I learned about this postpartum depression story after a northwest suburban freelance reporter, Amanda Marrazzo, began covering the case of Claudia Mejia of Harvard. Mejia, a mother of four, stands accused of attempting to murder her son when he was nine months old.
Mejia’s husband -- convinced his wife was severely mentally ill when his son was injured -- granted Amanda an interview, pleading for McHenry County authorities to let his wife return home.
My editor asked me to review other legal cases in which postpartum depression or psychosis was used as a defense, to see if there is more sympathy in the courtroom.
While postpartum psychosis is extremely unusual, some women have been acquitted or seen their murder convictions overturned as public awareness has risen. Readers may recall Andrea Yates of Houston, whose convictions for drowning her five children were later overturned.
I decided to break the story into three pieces because I didn’t want to detract from Mejia’s saga, which is powerful on its own.
Paramedics described her as “catatonic” after she stabbed her baby, who has since recovered, her lawyer said. Mejia was hospitalized at Elgin Mental Health Center before being declared fit for trial this year.
Meanwhile, I wanted to draw attention to a few other cases in which women have spoken publicly about killing their children while suffering postpartum psychosis. This is an incredibly difficult and brave way to help other women who fear they are alone in their intense anxiety, guilt and depression after childbirth.
I also expected to hear some good news from Chicago’s Carol Blocker, who helped push through a national law intended to increase education and support for postpartum depression patients. Yet, more than a decade after her daughter, Melanie, took her own life in the throes of psychosis, Blocker is frustrated at the lack of progress. The legislation remains unfunded.
Having witnessed a family member undergo hospitalization and recovery from postpartum psychosis, I understand how hard it is to explain this awful phenomenon to others. And how much guilt and shame these women feel because childbirth, for them, did not begin as the joyous occasion most expect.
Thankfully, very few women go on to hurt themselves or others. I hope more people will seek support for new mothers who may be too sick to help themselves.
-- Lisa Black
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