Friday, July 25, 2014

Breanna is my daughter

Written by Genny Day

I became a mother on May 16, 1991. I named my beautiful baby girl Breanna Leigh Renshaw. She had blonde hair and dark eyes full of mischief. I was a single mom, and scared to death, but she inspired me to try and become the type of person she could look up to.

As Bree grew, so did her enthusiasm for life. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t try. She loved putting on shows, playing with her friends, going to the beach, reading, art, music, math and she was over the moon when she became a big sister. Bree was very smart and articulate. She was speaking in sentences by the time she was one years old and could do simple math problems by the time she was three. She was placed in the gifted and talented program when she started school, and took honors and advanced classes in high school. I remember early on being so worried that I wouldn’t be able to help her with her homework, so I started taking college courses to keep up.

Her teenage years were not without complications. She was curious and adventurous, and sometimes that got her into trouble. She experimented with things she shouldn’t have, and there were a lot of sleepless nights. I worried about her a lot, but kept faith that she was smart and would pull out of the tailspin she seemed to be in, and she did.

On May 2, 2013, my little girl became a mother to a beautiful baby boy. It was love at first sight. She said for the first time in her life, she cried tears of joy, overwhelmed with the love she felt for her son. Over the next few months, she seemed to relish the role of mother, documenting every little thing he did in videos and photos that she shared with all of us. She was so very proud of her little boy and happy with her new little family.

Then on August 29, 2013, my beautiful Breanna lost a battle none of us knew she was fighting, she died by suicide. There was no note.

 Bree was always the one her friends went to when they had a problem, needed to talk, or just someone to listen. She had a family that loved her and would have done anything for her. It was hard for me to fathom that we had all missed the signs that must have been there. The days and weeks after her death are really just a blur to me, but as they turned into months, I began to feel the need to walk in her shoes, to try and understand how this could have happened to my beautiful, sweet, hilarious, intelligent daughter.

The signs were there, but they were scattered. I requested all of my daughter’s medical records, including her autopsy report, which showed she had developed hypothyroidism.  I contacted her OB/GYN, her pediatrician, social workers at the hospital that had talked with her, the police who had been the first responders to the 911 call, her friends and her fiancée. I poured through messages and texts and replayed conversations we had over and over in my head. As I picked up the pieces and tried to put them all together, I began to see the cracks she had slipped through. I resolved to seal those cracks to save someone else the pain that my family was going through.

I think the biggest contributor to my daughter’s death is the stigma that goes with postpartum depression or any other mental health illness, for that matter. To admit that being a new mother isn’t the happiest time of your life and that you are feeling less than motherly, would be like saying you failed at being a mother. We need to make it crystal clear that none of these statements are true and that mental illness is just as treatable as physical illness and it is nothing to be ashamed of.    
I believe that lack of communication, education and continuum of care were the biggest cracks my daughter slipped through. Although she was red flagged at the birth hospital, this information was not shared with her OB/GYN or her primary physician. Upon admission she had admitted to previous bouts of depression, and that she had feelings of stress, anxiety and stomach problems during her pregnancy. She had a very difficult delivery and developed a high fever that they could not find the source of after the birth of her son and she shook uncontrollably for days. She had to stay in the hospital for 5 days before being allowed to go home.

When I contacted the pediatrician she was taking her son to, he told me he only saw Bree and the baby one time, because every subsequent appointment was made with a different physician. He also told me that he would be instructing his office staff to schedule visits with the same pediatrician as much as possible from now on. Perhaps if this policy had been in effect, a relationship and some familiarity would have been established with Bree and her baby. They would’ve identified that this baby was not colicky and did not have food allergies or anything else wrong with him. The problem was that mom was not producing enough milk, and he was not getting enough to eat. A simple visit by a lactation consultant could have solved the problem and that first month would have not been so stressful.

Instead, after one month, the baby was admitted to the hospital for failure to thrive. This was probably the most upsetting to me, as I used to work at the same hospital. After my daughter’s death, I requested both her medical records as well as her son’s, because I was now caring for him. The social worker did not believe her job to be the welfare of the mother, nor did she think Bree’s symptoms of anxiety, lack of sleep, stomach problems, previous bouts with depression and difficulty giving birth were indicators that she could be at high risk for postpartum depression. Her notes indicated that she would follow up, but she never did. I was told that the primary concern was the patient, which was the baby, not the mother. This was repeated to me by the lead social worker at this hospital. I find the “it’s not my job” excuse to be a particularly uncaring and disturbing statement coming from a social worker, and I hope you do, too.

