The next step


I have had a lot of things rolling around my brain the last few days. On Saturday night my friend Mariko informed me that the midwife that we had for Clay committed suicide. I was stunned. Merle had a 7 month old baby girl. After some discussion I was given more background. She had been depressed after the birth. She had a history of depression. She was having difficulty adjusting to motherhood. After years of helping so many women through every conceivable postpartum problem she likely felt like she was supposed to fix herself. She spent months with her family in New York. She left her baby with her family and came back to Philadelphia and took her life.

Took her life. That’s where I get stuck. How and why does one get to the point where they no longer see this life as important. No doubt surrounded by loved ones….what happened here? I think about times in my life in which I was despondent, sad , or depressed. I think that part is easy to identify with. Its the next step that baffles me. I always felt that I owed it to my children to be here and be productive. I did everything in my power to be present and healthy for them. Why did this lovely intelligent woman end her life?

I think about my friend Rachel who fought hard to keep her life and lost. And myself I would give anything to be healthy. It is a very long hard road to do this cancer chemo surgery radiation thing. There is no simple thing to cure cancer. Even if you chose some alternative way to cure your cancer its a difficult undertaking. No one who is sick like that and fighting to stay alive can really understand the next step. We want to be here so badly that the idea of letting go is very abstract…until its not. Jenni’s dad died of cancer two weeks ago. He wanted to be here to be healthy. So did Rachel. Why not Merle?

I am surrounded by a loving supportive group of people who have made it possible for me to wake up and face each day. My friends and family make my life happy not just bearable. I know for a fact Merle had a loving support system too. But maybe she was hiding the pain. Maybe she convinced them it would get better. I don’t know. I thought she was so strong. But what is strong? What does that even mean? Strength is something I am accused of all the time but I rarely feel it. Frequently, I feel as though I am being carried . I rarely feel isolated in my pain. My loved ones empathize. That is good enough for me.

I am so sorry to air all this in this public forum. I am fairly certain none of you know the lovely lady I speak of. I am struggling to understand the decision to end one’s life. I am white knuckle holding onto mine. I am desperate for health and life. I wish for a lifetime, not just the two or three years I can expect. Maybe I will get it. Maybe there will be a cure for cancer in my lifetime. But what about a cure for depression?

15 Responses to “The next step”

  1. Morgan says:

    I am stunned and saddened by this as well. You and I were reacquainted in her living room last year. If a new baby doesn’t give you reason to live, what does? I used to think suicide was so selfish, but this has made me think that there must be no other choice in that person’s mind. The compulsion to end life certainly seems to run counter to our survival instinct, whether we’re sick or well. I’m so sad that she couldn’t stay. Merle was indeed a pleasure to know. I was afraid that the baby wasn’t with family until after Merle’s death; I feel a little peace knowing she took care of her daughter first. We’ll miss her. Kate and Jane are planning a memorial. I’ll let you know when I hear anything.
    With love,

  2. Tricia says:

    Hi. You don’t know me, but I started reading your blog the other night and read the whole thing. I am impressed with your strength and your humble graciousness. You question why anyone who doesn’t know you would read, and I can say it’s because you offer a truly unique perspective and you are honest about it. I appreciate that very much.

    I wanted to comment here because as a person who was raised in a legacy of depression, I can tell you that much like cancer, depression is a disease. It can eat a person up inside. It can grow like a tumor. And you are very right, as with cancer, there is not currently a cure.

    Merle was most likely fighting a good fight, like your friend Rachel was, and Jenni’s dad. I think you know this. And as I say it, I totally understand how you can question. Why? Why? Why? When I want to live so badly, why?

    I bet Merle, on her good days, wanted to live too. It’s heartbreaking thinking of her baby. But depression was a cancer that blackened her view. That ate her up and killed her. The depression is what killed her.

    Much courage and strength to you.


  3. Andrea says:

    Thanks Tricia that was extremely helpful and well put. Amen.

