Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Nameless Tragedy

It happened on March 13. 2013, while I was still barely alive. I learned about this event, for which there are no appropriate words, from all of the newspaper articles archived in my computer. I had thought my own mourning was finally crawling to an end, but the news of Cynthia Wachenheim's death chilled my heart, mind and soul all over again.

Cynthia's uncle was the love of my life. I remember the day at Columbia, which we both attended, when he told me his sister had just given birth to a baby girl. My friend's native language was Spanish: he pronounced her name Cyntia, then decided Cindy would be a better choice for him. So Cindy it was.

My relationship with my friend had a sad ending that broke my heart and spirit. I was never the same again, but I went on to live a life, and gave little or no thought to Cindy, though her uncle remains indelibly etched into my very soul.

My friend went on to do exceptionally well, and apparently has a lovely successful wife and three brilliant sons. No wonder the newspapers noted that family members could not be contacted to comment upon Cindy's dearth.

On March 13. 2013, at about 3 in the afternoon, Cynthia put her baby in a snuggli-type pouch, strapped it to her chest, and jumped from a window in her 8th story apartment in New York City. At the last moment she flipped over, thereby saving her baby's life. She died instantly on contact with the cold, suicidal pavement.

All the papers wrote that Cindy had once walked out of a room for five minutes, leaving her baby unintended. During this time he fell and hit his head. There was no discernible injury, but Cindy feared baby Keston, named for his deceased grandfather, had sustained a terrible brain injury from that fall, which she blamed on herself. She believed Keston would have an insufferable life, and that she would be forevermore incapable of caring for him. All the doctors had told Cindy her baby's development was fine.

What are we to make of this? The majority of write-ups were mostly objective and even quasi-sympathetic not only to baby Keston but also to Cindy,but nobody found the right words, even though all the writers seemed to be trying to put this event into proper perspective. Maybe we are not such an uncaring community of human beings after all; on the other hand, maybe we are so inured to the reality and prevalence of mental illness that  sometimes manifests itself in unspeakable ways that we take aberrant behavior for granted. But - and this is an important but - Cindy came from a highly successful and stable family; she herself was a lawyer in NY, and most  likely had had no major mental illness previous to her suicide.

The obstetricians used to say that postpartum deprssion, or PPD, was a normal very short-lived non-event, but most of these doctors were men. PPD, as it turns out, is an insidious disorder, probably partially, at least, of hormonal origin. It can occur months after giving birth, after the initial euphoria and excitement of child rearing gives way to lonely hours of tending a newborn day and night. Just for starters, we all know the effects of sleep deprivation. PPD thrives on isolation: Cindy's mother is dead, and one needs an experienced mother to help keep a new mother (of 44) on track, if not sane.

I could go on and on. In summary, however, the real lesson learned from
Cindy's death is that the medical/psychotherapeutic community must learn more about and do a much better job of understanding  PPD  and the countless women who are right at this moment needlessly suffering. No, ssrri's and neuroleptics are not the whole answer for treating PPD.

And now I am more certain of what I believe: Yes, we are still a brutally uncaring civilization if we do not study this universal syndrome more carefully and realistically before more beautiful people like Cindy are driven to take their own lives, ironically, to protect their children. But that is a topic for more thought and more blogs.

Meanwhile may G-d , who understands all, cherish Cindy's soul and help us poor mortals become more compassionate, knowledgeable human beings.. May He heal Cindy's family and friends, particularly the very private. probably inexorably grief-stricken man who still is the love of my life.

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