I met Kit over 20 years ago. We were both struggling actors. Every Tuesday night, we would meet up at this playhouse on 39th St. and read plays aloud to playwrights to help them make their plays better. It was poor man actors work and we loved every minute of it.
A few years later, our career goals diverged a bit but our friendship only grew stronger. Kit told me she was pregnant and I was overjoyed. Upon becoming pregnant, Kit confided in me that she had been on Prozac. She was fearful about taking Prozac while pregnant, and these fears were not unfounded. This was back in 2001. Most of us did not yet know that Prozac is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.
About seven months into her pregnancy, Kit asked me to be at her birth. We both cried tears of joy and excitement. On a hot summer’s night, a rush of excitement pulsed through me as I watched my dear friend give birth. I can not describe the joy as I watched Kit’s baby crown. Her dark, hairy little head seemed to soften and move with a gentle force as Kit opened up like a tulip. The bolt of energy that rushed through me as I witnessed a life come into the world kept me flying for weeks.
Sara latched like a champ. Kit, her husband Mark and I marveled at the beauty of this new life. Kit examined every inch of her new daughter. I promised to return the next day as I floated home and nursed my toddler, Chloe. The next morning I returned to the hospital to check on the new family. Kit and her baby, Sara, rested some, nursed some. Mark slept on the chair a bit, but mostly held his daughter. Mark went home to shower while I stayed with Kit and Sara until he returned.
And then an intern stopped in to check on her.
“Are you on any medication?” he asked.
“Prozac,” she replied.
“Are you breastfeeding?”
“No Prozac.” He turned on his heel. Footsteps echoed down the tiled hallway.
A couple of days later, Chloe and I picked up some pastries from the corner bakery and went to see Kit. Her apartment was full of boxes half packed. During the pregnancy they decided their one bedroom was not fit for their growing family and they purchased a house in the suburbs of New Jersey.
Summer turned to autumn and I got caught up in my life with two children, school starting and awaiting the results of my IBCLC exam. Kit and I talked on the phone from time to time. Sometimes, Kit seemed to be talking faster than normal and I noticed she started making connections to the numbers and names in her life. Her new town was Summit and she had grown up on Summit Street. Her new address was 123, which was the same as her college dorm room. She was on a roll. It reminded me of the times during play rehearsal we would get all giggly like young girls and we could banter on for hours. But somehow this was different though and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I just chalked it up to new mom excitement.
Each time I talked to her, she sounded less and less happy. One snowy day in late November I planned to visit but the weather precluded that trip. We talked on the phone and she wept. She was so sad. Mark was working full time downtown and had started an MBA program that kept him in class three nights a week. I learned that she was fearful of driving and had spent her adult years in urban settings where driving was not required. Now here she was, needing to drive everywhere – the grocery store, the pediatrician, dry cleaners. She wept because she was isolated, afraid, lonely, overwhelmed. The one thing she was clear about was how much she loved her baby.
“I have told Sara I love her more times in her five months on earth than my own mother has told me in my lifetime.”
I tried to find new moms groups for her. I did not know what else to do.
The evening of December 11, 2002, I answered my phone to a reporter asking if I knew Kit and why she would have jumped in front of a train. I felt like I was falling in a never-ending empty chamber.
Thank goodness for the snow. Holding her baby in her arms at the last moment, she threw the bundle on a bank of snow. This was a perfect storm for postpartum suicide:
- History of Depression
- Cold turkey off antidepressant
- No therapy
- Undiagnosed Postpartum Depression
- Uneducated healthcare team
Moms need a team. A team that is inter-connected; the family, the midwife/ObGyn, the pediatrician and any other support. We now have resources like the Infant Risk Center and Lactmed where we can look up medications for pregnant and nursing women. There is less and less stigma of Postpartum Depression, but we still have a long way to go. I moved past my own guilt for not saving Kit, but not before experiencing PTSD symptoms and some good therapy for myself.
Mark remarried and Sara is a big sister now. Sara was five months old when her mom died. Mark said to me after Kit died that she was most peaceful when she was nursing her baby, when she was focused on Sara, when she was mothering.
*Names have been changed to protect the survivors
Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC