The Day Postpartum Depression Made Grisly Headlines
On June 20, 2001, a Houston mom systematically drowned her five children in the bathtub after her husband left for work. Within hours of the news reports, Ann Dunnewold, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and co-author of Postpartum Survival Guide, received 10 to 15 new referrals at her practice in Dallas. Their sole question was, “How do I know it won’t be me?”
“They’ve been badly shaken by this tragedy,” says Dunnewold, a past president of Postpartum Support International, a worldwide referral network. They think they have postpartum psychosis when they really suffer from postpartum obsessive disorder. That’s when a mother can’t banish a bad thought, like cutting her child’s throat. So she overcompensates to keep the baby safe by removing every knife and pair of scissors from the home, Dunnewold says.
Terri Denton endured vivid images of hurting herself and of someone else injuring her son, Cameron, who was born on April 19, 2000. “I’d see pictures in my mind of things happening to my son,” she says of the psychotic features that punctuated her postpartum depression. She was also paranoid that someone would take her son away because she wasn’t being a good parent.
Denton quickly knew something was wrong. The night Cameron was born, as he stretched and cried in the nursery down the hall, Denton, now 31, sobbed alone in her hospital room. “I was afraid to tell the nurses I felt no connection to my son,” she says.
Ten days later, sitting on her front porch, she wept uncontrollably until her aunt insisted that she call for help. Denton’s obstetrician listened to her describe classic symptoms of postpartum depression. Then the doctor asked her to hand the phone to her aunt. “She told her that I shouldn’t be left alone until I could be seen,” Denton says.
Is Postpartum Depression Underdiagnosed?
Read how one mother survived her life-threatening battle with depression.