#Stand4Moms: Amber

I can still feel my mother hugging me so tight and repeating, “You’re going to get through this.” I can feel the tears rolling down my cheeks over and over again. Nonstop. I can feel the guilt associated with not wanting to be around my 9 month old son. And this was just the beginning of my whirlwind experience with postpartum mood disorders. 

 Amber with her first son.

Amber with her first son.

In April 2014, my husband and I were holding our newborn son, in awe of his tiny little fingers and innocent whimpers. Everything during my pregnancy and delivery had been relatively straight forward, and we were thankful to be on the other side of labor. 

Fast forward through nine months of sleepless nights, boxes of diapers, and tons of selfies.  

All of the sudden, like a brick wall hit me, I was drowning in depression. 

Now, I had always heard about postpartum depression, especially from my mother ,who had experienced it herself. But nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming sadness that I was going to experience. I couldn’t muster the strength to get dressed in the mornings, or make dinner for my family, or even reach out to anyone for help. I was lost. Waves of anger would strike me, and then periods of extreme guilt and feelings of being an inadequate mother would come along. My husband and my mother knew something wasn't right. 

After a long talk with my obstetrician, resulting in a prescription for medication, and a phone call into Postpartum Support Charleston’s hotline, I was on the road to recovery. Roughly a month later, I was feeling so much better!

OK. We are fast forwarding again about two years. 

In December 2016, we welcomed our second son into the world after an amazing and quick labor and delivery. This time around, I was prepared for the worst. I had my guard up from day one, ready to fight off any depression that would come my way.

 Amber, in the midst of her second struggle, pretending that all is well.

Amber, in the midst of her second struggle, pretending that all is well.

Even though I wasn’t getting much sleep, I was rocking this motherhood thing like superwoman. I wasn’t working, and my older son wasn’t in preschool yet. I wanted to be the Pinterest mom of the year. But these waves of depression kept hitting me, and I would be extremely sad for a day or so. And then, all was well again! Up and down, up and down. Eight months of this. I thought I was “fighting” my depression away, until I wasn’t able to fight it any longer. 

I was in deep. I had serious anxiety about having to be a stay-at-home mom; I could hardly think about taking my boys on outings; and I was mad. The anger was so foreign to me, and the guilt that followed that anger and rage was overwhelming. So, I started seeing a therapist and working on my self-care. I also started taking medication again, as I did when I suffered from postpartum depression two years earlier. But this time, I had some serious side effects that made it necessary for me to switch medication. 

Then came the intrusive thoughts: those ideas that pop into mind that are horrific, scary and unwanted. Thoughts of hurting myself and my boys. I knew I needed some more help. And quick. 

 Amber, with her youngest son, in a recent photo.

Amber, with her youngest son, in a recent photo.

After contacting a few wonderful women at Postpartum Support Charleston, I was given a grant to see a psychiatrist. And without this grant, I would have never been able to get the help that I needed to save my life. 

After my first visit with the psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II. I began the road to recovery that would last several months. I was intimidated by every moment, as I had no way of knowing how I was going to feel. It took several medication changes, lots of visits with my psychiatrist and therapist, and immense support from my friends and family to finally able to see the other side of this terrible mood disorder from which I suffered. 

This path to survival is something I will never forget. And as I volunteer with Postpartum Support Charleston, I hope to be that shining light for another mother who is enveloped by her own darkness. 

I truly believe that it takes a village to raise our children, and I am here for you.

#stand4moms: Amanda

My name is Amanda, and I am a continuing survivor of postpartum OCD.

Where do I start? Well, my husband and I had a very hard journey when we started to try to have children.

When my husband and I were trying, it was harder than we ever imagined because everyone made it look so easy! So, this statement will take you into the journey we had that lead to my postpartum.

