Thoughts about Ebony


I was going to wait to publish this post until after I’d had time to read it through. But given that I just accidentally posted it, freaked out, made it private, I’m realizing that folks who got it through email will be able to read the entire thing anyway. SO. Here ya go. With a temporary title that obviously will be the permanent title – my ramblings and thoughts regarding Ebony Wilkerson, tragically better known as the mom in Daytona who drove  her minivan into the sea.

The public defender’s office said there was a reason she beat her stomach. “She {is} being held in seclusion naked in her cell,” said Craig Byer.

Public defender James Purdey at first asked for Monday’s hearing to get Wilkerson’s 1.2 million bond reduced.

Purdey instead asked his client be transferred from the Volusia County Branch Jail to a psychiatric ward for longer than a typical Baker Act hold, so she can get mental pre-natal care.

The judge did not rule on the request to move Wilkerson because the judge said it’s something that hasn’t been done before. (Source)

According to the Ebony Wilkerson narrative we have thus far, she drove to Central Florida from South Carolina to escape an abusive partner. Her family struggled to get her help but she signed herself out of the hospital and somehow managed to get the keys to the minivan and drive it and all of her children into the ocean despite the family’s efforts to hide the keys from her.

This week, we are told she has been held naked, in seclusion at the local jail and started punching her stomach, causing her defenders to push for her to be moved to a psychiatric ward for “mental pre-natal care.”

What the hell is wrong with this picture?

From an emotional and advocate standpoint, a lot.

From a logical standpoint, I can understand why these measures may need to be taken, particularly if Ebony has been suicidal. Of course you don’t want to give her anything that she could possibly harm herself with but there has to be a way to do that without completely stripping her down and removing all sense of dignity, something she was more than likely running low on if indeed she was escaping an abusive relationship.

The judge’s reluctance to move her may also be grounded in logic as well. Perhaps she did not feel she had enough facts to justify setting a precedence with Ebony’s case. Or perhaps the Volusia County Jail has the capability to be considered as “clinically appropriate” (as is required of examination/treatment in the Baker Act) and therefore the judge did not see moving her as a necessity. Or perhaps there simply wasn’t anywhere to move her to which offered the same level of security the judge felt Ebony requires at the moment.

But when examined from an emotional and advocate point of view, this is absolutely heartbreaking.

A pregnant mother, escaping an alleged abusive relationship, drives her kids into the ocean despite attempts to help her. To me, this screams of absolute desperation. This is beyond sanity. It’s more than a call for help. This type of behaviour requires action.

But is what Volusia County doing enough?

How do we best handle this type of situation in this day and age?

It’s like I tell my kids and my partner – we can’t fix a problem unless we know about it. Unfortunately, women (and men especially) who are in abusive relationships are often quiet about their situations until it’s almost too late, and some until it is too late. Why? Because they are often threatened by the perpetrator that if they don’t remain silent, there will be repercussions.

Silence is also a hallmark of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders for multiple reasons. Society believes we should be happy when pregnant or in the throes of new parenthood. Thing is, mood disorders have been happening since the dawn of time. Our responses to them over the centuries have varied but even early on, a few folks got it right. Take Asclepiades, for example. According to Thomas Millons Masters Of The Mind, he “argued against dark cells and dungeons for the mentally ill…thought patients should be in settings that were well lit and comfortable.” Asclepiades also proposed that “biological and chemically based treatment would be beneficial” in addition to dividing conditions into acute versus chronic and also distinguished between hallucinations, delusions, and illusions.

The main point of Asclepiades is that even in the early ages (171-110BC, by the way), someone recognized that locking away the mentally ill in dark, dank places was NOT the way to go.

Arataeus believed the “soul was the basis of psychic disturbances” and “mental disorders were exaggerated normal processes”. (Millon)

Then there’s Soranus who posited “consider(ing) culture as a factor in both investigating and treating mental patient.” (Millon, Masters Of The Mind). He also advocated for decent and kind treatment of the mentally ill, asking “his peers to remember who was ill; physicians should not view their patients as disagreeable persons who offended their self-image.” (Millon) It seems to this outside observer that Volusia County is not doing that in Ebony’s case.

Does being an abused woman or a woman at the hands of a Perinatal Mood Disorder excuse the type of behaviour Ebony Wilkerson has exhibited? No. But both are mitigating factors which led to her behaviour and should absolutely be taken into consideration as her case proceeds.

I’ve written extensively about Postpartum Depression as a defense. Cases like these are both fascinating and heartbreaking because all at once, those of us who have experienced a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder, see fractions of ourselves in the women who make headlines. We collectively gasp and think, my God, what if I had given into all those thoughts racing through my head? I could be her. I could be Ebony. I could be Miriam, I could be Andrea, I could be Otty.

We shudder because we were there, with them, in the dark, in the hell, holding their hands and they fell as we watch in horror. The way their fall is paraded in front of society scares the crap out of us and drives many to silence. Is this healthy for society? Yes and no. We should be outraged when children are subjected to death (or the threat thereof) at the hands of their parents. But at the same time, we need to take steps to prevent this type of situation from occurring in the first place.

