If you ever saw Allison Goldstein — in person or online — you’d probably assume she had the “perfect” life. She seemed happy and healthy, with a good job, a loving husband, and a beautiful baby girl. But the truth is, inside Allison a storm was raging. Inside Allison, an undiagnosed and untreated illness was festering and growing, and she was drowning in sea of depression.
Despite having everything to live for, Allison Goldstein desperately wanted to die.
So she wrote a goodbye email, in which she apologized to her family, writing, “I’m so sorry that I didn’t know how to describe this pain [to you] and [how to] seek help.” She then dropped her 4-month-old daughter off at daycare, drove down a dirt road, and killed herself.
But there is more to Allison and her story than the upsetting manner in which she died — and that’s exactly why her family is speaking out. As her parents, David and Carol Matthews, explained in an interview with NBC 12 last week, Allison’s story could be any mother’s story, and their loss and grief could be any family’s grief. Because the Chesterfield, Virginia mother became one of the 900,000 moms affected by postpartum depression in America this year alone.
“If this can happen to Allison, it can happen to anybody,” her mother told NBC.
Before Allison’s death, her family admits they had no idea she was struggling with PPD. Even Allison’s own email revealed that she didn’t know she had PPD — all she did know was that she was hurting. The first-time mom knew she should be celebrating the “happiest days of her life,” but she couldn’t, and she didn’t know how to express what she was feeling. So instead of asking for help, she tried to push through the pain. She kept a smile on her face and, as her father explained, held her head high, showing no signs of her struggles. There were no “red flags.”
“Just the days before, she was just the happiest, smiling, showing no signs at all of any internal emotional distress,” said her father David.
The common assumption is that postpartum depression is typically marked by obvious changes in sleeping habits and eating habits, bouts of crying, anger, anxiety, and rage — however, PPD symptoms are numerous and varied, and not all of these symptoms can be seen outwardly. Many of these symptoms are invisible to friends, colleagues, and even family.
In fact, according to Postpartum Progress, most PPD symptoms are internal, and include feelings such as guilt, worthlessness, emptiness, numbness, hopelessness, and despair. Sure, many who have postpartum depression display outward symptoms: They may scream or cry often; they may pull back and withdraw from others. But some do not. Because some new moms hide these feelings, and bury these emotions. Some news moms keep their erratic and “crazy” thoughts a secret because if they admit they are having them — that they are struggling to bond with their baby or fantasizing about running away from their family and their life — they may be judged. They feel they are bad and inadequate, and as wives, mothers, and women, they feel they are failing.
So they struggle in secret.
They struggle in silence.
And I know this because I myself had PPD. For 16 months, I kept my disease a secret. In front of others, I smiled and laughed. When I was with family and friends, I slapped on my “happy” face and posed for those oh-so-perfect family pictures. But inside, I was drowning. I wrestled with feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and I felt hollow. I was numb and empty; angry, sad, and ashamed. But the silence destroyed me, the secrecy nearly killed me, and I too considered taking my life.
I too made a “suicide” plan.
The difference between Allison and myself was that I got lucky. Fate or faith intervened, and I got help. But not all mothers are as lucky. Many, like Allison, lose their battles. In fact, according to Adrienne Griffen, founder of Postpartum Support Virginia, suicide is the leading cause of death for women in the first year postpartum. That’s right — the leading cause.
But how can you help someone if you do not know they are sick? How can you help someone if, like me, they suffer in silence?
According to Griffen, sometimes the best way to help is to ask all moms a few simple, sincere questions. “There is so much emphasis on the baby,” she says. “It’s really important to ask the mom, you know, how are you doing? How are you dealing with these changes?”
If you or someone you know is having a hard time adjusting to life after childbirth, please reach out — even if you do not know what to say or how to say it. Postpartum Progress is an excellent place to start, as is Postpartum Support International. Know that you are not a bad mom, your family is not better off without you, and you are not alone. You are worth it.