When my husband and I found out we were pregnant, I was working for a pediatrician’s office. I ended up having a miscarriage at work when I was 7 weeks along. I was devastated and wondered why and how this happened to me! The doctors, of course,  just told me it is common and couldn’t really give a explanation why. I was so depressed, and I actually ended up quitting my job because I couldn’t be around babies and pregnant moms. Plus, it was so hard to talk to anyone about it because I felt like no one could understand the pain I was going through.

As my husband and I started to somewhat heal from the miscarriage, we started to try again. We ended up getting pregnant for the second time almost two months later. We were so excited, but so scared at the same time.

When I came home I told my husband the awful news, and we both just held one another and prayed to God that he would lift us up to him and take away our pain and anger. I was so depressed that I shut down and didn’t leave the house or my bed for a while.
— Amanda

When I was five weeks along in that pregnancy, I miscarried again. The timing was awful because I was hosting a baby shower for one of my friends at home home when it happened. That was one of the worst experiences I have ever had in my life. I went back to my OB once again, watching the ultrasound and not hearing my baby’s heartbeat again.

When I came home I told my husband the awful news, and we both just held one another and prayed to God that he would lift us up to him and take away our pain and anger. I was so depressed that I shut down and didn’t leave the house or my bed for a while.

A couple of days after the miscarriage my doctor personally called me and told me she is going to get to the bottom of this and I would not have this happen to me again! I was so touched by her voicemail that I knew God had his hand on us.

The next week I had a appointment to see my OB, and she explained to me the steps she wanted to take in order to figure out why my miscarriages kept happening. Let me tell you: I was so grateful for her, but I felt like a lab rat! Some of the procedures where so painful, but in my heart I knew it was all in God’s timing.

After all the tests and blood work, all came back normal. Since she couldn’t find anything, she sent me to a infertility specialist. I was so frustrated at this point. When we met with the specialist, he told me that he as well would like to do blood work and tests. Ugh! I was so over being a lab rat, but I was willing to continue to get help!

 Amanda and her son, Cole, when he was a few months old.

Amanda and her son, Cole, when he was a few months old.

After he ran his tests, he also found nothing unusual! But he said there was one thing that he wanted me to try, and that was for me to take progesterone. Two months after I started using progesterone, God blessed us with our son! My husband and I were over-the-moon happy and filled with so much relief and joy! In the back of my mind, though, I was scared to miscarry again. Every time I went to the bathroom I was scared I was going to see blood. And I did! I bled bright-red blood throughout my whole pregnancy and had ultrasounds every week. I was considered a high-risk pregnancy.

Every time I had a ultrasound, though, my son was just fine. I knew God had his hands on him the whole time, but it was not a joyful pregnancy due to the constant bleeding. I was petrified to even lift a half-gallon of milk because I thought I would lose my baby!

My son was born via a caesarean section, and that was a very hard recovery for me. After I got home from the hospital I was super anxious and fearful. I was always so scared that he would not be there when I woke him up. I would just cry all the time to my husband because I was so fearful. I even constantly asked my husband, “Cole’s ok right?

For example, I washed my hands so much because I was so scared that Cole would get sick from people and germs. My hands started to dry up and crack, and they even bled. I had a guy say to me, “Who did you fight?” That’s how bad they looked.

I was scared that if I opened up to someone they would take my son away from me.
— Amanda

I never wanted to leave my house either because I was so anxious and fearful. My mom had to drag me out of the house. I would only go to doctors appointments for my son.

I remember crying hysterically while rocking my son to sleep because I felt like I was a awful mom. I thought I should be so happy, especially since we had such a hard journey. I didn’t know who to talk to. I was scared that if I opened up to someone they would take my son away from me. I also never slept because I always wanted to be next to Cole and make sure he was OK.

It got to the point to where I was having intrusive thoughts -- thoughts a person should not normally think about. I knew that these thoughts were not normal, whatsoever.

I cried to my mom and told her I needed help. I knew that what was going on with me emotionally was not normal. I started to feel like the hospital was the only place that was safe for me. I was so scared.

