just might have been suffering from a chemical imbalance that strikes up to 19% of women after childbirth.  Her mother said that she’d never been a violent person but that she had been depressed since the birth of her second child in August.

I knew how she felt.  I remembered.  I could relate.

After my first child, I suffered from postpartum depression.  I say suffered because that’s how I felt:  like there was no end in sight to the suffering.  The night I brought my daughter home, struggling to get her latched, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, I remember saying to my husband, “I can’t do this.  We’re going to have to give her up for adoption.”

He laughed but, when I didn’t, he took her from me and said, “Let me take her for a while.”

My doctor didn’t diagnose my depression (or even ask questions that might have led to a diagnosis) and, since I’d never been depressed, I didn’t know what was wrong with me.  Here I was with a complete blessing — a little girl (especially a girl!), something I’d wanted, something for which we’d planned, and I could barely function. I felt anxious.  I couldn’t focus.  I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t relax.  I mistook this chemical imbalance for lack of sleep.  I blamed it on my initial inability to nurse.  I imagined that, if she wasn’t colicky, I wouldn’t be crying all day.  I blamed it on a lot of things but, in the end, I didn’t pinpoint the thing I probably, deep down, knew but was unwilling to admit.

We cried together.  When she really screamed (from three to six o’clock each evening), I would put her in the Baby Bjorn, turn on the vacuum cleaner and try to keep moving.  The movement and the hum of the vacuum calmed her, somewhat, and so it’s what I did until my husband came home from work.  We had recently moved to a Detroit suburb, I didn’t have many friends and the friends I did have worked full time, had full-time day care or nannies.  But even if I could have expressed my sorrow, I wouldn’t have even known what to say.  I’d been taught, from a young age, that you don’t complain, that my grandparents came over here with nothing – nothing – and started over so that you, you weak, sniveling ingrate, could grow up in a safe place, so that you could be happy.

But I wasn’t happy.

I did, however, have very clean floors.


A dear friend of mine was diagnosed with postpartum depression.  She went from being one of the most vibrant, outgoing, gentle people I knew to a paranoid mess.  She was actually admitted to a psyche ward.  She admitted, years later, that she remembered pointing her finger in her doctor’s face and screaming, “Watch your back, asshole.  You cross me and you’ll never forget it.”

It’s almost unimaginable.  She’d done a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  She’s better now, of course.  This happened sixteen years ago.  But, when we talk about it, we still can’t believe what happened to our brains and how we reacted.  How something switched.  And how frightening it was.

It doesn’t last, this kind of depression.  But it can be debilitating.  At about four months, I started feeling better.  I could get through the day.  I didn’t have the incredible pressure inside my brain (something I remember vividly but still can’t explain), I no longer counted the minutes until my husband walked through the door so I could lay down and put a pillow over my face.

I can’t help wondering why Miriam Carey’s doctors didn’t help her.  I can forgive my doctors, nearly two decades ago, for missing my diagnosis.  Maybe, like me, she was just really good at hiding it.

But I can’t help wondering if a collective silence, a personal silence I’m just now breaking, might have contributed to her feelings of isolation and helplessness.  And, when I wonder that, the same pressure inside my brain, that feeling, perhaps, that there’s something to say but an inability to express it, overwhelms me, nearly bowls me over with grief.


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  • The question is whether your postpartum was enough to get into a police chase resulting in a shootout, or, as later reported, her going to the White House because she heard Obama in her head. I don't think the Navy Yard shooter was postpartum.

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