  4. megan says:

    hey, gina and i were talking more about this when you put clay down. and the one piece that put it into perspective for me…realizing that depression is a disease, was that the decision to end a life comes to you in a really black moment. it may not be the decision you would have made the day before, or the day after. it takes you unawares, and then there is no going back.

    i love that you are fighting, that you are able to fight, and that this cancer has not invigorated a depression in you. thank you.

  5. Ed says:

    Depression can be that all encompassing black cloud. It can get past the point of seeing any viable way out. That’s when drugs are good. That comes from me, an acupuncturist. Its just bad chemicals in your brain, and you can’t will them to shift. They shouldn’t be forever, but antidepressants, when used correctly are a very good thing. I know from experience……Ed

  6. Dina says:

    Wow. I am so sorry about this and I can imagine that as someone who is fighting to live every single moment of every day, you must be puzzled as hell. I can only say that when I was pregnant with Owen, the whole Brooke Shields story was in the media and I avoided watching/listening/reading. My opinion was that she wanted a child, had one, and then selfishly took it for granted and went off the deep end. That would never be me. I wanted my baby, was stronger than she was, blah, blah, you get the picture. Postpartum hit me about a week after coming home from the hospital. I loved my baby, loved my husband, but hated myself. I cried constantly, every bite of food I took made me sick, and I honestly thought that the best thing that could happen to my husband and son would be for me to disappear. None of this was rational thought, but it was completely real and very intense. You would think the Brooke Shields thing raising awareness would have helped, but it had the opposite effect. Ed even had a friend come over right after Owen was born and hey said, “Hey, Dina, you’re not depressed like Brooke Shields, are you?” It was a joke to most people around that time. Anyway, I suffered in silence for quite some time. When I finally told my mom she suggested I snap out of it…I had a healthy baby, a good life, I SHOULD be happy. It was huge for me to tell someone what I was feeling, and it was followed by terrible shame and embarrassment. I was very resistant to getting help, but I will tell you that if I hadn’t I have no idea where I would be. I fully believe that some of us have a nervous system that is wired for depression. Taking an antidepressant for those issues is really no different than fighting cancer with chemo or diabetes with insulin. Hopefully the stigma attached to “mental” disorders will fade away soon. I know that I learned so much from my bout with depression and that I will never again let someone I care about have a child and not try to be there for them in a way that they could feel supported if they feel depressed or need help. I told lots of people I was fine when I felt like death. Instead of telling me how great it was that I lost my baby weight in 1 month, someone might have asked if I had been eating. Strange what people focus on, huh? I will pray for your friend’s family, especially the baby. Know that she probably did value life, and had no control over the illness that took over. Depression is not a choice. And 4 years ago I might have been the first to say that it was. Support your new mom friends, everyone…if only just to listen without judgement. It does make a difference.
    Love you, Andrea.

  7. Andrea says:

    Again thank you so much Dina. I know as a former child birth teacher how the transition to motherhood can be very difficult. And there is a huge stigma attached to it. I have no idea what was happening at the time of Merle’s death. I only know that she was in my eyes very strong. I can only imagine the dark moment that prompted her to end her life. I am thankful that you are my friend Dina. I am thankful for your comments. Love, Andrea

  8. Becky says:

    Hi Andrea. First I would like to say I am so sorry for your loss. My heart is breaking. I know exactly where you are coming from when you say you can’t understand the want to die when the want to live for you is so strong. I too like you have been diagnosed with breast cancer. October 18, 2007 was THE day. My sister had breast cancer three years before me so I was prepared to catch anything. I am a 32 year mother of two beautiful kids, Lydia(5) and Cale(2). I have what is called triple negative breast cancer. Currently there is no cure just treatment for me as well. My doctor told me I will more than likely be on chemo the rest of my life. How long is my life? According to my doctor and “the stats” it is less than ten years. I say I have a lot more to do then what is going to fit in ten years. I just want to reach out to you and let you know that you are not alone in this as a mother with breast cancer. I live in Glendive, MT and would love to talk to you more. Please email me. I am going to a conference in Florida in two weeks that is focused on young women affected with breast cancer. I am hoping to come back with a whole lot of info to help me and possibly others like yourseld. New treatment options and such. Take care and know that you are loved and what a good feeling that is!

