Pregnancy Depression Is Real, And Women Like Me and Bei Bei Shuai Need Help, Not Jail

On Thursday, May 17th, RH Reality Check and National Advocates for Pregnant Women held a media conference call on the case of Bei Bei Shuai, now in jail for 14 months because her fetus died when, out of desperation with her life circumstances, she attempted suicide by ingesting rat poison. You can listen to experts speaking on the case. Other coverage of Bei Bei Shuai and the jailing of pregnant women for “feticide” can be found here.

When I gave birth to my second child, a little boy, in December of 2010, I was overjoyed. When I found out I was pregnant again in June of 2011, I was terrified. My son was not even 6 months old, I simply could not go through another pregnancy so soon, I didn’t want a third child, and was not willing to raise a baby while pregnant.

My first thought was abortion. My second thought was abortion. Many, many of my thoughts were abortion.

Obviously, I didn’t have one. I’m now the mother of three, and I am happy that in the end I made my choice to have my child. But it took me a very long time to get there.  Although I decided within a matter of weeks that I would not get an abortion, I still was unenthusiastic about my pregnancy. I refused early prenatal care, I ate foods I shouldn’t have eaten, and eventually admitted to myself that I was hoping for a miscarriage.

I told few people I was pregnant, not wanting to “unexplain” when the pregnancy “went away.” I was ambivalent about caring for myself or the potential baby. When I finally went to see my doctor at about 14 weeks, and there was no heartbeat, I felt relief.

That was when my doctor suggested treating my depression. The medication did have the potential to cause issues with the baby’s heart when taken in the third trimester, he told me. But, he warned, without it, he wasn’t entirely convinced both of us were going to make it there.

I was lucky. With support from my family, a steady income, a healthy (although extremely rough) pregnancy, good health care, and most importantly the guidance of my OB and a prescription in my pocket, I was able to overcome the emotional — and hormonal — issues that sent me into a severe case of pregnancy-induced depression. It’s not uncommon, my doctor told me, especially not for women who’s life circumstances change dramatically in a short amount of time.

Without the intercession of my doctor, I’m not entirely sure where I would be, nor my now nearly four-month-old son. Depression isn’t just the feeling that everything is bleak and insurmountable; it is believing that there is no hope that things can ever be changed.  You aren’t just incapable of happiness or joy in the moment; you believe you will never be capable of it again, and that your life will be just this joyless until you die.

When I read about Bei Bei, when I read about Christine Taylor, I understand their pain to some extent. Like Christine, I understand wanting to confide in someone that I just wasn’t capable of being a mother again, and although I wasn’t willing to end my pregnancy, I wouldn’t feel any sadness if it ended on its own. Like Bei Bei, I understood the weighing of options, wondering how to make it end without endangering anyone around me. 

I had my children and husband to hold on to until my doctor was able to see my pain. Bei Bei didn’t. 

I was allowed to get help. Bei Bei wasn’t.

I have had a chance to recover, to love and be loved by my beautiful family, and to heal.  Bei Bei is endlessly incarcerated, even if she weren’t in the county jail, always a mother in her heart to the little girl she lost and the family that she never got to have.

If feticide laws are enforced when a woman loses her pregnancy during a suicide attempt, we won’t save babies, we will just lose more mothers — women who can live if they are just helped in time.  These laws put a barrier between women who already feel alone and scared and convinced that life can never get better, turning them into criminals for talking about their fears and seeking out the medical or psychological assistance they need.

Free Bei Bei not just by dropping the murder charges against her, but by never allowing such a law to be used against a pregnant women again.

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  • charlieq

    It is so destructive to prosecute illness and block people from help that’s available. Thanks for sharing your story and making this real.

  • cade

    Women with mental illnesses face so much discrimination and cruelty. I know–I have PTSD. We’re told it’s all our fault, that it’s because we’re women and thus emotionally weak, etc. And if it’s a women who’s pregnant or has children, if it makes her act anything less that a saintly mother, it’s cause for sheer contempt. This needs to change, and especially any law that punishes women for having a mental illness.

  • progo35

    Although I so often disagree with what’s on this website, I must say I’m right behind you on this one, Robin. I personally know that depression and suicidal idealation are not respecters of circumstances. The tragedy here is not just that Bei Bei’s daughter died, but that he had a massive depressive episode during her pregnancy that went untreated. As someone who also experiences depression, I really feel for her and hope that she gets the help she needs.

  • jennifer-starr

    The sad thing is, if the state of Indiana has their way, this woman won’t receive any help beyond a jail sentence, which would set a terrible and frightening  precedent. This is nothing short of outrageous.