I swear God puts people in your life for a reason. My neighbor, whom I barely knew at the time, talked to me about her severe postpartum anxiety at a get-together in our neighborhood. While listening to her story I wanted to just confide in her and tell her, “I think I have it too,” but I was in such denial and scared to say anything.

A few weeks later I hit rock bottom. I knew it was time to tell someone and get it under control because I needed to be better for my family.

I called my neighbor and told her. She was helpful and comforting. She even cried to me over the phone because it brought back her memories, and she could relate to everything I was feeling. That day she guided me in the direction of how to get help, and that was to see a psychiatrist and to be put on medicine.

Once I saw my psychiatrist she made me feel like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders! She told me how common it was and reassured me that this WILL BE FIXED! Once I started my medicine, I felt better every day. I was able to actually enjoy my son, and my husband felt like he finally had his wife back.

 Amanda and her family.

Amanda and her family.

My son is now a year old. I still see my psychiatrist once in a while, and I am still taking my medicine. I know the postpartum OCD will not last forever, and I’m so glad I got help.

Ladies, I am sharing my story because I want y’all to know that you’re not alone. I am so passionate about this that I volunteer to help others who are going through the same thing. I am always here for anyone who needs to talk. My heart and prayers are with every single one of you.

Why We #Run4Ruth: Part 4

The Life and Death of Ruth Rhoden Craven and the Birth of Postpartum Support Charleston

Editor's Note: This is part four of a four-part series, airing every Friday, that retells the origin of our organization. (Read part one here, part two here, and part three here.) Some of the content may be disturbing, as it is a story of maternal mental illness and suicide. If you find that you need to talk to someone about it, please reach out at contact@ppdsupport.org.

I could not let her death be for nothing.
— Elaine Earl

In the days, weeks and months after Ruth’s death, Helena Bradford, Mary Anna Mullinax and Elaine Earl were devastated by their grief.

“For me, my first reaction was anger,” said Mary Anna, who was Ruth’s best friend. “I was so angry...I was on the phone with my mom, and I just fell to the floor. I remember the first words out of my mouth was, ‘How could she do that to him?’ I don’t know who that ‘him’ was; I don’t know if it was Joey or the baby. I think it was sort of Joey who I was thinking of at the time…I just feel like I went through the stages of grief with her. I had lost my dad; I hadn’t gone through the stages of grief like I did with her. Then that turned, for me, into severe depression. I thought about her every day. I’d go to work, I’d listen to music, I would think about her every day. There isn’t really a day that I don’t think about her.”

Helena, Ruth’s mother, stepped in to care for her grandson, Andrew, for the first few months in Lexington, S.C.. Joey Craven, Ruth’s husband, then moved away with Andrew to be with a family member.

Their thoughts were never far from Ruth and what they could do to channel their energy. Mary Anna found an iVillage mom’s group online and started asking questions.

“[I asked,] Could somebody please tell me what did this?” Mary Anna remembers. “I’m just looking for answers. And that’s when things sort of developed with Elaine.”

 The logo of the Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation.

The logo of the Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation.

“I could not let her death be for nothing,” said Elaine, a friend of Ruth’s. “I was talking to another friend when I came up with the idea [of the Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation]. Then I talked to Mary Anna, then we talked to Helena. Our intention was education for doctors and families, and a support group run by a psychiatrist. We felt then that if we helped one mother live through PPD, it would be worth it.”

“I know, personally, I had to do something with all that anger,” Mary Anna said.

Helena said the creation of the foundation was a salvation for all three of them.

In March 2000, the Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation officially began. Elaine recalls having a lot of enthusiasm at the beginning, due to the freshness of Ruth’s death.

“In the beginning, I was gung-ho, telling everyone in my local Mom’s Club, helping anyone and everyone,” Elaine said. “It felt great, and it helped me deal with her suicide.”

Mary Anna said Elaine found a lawyer to help with the creation of the nonprofit and laid the groundwork for it. Helena worked on outreach, and Mary Anna focused on the support groups.