How do we do that when every single case, every single situation from mother to mother and from birth to birth is different? How do we catch a falling mother if we don’t know she is falling?

Even if we start by putting measures in place to check for signs of falling, we will still fail if the mother doesn’t admit to having a problem or, as in Ebony’s case, refuses help (for whatever reasons – cultural stigma, fear, etc) which is offered to her because she is far past the breaking point and sees death as the only way out. Do we just throw our hands up in the air and let her do what she may? No. So what do we do then?

I don’t know.

What I do know is this:

  • Mothers (and fathers) do not deserve to be alone in this battle
  • Mothers (and fathers) deserve emotional support
  • Mothers and fathers need a village
  • Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders are not deserving of whispers, they require shouts
  • We need to speak up, every single time, not just when there is a crisis
  • Accept those who are hurting with open arms and provide a safe space for them to fall apart
  • Not judge those who have/are struggling so harshly

So what can we do to improve the situation for struggling parents across the globe with the very real (and often co-occurring) issue of domestic abuse/violence and Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders?

  • Make it okay to reach out for help and ditch the supermom/superwoman/superman/superdad façade
  • Initiate requirements for ALL health professionals who may come in contact with an expecting or new mother to be well-versed in the ins and outs of a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders (this includes pediatricians, OBGYN’s, GP’s, Family Doctors, IBCLC’s, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, you get my point…)
  • Create local, state, and national referral networks which incorporate above said training on a regular basis
  • Create networks of parents willing to mentor other parents through these tough situations and make it easy to access across the board

Are these solutions going to fix our current problem? No. But they’re a start and sadly, most of it revolves around a tradition which our current technologically advanced society has strayed greatly from – the tight knit expanded family. It takes a village to raise a child but it also takes a village to raise a mother to raise a child right. In my post “On Not Wanting To,” I state the following:

Our village is in peril. Our village? FELL THE FUCK APART AND NO ONE GIVES A DAMN.

In America, we have a pitiful excuse for maternity leave. We are bombarded by stories of celebs who gave birth and look AHMAZING in less than three weeks after giving birth. We are insanely comparing ourselves to women who are a) genetically blessed and b) have crazy access to things like trainers, nutritionists, nannies… and then there are the way we compare ourselves to each other. Stupid idiotic milestones of when we went back to work, how much we manage to get done every day, pushing ourselves to be better than the next mom and still have it all pulled together.

It’s no wonder we are screaming out for help and some of us are doing so through extreme measures.

Let’s keep the “if I were her, I would” out of the conversation. We do not know what she’s going through. Even if we’ve been through hell ourselves, we do not know *her* hell nor should we take her story as one which portends the downfall of ALL women who struggle with domestic violence/abuse and a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder. Instead, reach out to mothers, to fathers, let them know it is okay to reach out for help. For that matter, teach it to your kids so that when they get older they don’t feel as if reaching for help is in essence, failure to handle something on their own. Yes, independence is a grand thing but there is a time and a place to lean on someone else. Not to lean in, but to lean on, sometimes for dear life.

Our village has forgotten how to do this very simple yet necessary human act. We are now expected to be everything to everyone and dear GOD help us if we are not. Should we assume something is wrong with every mother? No. But instead of oohing and ahhing at her baby, ask how she’s doing. Ask how Dad is doing. Do not dismiss their very real role in their new situation. By acknowledging them, you acknowledge their existence and empower them to express their feelings. And that, my friends, is possibly one of the most powerful things we can ever do for a new parent.

Will it keep more pregnant women from being held in seclusion, naked in a prison cell, after they’ve attempted to kill their older children and themselves? Not all of them, no. But it’s a start.

An even better start would be to continue educating people about Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders, including those in the law enforcement and legal arena. I realize they are bound by the courts and must adhere to the law but if they had a better understanding of the facts behind Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders, perhaps, at least, the treatment of mothers imprisoned for crimes committed whilst experience these disorders would stand a chance of improving.

In the meantime, I genuinely hope that Ebony Wilkerson receives the help she so desperately needs as she awaits trial for her actions on the fateful day she drove her minivan into the sea. We’re watching, Volusia County. Don’t fail us more than you already have failed Ebony.

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A Few Ramblings About Love


When I was younger I foolishly believed in fairy tales, in the happy every after. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, animals sing, dwarfs get all ga ga, and well, happily ever after, right? Wrong.

In between, there’s housework, there is the daily mundane, the impossibly difficult discussions, the little things, the actual WORK required to make the happily ever after happen. You know, stuff which doesn’t fit neatly into a Disney movie and is over-dramatized in their sitcoms accented with a cheesy laugh reel.

Life isn’t some sitcom. It’s not a Disney fairy tale either. It is somewhere in between, it is not easy, and it requires work. Most of all, it requires intimacy, patience, trust, and the willingness to talk the hard stuff through without jumping to conclusions. It means listening instead of deciding what you’re going to say next. A partnership, a marriage.. it’s not about the day you say “I do”…it’s about all the days after.

