It makes the headlines periodically: A mother kills her child--or children. We pity the children, the family and friends; we recoil from the horror of it. The last thing that many of us are able to feel is understanding and compassion for the disturbed mother.
“Postpartum: Beyond the Blues,” a Lifetime cable documentary showing at 9 p.m. tonight, tries hard to give us that understanding. Its sympathetic narrator, Susan Sarandon--pregnant herself at the time of the filming--guides viewers through a tragic chronicle of lives lost or everlastingly affected by infanticide or suicide.
The primary focus is Nancy Berchtold, who was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis following the birth of her daughter. Berchtold received effective help; her daughter, now 5 years old, was never harmed, even though one of Berchtold’s delusions was that she had suffocated her.
Her experience led her to form a support group for new mothers called “Depression After Delivery” and to fight to free one woman who was sentenced to prison after killing her baby son. We’re haunted by the face of that woman’s 8-year-old daughter, who was 5 when her mother went to prison. We meet another woman who killed her two young sons; we meet her grieving, yet supportive husband and family.
The message is that these tragedies could have been prevented if society would recognize that the problem is “not moral, but physical.” We’re told that, unlike the United States, Great Britain treats the disease as a matter of course.
It’s easy to mourn for the slain children we see smiling in old photographs; it remains a struggle to grieve for the tormented women, surrounded by phantoms and alien even to their own intimates. But Berchtold’s testimony and the eloquence of husbands and family members here helps bring understanding closer.