 Helena Bradford, right, with a postpartum depression survivor.

Helena Bradford, right, with a postpartum depression survivor.

Mary Anna: “We did a lot. And it didn’t feel like it at the time, I guess. We got some support groups started. We did help some people.”

Helena: “Yeah, we did. Because one person -- at least one person said that if it had not been for you all, I wouldn’t be here.”

Mary Anna: “And that made a huge difference.”

Helena: “Absolutely. But it certainly wasn’t -- it didn’t take place of a daughter. It made lemonade out of lemons.”

Mary Anna: “Well, it gave her death meaning.”

Helena: “Not to be totally in vain...”

Mary Anna: “...And forgotten. You know, I think that was a big thing with us. Fundamentally, this was about her. And how someone who was financially secure, had a good loving husband…”

Helena: “...Had a good job, house was paid for, I think…”

Mary Anna: “...Had nothing to worry about. How could this happen? And you think of all the women who don’t have those things. And what can happen to them, too.”

Helena: “And who don’t have the support. The family support, or friends support. Particularly if they’ve had to move out of state, away from their families.”

Mary Anna: “Yeah, that was huge. And ah, and the stigma. Trying to get rid of that stigma. That was a big thing for us.”

Helena: “Still is.”

The foundation has definitely made an impact. There are thousands of people, including doctors and nurses, who know more about PPD than they did before, and that’s because of the [foundation]. I hope it continues to be a beacon for new mothers and their families for a long time.
— Elaine Earl

After the first few years, Elaine was feeling burned out. She was the first to leave the foundation. Mary Anna was next.

“Life just sort of takes you over,” Mary Anna said. “I remember talking to [Elaine] at the time, ‘I don’t understand. I just can’t go to another support group meeting. I just can’t sit there.’ And she said something to me that was the most intelligent thing that I’ve ever heard anybody say, and she said, ‘You’re done grieving.’ And I guess that sounds kind of selfish; but she’s right.”

Helena continued to lead the foundation and work with psychiatrists and other doctors to get the message out on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. But soon she found herself ready to hang up the reins and pass on the responsibility of the organization off to someone else. Soon after, the foundation was renamed Postpartum Support Charleston.

“The foundation has definitely made an impact,” Elaine said. “There are thousands of people, including doctors and nurses, who know more about PPD than they did before, and that’s because of the [foundation]. I hope it continues to be a beacon for new mothers and their families for a long time. I have learned so much about how to treat women who have PPD, and how to help them.”

Helena has been thankful that she has been able to maintain a good relationship with Joey, his second wife, Charli, and Andrew, who visit the area often when they are in town. Andrew is now 18, approaching the end of high school and has already joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Mary Anna hopes that Andrew knows how much he is loved among Ruth’s circle of friends and how much of his mother is embedded in his DNA.

“Joey, Charli and Andrew came and had dinner with us one night,” she said. “Andrew was just a baby, and all of a sudden he just breaks out in song. And I was like, ‘That’s your mother!’ She sang; she was in chorus. Now, after the Marines, he wants to go into music, and he sings now. And I thought, yeah, that’s his mom...

"And that’s another thing that drove a lot of the sadness and grief,” Mary Anna said. “That he would never know her and what a great person she was.”


Epilogue

In the fall of 2017, Postpartum Support Charleston reached out to the founders of the Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation because we wanted to learn more about Ruth, her life and death and what motivated the founders to start their mission. We felt that Ruth’s story had been lost, and we wanted to retell it -- for the Charleston community and for her son, Andrew. We wanted to show everyone why we continue to #Stand4Moms and why we #Run4Ruth at our annual Moms’ Run 5K and Family Fun Day every Mother’s Day weekend.

 A participant and child of the 2016 Moms' Run 5K and Family Fun Day on Daniel island.

A participant and child of the 2016 Moms' Run 5K and Family Fun Day on Daniel island.

