When the ‘baby blues’ become deadly

Jessie Markovetz

The birth of a baby is usually a happy affair, with flowers, stuffed animals and smiles. Yet, for some women, the arrival of a new child can be greeted with feelings of guilt or depression.Dr. Mine An Ener, 38, an associate professor of history at the University, was charged with second-degree murder in the slaying of her 6-month-old daughter Aug. 4. At the time, police said she was taking medication for postpartum depression.According to the Postpartum Stress Center in Rosemont, signs of postpartum depression include mood swings, irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, hopelessness and despair. Suicidal thoughts and feelings of anger, shame and guilt may also be a factor.The condition is treatable, often through therapy, anti-depressant medication and learning to adjust to life with small children.Dr. Marcy Weiner, a therapist at the center, has not treated Ener but is familiar with the symptoms she displayed.”It is a fairly common condition, but it is often underdiagnosed,” she said.According to Weiner, about 82 percent of women suffer from a very mild form of postpartum depression called the “baby blues.” Generally, this condition lasts only a few days, she said.Weiner estimates that just 20 percent of these mothers suffer from the more persistent and disabling postpartum depression, which can generally occur any time before the child’s first birthday.While this is a serious condition, it rarely leads to murder, Weiner said.”Most of the women that have postpartum depression would not do this kind of thing,” she said. “She was most likely suffering from postpartum psychosis.”Postpartum psychosis is a very rare form of the condition, affecting less than 1 percent of all mothers. Perhaps the most notorious case of postpartum depression was in the summer of 2001, when Andrea Yates, a Texas mother of five, drowned her children. She was taking medication for postpartum depression, but Weiner believes this was not enough.”Very often, people with postpartum psychosis require hospitalization in a psychiatric facility and different medication, anti-psychotics,” she said. “Most important, however, is getting them in a place where they and their children are safe.”Weiner said mothers often feel a sense of responsibility when a child is born with some kind of disability, as Ener’s daughter was. The 6-month-old infant had Down syndrome.”A lot of women … who give birth to children with disabilities feel a sense of guilt or blame compounded with the child’s disability,” Weiner said.But postpartum psychosis is not more common in women giving birth to children with disabilities.”Most people with a child born with a disability go through a mourning period. But most are able to come to terms and deal with it.”