  9. Ginger says:

    When my daughter was born we lived on tiny alley with neighbors that would wave to us in the kitchen window, constantly drop off cookies, and hold impromptu barbecues in the street. We were surrounded by people that cared for and about us and us them. My great husband and I had been married for years, and we were happy.

    The first two months after Kate was born I spent spent my days crying and cooking Julia Childesque feasts that left me exhausted and sleeping on the kitchen floor. I’d never cooked that way before.

    One memorable afternoon I drank an entire bottle of scotch—the special event-expensive kind that you can smell 20′ away. By myself. I don’t drink and cannot stand the smell of scotch.

    Nothing I did was ever quite good enough, I thought. My husband and daughter would probably be better off without me.

    There was no reason for me to feel that way. My great husband adored being a Dad and adored me. In every area life was good.

    I knew something was wrong but wouldn’t pick up the phone and ask for help. Lots of doctors in my family, a very persistent Aunt and a very concerned friend, but I did nothing. We lived two blocks from Pennsylvania Hospital. I had become friends with one of the residents there, saw her all the time but couldn’t bring myself to talk with her about it.

    Why I’m still here is that one day, walking in the park, I met another new mom. a psychotherapist. We drank gallons of tea and talked and talked and talked, not about the out-of-character behavior or depression but about movies, books, just anything. My sense of self healed.

  10. jes says:

    depression very easily can be all encompassing and its ability to smother the will of life or just “being ” is nothing less than amazing; whether it be due to postpartum, post traumatic stress disorder, post anesthesia or a naturally (or unnatural) occurring chemical imbalance in the brain. when the feeling of depression is there, it is really there despite one’s own attempt or other people’s wish to influence or convince the depressee otherwise. there isn’t much to relieve it; definitely not a comparison of one’s own life to other people’s suffering(s) or lack there of. when you’re depressed you are depressed. its a miracle it isn’t more lethal

  11. jenni bender says:

    i am sorry to hear about merle. that is very sad. i have lost a few people in my life to suicide. i always find myself thinking, ‘wow, he was depressed?’ or ‘hmm i knew she had problems, but not that bad.’ the strange thing about it was, i never really wondered why people do it.

    when i was 17 i slit my wrists, medically i should have died. why i didn’t is completely by God’s doing. i have had some other attempts and some other close calls and times of sitting and planning out the ‘big day’ to end it all, pretty much until i was 25 or so.

    i have battled depression for as long as i can remember and started to get help when i was 19. on and off of anti-depressants, all would be good and fine until i started to feel happy and normal and then i’d stop taking my meds. seems to be a common thing. i always fell back on the fact that there was nothing i couldn’t get through if my faith in God was strong enough. which i think is true in many ways, but what i didn’t understand was that didn’t mean i should stop taking my meds.

    some of those times i spoke of was during a period of watching my father fight so hard to stay alive. i felt so selfish and horrible for it. i’d go to bed at night pleading with God to take my life that night and restore my father’s health. it was a fair trade. it made sense to me. when someone was fighting such a tough battle and here i was not being able to handle being in my own skin. God has different plans sometimes, than the things you beg him for in the darkness. all in all, it brought me closer to Him, to my family and the people i actually ever let in.

    i have lost some family and friends in the past couple years, some aquaintences, too. some to suicide and felt some resentment towards it, in the sense of being close to a few people who were trying so so hard to live. i think part of that, was me resenting the things in them that i actually saw in myself.

    my dad has been gone for 14 days now, and now that things are settling down it’s becoming much more real that he isn’t here physically. i smell him in certain rooms or see his razor in the bathroom and i break down like a little girl. i know he is in a MUCH better place and i thank God that he isn’t suffering anymore, but i do miss him dearly. he was a firm believer in depression being a disease and was a huge support to me getting help with it.

    i value my life and i value yours. i thank God today that both of us are here and that we are friends.