More than anything else, we were struck that the founders wanted Andrew to know about his mother. That she had wanted him and that she did not receive the help that she so desperately needed. The founders remark with thankfulness, wonder and joy that he physically carries Ruth with him every day, through the strands of DNA that she passed on to him and for generations to come.

 A participant and child in the 2016 Moms' Run 5K and Family Fun Day on Daniel Island.

A participant and child in the 2016 Moms' Run 5K and Family Fun Day on Daniel Island.

As mothers who have conquered our own struggles with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, we (Elaine DeaKyne and myself, Amber Allen) found parts of ourselves in Ruth’s story. We felt she could’ve been us in many moments. Too many women have already joined her in the sad statistics of perinatal suicide. That’s why Postpartum Support Charleston continues to fight for the 1 in 5 moms that are affected by this illness. We want to be a part of the push to improve maternal mental health in this country, and will continue our work here in the Lowcountry to ensure that all moms receive the support that they deserve.

Life would be much different if Ruth had survived her bout with postpartum depression. But like her mother said in the story, the founders made lemonade out of lemons. And Elaine and I, our board of directors and our amazing group of volunteers are going to continue the effort that they began.

This story is our love letter to them. And to Ruth.

 

Are you struggling through motherhood? Or do you know someone who is feeling sad, anxious or just isn't feeling like herself? We can help, through peer-led support groups and through our connections to local mental health therapists. No mom needs to suffer in silence. For more information, reach out to us at contact@ppdsupport.org.

 

Why We #Run4Ruth: Part 3

The Life and Death of Ruth Rhoden Craven and the Birth of Postpartum Support Charleston

Editor's Note: This is part three of a four-part series, airing every Friday, that retells the origin of our organization. (Read part one here and part two here.) Some of the content may be disturbing, as it is a story of maternal mental illness, gun violence and suicide. If you find that you need to talk to someone about it, please reach out at contact@ppdsupport.org.

 

According to the discharge summary of the hospital’s psychiatrist, he wrote: “The patient is a 33-year-old white female with no previous psychiatric history admitted for depression and suicidal ideation. The patient had her first child on 9/20/99 after a normal pregnancy. Since then she has had a decreased mood, increased anxiety, and significantly reduced sleep. The patient took an overdose of 8 Ambien prior to admission. She denies psychosis, use of alcohol or drugs. She was started on Zoloft 50 mg two weeks prior to admission but that was recently increased to 100 mg. The patient’s medical history is significant for being postpartum, otherwise, unremarkable.”

Ruth Rhoden Craven was admitted on Oct. 10, 1999, to the adult psychiatric unit in Columbia, S.C. She continued to take Zoloft and was given medication to help her sleep, which seemed to improve her mood, according to the psychiatrist’s notes. “During the hospitalization,” the notes state, “she continued to deny any suicidal ideation and was noted to have brighter mood and affect. By 10/14/99, she had improved sufficiently for discharge home.”

But according to the records obtained by Ruth’s family, Ruth conveyed to her caretakers in the inpatient psychiatric unit that she was still unsure of her ability to be a mother.

On Monday, Oct. 11, the notes say that she was very tearful, saying that it was the first time she had really cried about her situation. She had feelings of guilt that others were having to take care of her baby. The staff offered reassurance, according to the notes, and talked with her about how to receive adequate sleep while rearing an infant. On Oct. 12, the notes indicate that Ruth vented feelings of incompetence about taking care of her son. Others thought it was “no big deal,” but she said she was left feeling insecure. Ruth said she was still stressed out about Andrew having to be re-hospitalized shortly after his birth due to jaundice. At that point, though, Ruth reported feeling more well-rested and more competent.

During the hospitalization, she continued to deny any suicidal ideation and was noted to have brighter mood and affect. By 10/14/99, she had improved sufficiently for discharge home.
— Note written about Ruth Rhoden Craven by her psychiatrist during an inpatient psychiatric stay at a Columbia, S.C.,-area hospital

On Oct. 13, Ruth said she was feeling a little better about her competency as a mother, but she wasn’t sure she was ready to be discharged from the psychiatric unit. On Oct. 14, the day of her discharge, she received a dose of Ativan for anxiety and stated that she was not ready to leave the unit. She reported that she was still apprehensive about her ability to mother her child but acknowledged to the unit’s staff that she would have a lot of support at home.

