Untreated Antenatal DepressionCasey Mullins
Bei Bei Shuai attempted to kill herself in December 2010 by ingesting rat poison; she has been in jail since March of 2011. Not for attempted suicide, but for murder and feticide. You see, Bei Bei was 33 weeks pregnant when her partner left her under some pretty twisted circumstances. Alone and mentally unstable she attempted to end her life and that of her unborn child. Friends intervened and upon admission to the hospital Bei Bei agreed to a c-section as it would give her baby, later named Angel, the best chance for survival. Sadly her baby died in her arms three days later and Bei Bei has been facing murder charges since last spring.
While it’s unclear if Bei Bei was suffering from a mental disorder (I mean, benefit of the doubt says who ingests rat poison for fun?) the comments that come out on Cody’s post about Bei Bei were nothing new to me, which I why I speak so loudly and openly about antenatal depression (or severe depression while pregnant.) Postpartum depression gets most of the press, but antenatal depression is wildly undocumented (probably due to the fact it is blamed on pregnancy hormones) yet frighteningly common. I experienced it with both of my pregnancies and ended up hospitalized with my first after my own suicide attempt at 7 months.
Feticide laws are in place to protect pregnant women from being beat, resulting in the loss of a fetus. But what about when a woman is being beat senseless by her own chemically imbalanced brain? I had attempted to reach out before my attempt, I told those around me that something wasn’t right and it was brushed off as exhaustion and pregnancy. The truth was I was swallowed with despair, I had endured a difficult pregnancy suffering with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, I had lost nearly 40 pounds from vomiting by that point and my arms were laced with bruises from receiving weekly IV treatments. My brain told me I couldn’t do it anymore and told me to give up.
I tried and failed.
I spend four days involuntarily committed where I was put through a rigid schedule of therapy and medication. I was monitored by a social worker, a nutritionist and several doctors who specialized in high risk pregnancies and psychological cases. It was my first time being pregnant, and I was a rare case, no one (including me) was capable of comprehending just how bad I had become. Does that make me a criminal? Absolutely not. I endured antenatal depression with my second child as well but sought treatment from the beginning and had a plan in place in case things went downhill fast, which they did around 6 months. I didn’t do anything wrong, I have a mental illness that debilitates me if it goes untreated and is exasperated by extraneous conditions, pregnancy and severe hyperemesis. I can only imagine that if my partner had admitted to being married with two kids and that he was leaving me alone and pregnant? I would be destroyed, which is where Bei Bei was left.
While I cannot speak for Bei Bei, I can speak for myself and for the countless other who have reached out to be from the depths of despair while pregnant. Antenatal depression is real and when there are laws in place that can make a mother a criminal if her mental illness is left untreated? Something is very wrong. Despite going into my second pregnancy with full knowledge of the possibility of antenatal depression striking me again, I still struggled to find healthcare professionals who truly understood what I had gone through and what I may go through again.
I admitted to my overdose over five years ago and the number of women I have helped with my story seems to grow monthly, pregnant mothers being smothered by their own brains is not uncommon and if they are treated as criminals and social outcasts they will be even less likely to speak up and seek treatment which can and will lead to stories more tragic that Bei Bei’s.