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.