As Bree’s mom, I also feel a sense of responsibility. After talking with her friends and her fiancée, I found that she would talk about certain things with some people, but never everything with one person. There was not one particular statement that was concerning, but when you put them all together, it was a very different picture. I wish we had all been closer and been able to come together to help her. She talked about being tired and not having the energy to clean up around the house as she would like to, but said she felt like she was getting into the rhythm of it. Bree told me that she felt lonely because her friends didn’t come around and hang out like they used to. Her fiancée told me that she had told him she needed a break from the baby, for about two weeks. He was very concerned, and suggested they find help and she agreed … unfortunately, they were unable to find her the help she needed in time.

So many opportunities, when help was just a phone call away. I will mourn the loss of my daughter every day for the rest of my life. What I will not do is be ashamed. My daughter was an amazing young woman who died from a treatable disease; her suicide was only a symptom. A lesson has been learned and at a very high price, and to let it go to waste would be disrespectful to Breanna’s memory.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

ReBlog: 15 Things About New Motherhood That People Are Too Nice to Tell You When You're Pregnant

We couldn't help but reBlog this great piece by Claire Zulkey featured in the HuffPost Parents:

I have some good friends who are due to have their first babies in the next few months, and I'm so excited for them. I'm also holding my tongue because there are some truths about having a newborn in the house that I think people just don't tell first-time moms because it's not nice to pile on a person while her body is out of whack and she's swimming in hormones. I'm not sure if it's for the best, though, because from my point of view, there's a little too much sweet myth to what new moms are supposed to feel and do with newborns. I don't know if it would have helped me, necessarily, or I would have welcomed some not-so-happy truths, but I might have felt a little less alone.
So for those who are up for it, below are the things I wish someone had told me (maybe) about what happens when you have a baby. If you would sincerely prefer not to worry now and just come back later, I don't blame you. I mean, don't worry -- you will do great! But at the same time, it's much less of a cakewalk than you even thought it would be.
1. Your labor and delivery are ultimately out of your hands. Sure, it is smart to know what you want and be prepared, but don't pin all your hopes and dreams on your baby being born under certain circumstances. Make all the birth plans and go to all the classes you want, but no woman can prevent preeclampsia, or the baby's heart rate suddenly getting dramatic, or that kid deciding she would like to be breech. The baby comes out eventually and that's the most important part.
2. It is a cruel prank that you begin one of the most difficult jobs of your life right at the time when you most need to rest. When people tell you to take it easy, listen to them, even if every fiber of your being yearns to straighten up the house.
3. You will never be "done" with laundry for the foreseeable future. There will always be something that needs to be washed. Just accepting this is more than half the battle.
4. Same with dishes (this may be on a delay if you are breastfeeding, but once you switch to bottles, look out).
5. You will realize that there are some problems (like getting the baby to sleep) that do not have solutions, although you will be mistakenly led to believe there are solutions thanks to all the advice out there. This frustration -- being made to think you have control when you really don't -- is (almost) as bad as the problems themselves.
6. Similarly, you are sold a line that makes you think you and your newborn have a special bond and you both know each other thanks to the time he or she spent growing in the womb. If this is true for you, good for you, but it is not true for all people. You are exhausted and have no idea what you are doing. The baby is exhausted and has no idea what it is doing, nor does it have the ability to show any real type of love or appreciation. Everyone is in your face asking you if you just feel amazed by the life you created and aren't you over the moon and secretly you might think No, I am not, not really, but I'm supposed to be, so maybe I am terrible for not feeling that way.
7. You'll wonder if things will ever be normal with your spouse again. You'll fight more than you ever thought was possible.
8. You'll wonder if anything will ever be normal again, from your sleep to the state of your house to the way your body feels.
9. You will be too tired to figure out how to let people help you. The following are some good places to start:
  • do laundry
  • fold laundry
  • get groceries for you
  • put away dishes
  • walk the dog
  • bring food
  • bring over some toilet paper
  • watch the baby while you take a nap or go for a walk by yourself
10. On that walk you'll contemplate just walking forever and never returning.
11. You will be too tired and confused to even know what you want or need. Being home alone is boring and lonely and having people over is overwhelming, even in the best of situations. So you cry.
12. You cry so very much.
13. Your face is going to change. You're going to look older. Not necessarily in a bad way, believe it or not.
14. You'll understand why some people shake their babies. You won't do it -- of course -- but you'll sort of get it.
15. You will eventually feel a type of happiness you never felt before and understand all the clichés of parenting. This type of pleasure simply doesn't arrive as soon as you think it's supposed to. But it does eventually, and it's important to end on a happy note.