A 13-page suicide note left by Manhattan mom Cynthia Wachenheim before she leapt from a New York City building with her infant son strapped to her chest may have been the first clue that the lawyer was mentally unwell — but if you’re up-to-date on the issues surrounding motherhood and pregnancy, postpartum psychosis may have been the first thought that sprang to mind when hearing the horrifying tale.
Wachenheim was a practicing attorney, and legal blog Above The Law covered the sad story in which the new mom was killed in the plunge, but her baby boy Keston survived. And now that some backstory is known, it seems that indeed Wachenheim had been suffering from the rare but very serious mental illness often fatally confused with postpartum depression.
In Above The Law’s original post, a blogger for the site had excoriated the deceased woman, speaking as a new mother herself (in passing the judgment on Wachenheim’s lament that she was “evil”) and saying “damn straight she was ‘evil’ … look at how her concerns are all about her: she felt shame, she noticed changes, she couldn’t bear the though … what a selfish, awful woman.”
Writer Elie Mystal closes her assessment of the 13-page suicide note left by Wachenheim saying not to let the “fancy law degree and respectable job fool you; she’s a monster.”
By today, a woman who had been an intermittent friend of the deceased woman wrote a lengthy email to Above The Law, explaining the Cynthia Wacherman she knew growing up near Albany and how the rush to judgment is very poorly considered — not to mention the issues it creates for diagnosing other women suffering from the dangerous condition.
The entire letter is worth a read if you want to understand the state of mind of Cynthia Wachenheim as well as the contents of a 13-page suicide note left before an act that seems so unimaginable.
In it, Elizabeth Nowicki explains her connection to Wachenheim, before stating why she believes the woman she always knew as kindly, stable and forgoing of a lucrative career to become a public servant may have committed such an act. Nowicki says:
“Cindy was by FAR the ‘anti-lawyer,’ one of those true public servant folks. She had a Columbia Law degree — she could have made millions — but serving the public in her own quiet way is where her heart was, just like her parents. She was a very gentle, quiet, loving, kind woman. She was both brilliant and rational. I told the media last night there is nobody who was LESS likely to kill herself and try to harm her baby, in my mind. My family cannot stop crying, nor can the other families in our community who knew her.”
“My impression is that she likely had post-partum PSYCHOSIS, not post-partum depression, and, if I were a betting woman, I’d bet her doc missed it, and treated it with anti-depressants, which are known (by mental health experts) to make this type of psychosis WORSE. PSYCHOSIS, Elie. Not depression, not anxiety, not sadness. PSYCHOSIS.”
” … it wasn’t easy to recognize (if I am right about it), because she wasn’t hallucinating unicorns and spirits — she was hallucinating about her baby perhaps having something like cerebral palsy … due to her allowing the baby to trip (like every other baby in the world has done). So it *seemed* that she was rational and was just obsessive about taking her baby to doctors. But she wasn’t, as best I can tell. If I am correct, she was far, far, far more ill than was realized, with the tragic result that ensued.”
“Be clear: this woman NEVER would have harmed herself, much less her infant or *anyone* else, in her right mind. Never. Moreover, her 13-page missive is described as ‘incoherent’ — INCOHERENT. She wrote for judges for a living. If she were in her right mind, the missive would not be ‘incoherent.’ ”
Of course, it’s very easy to rush to judgment when such a seemingly inexplicable act comes to pass without prior clues — but if the Manhattan mom and her 13-page suicide note tell us anything, it’s that perhaps the ignorance that surrounds postpartum psychosis is far too pervasive.