Upon her discharge that day, Ruth’s mother said she and Joey Craven, Ruth’s husband, met with a hospital counselor on how best to support Ruth moving forward. Helena Bradford complained that the institution was ill-prepared on how best to help her daughter. “They didn’t know anything about postpartum depression,” she said. “Other people [in the psych unit] were just dealing with regular depression. And that’s what all their questions were about. And so I said, ‘You know, what can we do to help her with postpartum depression?’” Helena said the hospital’s staff could not find anything about postpartum depression in their library. Helena tried to do her own research online and was dismayed by what she found. “What I found [online] was stuff like, take her off on a vacation, let her go buy a new dress... And so, even after she died, I had no clue what postpartum depression was. What had killed my child?”


Knowledge and information about postpartum depression, and the rest that fall under the spectrum of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs), has evolved greatly in the past 20 years. “Regular” depression can present at any time during a person’s lifespan. It’s more common in women, and the median onset is 32.

For PMADs, it is often linked to a woman’s hormones associated with pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. A clinical diagnosis of perinatal depression is identical to “regular” depression, except she may be pregnant or has recently given birth.  A PMAD like postpartum depression usually presents within four to six weeks of giving birth, although most women are not diagnosed until at least three months postpartum. Symptoms can occur even in pregnancy.

Diagnosing a PMAD can be difficult though. Moms may deny their feelings, in the hopes of waiting it out. They may fear that someone is going to take their child away. For women like Ruth, having a baby and suffering from a PMAD can be overwhelmingly challenging.


Two weeks after her discharge, on Oct. 28, she had her postpartum checkup with her OB. According to his notes, her postpartum exam was normal and that her “postpartum depression was under control.” Ruth had been experiencing high blood pressure throughout the month of October and was advised to keep an eye on it.

After this time, the family said that Ruth improved, but not enough to return to the job that she loved. Helena said that Ruth was triggered whenever her son cried, not knowing how to soothe him. The crying would send her into a panic.


It is common for women who are working toward recovery from PMADs to have bad days despite any progress that they’ve made. This is a time where family members should be vigilant, even when the mother seems to be doing well, and take precautions to remove potential weapons from the home and keep tabs on medications. Recovery from PMADs is measured in months or years, and not weeks or months. Moms who are struggling do not want to hurt themselves, but sometimes they convince themselves that it’s the only way to save themselves or their children when they experience a bad moment.

Unfortunately, suicide is one of the leading causes of death for postpartum women, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. The authors determined that the women likely resorted to suicide because of the low rates of seeking mental health treatment and inadequate assessment by their health care providers of risk or illness severity for mood disorders.

When women have access to resources, are educated about their risk for PMADs, have proper medical management and guidance of their medication, if necessary, and know that they will be welcomed into a community, the chances of them resorting to self-harm or suicide will decrease.


 A note in Ruth Rhoden Craven's OB records.

A note in Ruth Rhoden Craven's OB records.

On the night of Sunday, Dec. 5, Ruth’s best friend, Mary Anna Mullinax, was decorating her Christmas tree when she felt suddenly stricken by sadness.

“We had just moved into a new house, and I love Christmas,” she said. “I love Christmas more than anything. And while we were decorating, I just got so sad. And it was just overwhelming, and I went up to my room and cried. And there was no reason, but I was just so sad. I thought I just needed to get this out, whatever I’m feeling. And I came back down, and I got the phone call right after that.”