The next time you see a couple who appears to have it all together, remind yourself you are only seeing a slice of their life. Do not compare yourself or your relationship to what they have. I used this example a few weeks ago – the story of the ugly duckling – he started out completely different from his siblings but ended up being the most beautiful and graceful creature of them all. It is also a perfect analogy for relationships. In my experience, people who have been through a lot together (and survived) have the strongest relationships.

Over the past few years through my work as a peer support advocate for women and families struggling with Perinatal Mood Disorders, I have had the deep honor of getting to peek behind the curtain of some of the most amazing people I have ever “met”. I say “met” with quotations because most of them I have only had the pleasure of talking to on through a digital medium.

This work, this advocacy, has not only allowed me to enable others to move forward with their lives through the boulder of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders but it has also taught me quite a bit about love and relationships. You see, when you are supporting a family through a PMAD episode, you have to be aware of everything going on in their life because every little thing matters. Is she getting enough support at home? Is he sleeping okay? Does he have support too? How’s work going? Are the in-laws a source of stress? Are they communicating? Are they sharing the care responsibilities? Are they taking time for each other as a couple? There are a lot of little nuances which can add up to an explanation of why she’s had a bad week or why he seems a little snippy. These are the things which must be teased out to empower a couple to communicate and move past the potholes before they become sinkholes.

In no particular order, the following are things I believe empower a strong and successful relationship. They are things I strive to do in my current relationship and don’t ever intend to stop doing:

1) Listen. I don’t mean nod your head and “uh huh” at every little thing your partner says. No. I mean actually listen. Follow the conversation, ask questions, repeat things back. Validate their feelings, their concerns, make them heard. You would expect the same from them, yes? Everyone wants to be heard, deserves to be heard and this is particularly true with your partner.

2) Check in with your partner on a daily basis. Sure, ask them how their day went but dive deeper and ask pertinent questions beyond the surface. Get them talking abut their interests or offer to listen as they vent a problem they’re having at work.

3) Hold hands just because. Holding hands has got to be one of the most intimate things you can do with a person. I’m serious! It’s a quiet yet sweet way to let them know you care and you want to be near them. I adore holding hands and it means the world to me to be able to just sit and hold hands as we watch TV.

4) Discuss serious issues like adults. I don’t mean rage at each other, yelling and screaming. I mean sit down, and in a calm, rational voice, state your side of the situation, and then listen to your partner state his side of the decision. Sometimes you may need to wait until you both calm down. Work together instead of against each other to solve problems. You are both on the same team, here. I realize this is easier said than done but when both of you are capable of this it truly is a beautiful thing, trust me. (this is where checking in with each other comes in handy because there are less likely to be blow ups if you are actually communicating to begin with!)

5) Go on a date with each other. It doesn’t have to be ritzy, heck, it doesn’t even have to qualify as a “date”. Just spending time alone, the two of you, is great. You may have kids now but that doesn’t mean you are *just* a mom & dad. You are still the people you were when you fell in love. Nurture that, celebrate it, and don’t ever lose sight of yourselves as a happy, giddy couple madly in love with each other.

6) Surprise each other with little romantic gestures. These things are cheesy but they work. Texts, notes in work bags, mailed cards. I had to travel last summer and I left a well-planned scavenger hunt for my boyfriend at our condo while I was gone. All the clues were in a coupon holder with the dates written on the outside of the envelope. I had a blast planning it and he enjoyed all the little mementos. It really is the little things which matter in the long run.

7) Laugh together, often. Laughter really is the best medicine and if you can’t be utterly ridiculous with the one you’re with? Then you’re in trouble. It’s good for the heart, the soul, the abs, and your relationship.

8) Try new things together. Chances are you’ll both be nervous but it’ll be a bonding experience and hopefully one you’ll never forget. Just make sure you wear all the proper safety gear if you decide to leap out of a plane.

9) Give each other your own space. Know who you are and respect the person your partner is by allowing him/her to indulge in his/her interests without guilt. There is the potential for abuse of this (ie, someone hogging all the alone time and not allowing their partner to have their fair share). Love should never demand someone change their interests or who they really are just to be accepted. Love is about finding someone who is amazing and accepting them for WHO THEY ARE right then and there, not the person you plan on molding them to be.

10) Love with wild abandon. There’s no other way to love the person you are with than deeply. Love so hard your heart hurts and aches and you can’t wait to jump into their arms when they get home from work. Fall in love with them all over again every day for no reason at all than the fact that they love you right back.

Am I saying that if you do all of these things you’ll have the perfect relationship? No. Because not all of us are built the same and some of us need different things from a relationship. But for me? This is it. This is my list. Some of it may work for you, the whole thing possibly.

Underlying all of this, however, is the definitive need to communicate because without communicating, you may as well build a house without a foundation in the Everglades and just wait for the whole thing to sink beneath the swamp. And that’s not getting you anywhere but in a gator’s belly.