  12. Wendy says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. You know my story with postpartum. I had my suicide all planned out. It was literally the grace and voice of God that stopped me. I was believing a lie that seemed so real. I 100% believed that the only solution to all that I was feeling was to end my life and in order to “protect” them to take my kids lives as well. (How twisted is that?). On the other side of depression I can look back and say “How could I ever have thought that way?” and yet I did. And I was to afraid to tell anyone. I am so sorry that Merle believed the lie. So happy that she saved her child. But so sorry for the loss of everyone involved. Thank you for sharing about Merle. Thank you for continuing your fight. And thank you for continuing a forum of information. So many of your comments to this post have been from people who understand and have experienced depression. Maybe it will help someone who is struggling to not feel so hopeless and alone.

  13. Linda, Palm Harbor, FL says:

    Hi Andrea,
    So very sorry to hear about your mid-wife. It is a shock to hear about a suicide. It runs in my family too. My Dad’s sister took her life at a very young age. She was my God Mother. Way back then, (I am 56 yrs. old) when that was a real taboo, my father “broke it to us on the way to her house, “Oh, just want to tell you that Aunt Marilyn died.” I thought that was so wierd at my young age. I didn’t know what was going on, and until later on in years, after my Dad died and my Mom (who since has died and miss her terribly) told us the “real” story. So much for dis-functional families! Who can say what life has in store for us. I remember after the birth of my son, feeling so depressed and started crying at the drop of a hat. I thought the reason was because my husband of 3 yrs had left me when I was 7 months pregnant was the reason, but sure wish I knew all the stuff that we know know. My ex-husband, who is now deceased due to all the drugs he used, left me and I tried to exist on $28 a month from his
    Government disability check, but thank God I had my Family to help me thru the tough times, I eventually got a decent job, am now 56, going on 57 in March and looking forward to retirement. I have never met another man (in all these years) go figure…must be a disfuntional thing..Ha-ha! But, as a rule, I am fairly happy with my life, although I have a disfuntional twin sister who I can go on and on about…but will do that in another email.. I don’t know if I can let you know this, but please contact me at……Would love to know you and talk to you, okay? Take care, God Bless, I’m praying for you always, Linda

  14. Andrea says:

    I just want to thank everyone for these truly honest comments. I have had this whole suicide thing on my mind for days. It is good to talk about depression so it is out in the open. I am not in any way resentful that Merle ended her life…more baffled. I spent a lot of time thinking about the way she supported me when I had my baby. I just could not wrap my head around the why and the how. Ultimately, I do not really “compare” myself to others. I am sick, but everyone is going through something. Honestly, I do not think what I am going through is even that bad. I will write a post soon…but this has been very cathartic for me.

  15. Pam says:

    Hi Andrea,
    I have been praying for you and reading here for quite some time now. Everyone else has said what I would say, except that there is a wonderful christian book that a friend gave to me when I was under the black blanket of post partum depression. I don’t remember the author, but it is called, “when it hurts to live” That is really what happens. Merle and my close friend, and so many others could not hang on another day , they ended the pain, the only way they felt they had a choice to. I am so thankful that God allowed my blanket to be lifted…to choose to believe what God says about me, instead of the very believable words of satan. I didn’t want to, but I let others in to my pain, got prayed for, got meds, and lived a little longer and even had my 6th child after! I am HAPPY today by the grace of God, but I know how it feels to be on both sides-I will keep praying for your peace, comfort, and healing. Blessings, Pam