That day, while Joey was working and she was home alone with her 2.5-month-old infant, Andrew, Ruth fetched her handgun -- which her husband had given back to her because she had started to feel better -- from her car’s glove compartment. When Joey arrived home from work that day, he discovered his wife in her vehicle with a self-inflicted gunshot wound and his baby inside their home, alone. Joey then contacted the authorities and Ruth’s younger brother Mark, who also lived in Lexington. Word moved quickly to Ruth’s mother and her friends that she had committed suicide.

I remember there were times where she thought Joey might get a new job. ‘Well, when Joey gets this job, I’m going to do this, this, this and this, and then, you know, we’ll have it all worked out.’ And I remember thinking, you don’t do that with a baby. You can’t plan like that. And that’s what always struck me with her death. That I knew it had to be something instantaneous because had it been planned, she would’ve had that child’s life planned out. She would’ve had Joey’s life planned out...She would’ve had casseroles in the freezer for the next three months.
— Mary Anna Mullinax

“I think she was having intrusive thoughts,” Helena said. “I think she was afraid she was going to do something to hurt [her son], and so she shot herself instead. She meant business, that last time.”

Helena said she and her second husband, Buzz, drove up to Lexington immediately to be with Joey and Andrew. Elaine Earl, a friend of Ruth’s, said she screamed when she received the news in a phone call. She said that, to this day, she still regrets trying to help Ruth with breastfeeding. Elaine said she had trouble dealing with her grief and knowing what to say or how to act in the days after Ruth’s death.

People who knew Ruth say that she would be the last person you would think would resort to suicide.

“We had a group friend who had committed suicide earlier in our lives,” said Mary Anna, who was a co-founder of the Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation. “And I remember at his funeral, all the friends had gotten together sort of in a circle, and she was one of them. And everybody sort of made a vow that if anything were to be getting to us that bad that we would reach out to others. She never did. She would be the one that everyone would reach out to. You would never think that it would be her…

“She was very forward thinking,” Mary Anna recalled. “I remember there were times where she thought Joey might get a new job. ‘Well, when Joey gets this job, I’m going to do this, this, this and this, and then, you know, we’ll have it all worked out.’ And I remember thinking, you don’t do that with a baby. You can’t plan like that. And that’s what always struck me with her death. That I knew it had to be something instantaneous because had it been planned, she would’ve had that child’s life planned out. She would’ve had Joey’s life planned out...She would’ve had casseroles in the freezer for the next three months. That would’ve been her just preplanning everything.”

 Obituary notices of Ruth's death that ran in local newspapers.

Obituary notices of Ruth's death that ran in local newspapers.

The next day, on Monday, Dec. 6, Joey called Ruth's OB. “Patient’s husband called today to state that Mrs. Craven took her life last night with a gun,” her OB records state. “She had an appointment today for an IUD placement. On her last discussion with me about how she was feeling, she stated that she was much improved and her psychiatrist had decreased her Zoloft to 50 mg. Her husband was disappointed with the psychiatric evaluation and care of his wife and wanted me to call her psychiatrist and let him know of the news. I expressed my condolences to Mr. Craven and told him that I would be in touch with her psychiatrist and let [him] know of her demise.”

The visitation for Ruth’s body was on Tuesday, Dec. 7, with the funeral taking place at the Cravens’ Lutheran church in Lexington the next morning. Family and friends would then travel to Mount Pleasant later on the 8th for entombment at Mount Pleasant Memorial Gardens on Mathis Ferry Road.

 

Read Part 4 here.

Why We #Run4Ruth: Part 2

The Life and Death of Ruth Rhoden Craven and the Birth of Postpartum Support Charleston

Editor's Note: This is part two of a four-part series, airing every Friday, that retells the origin of our organization. (Read part one here.) Some of the content may be disturbing, as it is a story of maternal mental illness and suicide. If you find that you need to talk to someone about it, please reach out at contact@ppdsupport.org.

 

One in every five moms will experience a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD), according to 2020 Mom, a national maternal mental health advocacy group. Of that 20 percent of women, only 15 percent will actually receive mental health assistance. Those women who are struggling can present with postpartum depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychosis and/or adjustment disorder.

The reasons behind that shocking statistic are many. There is often a lack of communication or understanding about PMADs during OB appointments during and after pregnancy. The social stigma that surrounds mental health can make people uncomfortable. The shame a mom feels when she is struggling can sometimes be unbearable. The intrusive thoughts she may experience will repulse her and cause her to be fearful of reporting them to her family or medical provider. The options that are available to some women may be beyond their income and time capabilities. And she may not have supportive family members who recognize that she’s suffering.

Moms who are struggling with PMADs sometimes feel like there is nowhere to turn. They often flounder in the darkness.


Adjusting to having a newborn is rarely a smooth process, but Ruth Rhoden Craven’s family and friends picked up on troubling behavior right away. Breastfeeding was a struggle, and Ruth’s predisposition for structure and order may have shocked her once she became a mother.

Mary Anna Mullinax’s husband, who had once dated Ruth many years prior, spoke to Ruth on the phone when she was still in the hospital recovering from the birth. “He hung up the phone and he said, ‘Something is wrong,’” Mary Anna said. Ruth told Mary Anna’s husband that breastfeeding was not going well.

One week after Andrew’s birth, on Monday, Sept. 27, 1999, Ruth called her OB to let him know that she may be struggling with postpartum depression. He wrote her a prescription for Zoloft and advised her to call with an update in 30 days. But Ruth was back on the phone with her OB that same week, on Friday, Oct. 1, saying that she was “still depressed.” Both times, she told her OB that she wasn’t experiencing suicidal thoughts. He told Ruth to follow up again in one week to let him know how she was doing.

 Ruth and Andrew are pictured with Helena Bradford and Ruth's grandmother.

Ruth and Andrew are pictured with Helena Bradford and Ruth's grandmother.

At 7:05 p.m. the next day, Saturday, Oct. 2, Ruth’s husband, Joey Craven, rushed her to the same Columbia, S.C., hospital at which she had given birth because she had taken three doses of Tylenol-Codeine to help her sleep. The Cravens’ pastor also joined them that evening. According to the physician’s assessment of her visit, “Patient denies being suicidal or wanting to harm self. Patient’s mother recently left and went back to Mount Pleasant. Patient expresses feeling overwhelmed with responsibility of new baby. Husband supportive/helpful [and] thinks she may need some outpatient counseling.” By 9:30 that evening, she was discharged and taken back home.

Family and friends slowly learned of Ruth’s brief hospitalization and realized that things were not going well. Joey did not want it known that Ruth had taken the pills purposefully, for fear of their son, Andrew, being taken away by the state’s child protective services.

[Ruth] was in this dark corner between a china cabinet and another piece of furniture. I said, ‘Ruth, what are you doing? Are you sitting there hiding from the cats?’ ‘No, ma’am. I’m just hiding.’ And that’s just when I really got terrified.
— Helena Bradford

Ruth’s outgoing personality had quickly changed to being withdrawn. Helena Bradford, Ruth’s mother, recalled a time when extended family members came to Ruth and Joey’s home in Lexington, S.C., to meet Andrew. “[Ruth] just sat on the couch and smiled and didn’t say a word,” Helena said. “And that was absolutely not her.”

Amid this, Ruth continued to struggle with breastfeeding. Well-meaning friends tried to help Ruth get over the hump of the newborn period, a time when many mothers and babies struggle to make breastfeeding work. A passionate breastfeeding advocate, Elaine Earl recalled calling Ruth several times, trying to help, and an occasion when she and another friend traveled to Lexington to see Ruth.

“[Ruth] was really withdrawn, and I tried to help. However, I can be loud, and I was way too pushy,” said Elaine, who was a co-founder of the Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation. “I remember showing her how to sit with a pillow on her lap to hold the baby, and she didn’t want to do it, but I think I forced her to do it. She helped Andrew about a minute then gave him to Joey. Joey asked us to leave about five minutes later. I got huffy, saying things like, ‘Ruth doesn’t want us to leave. I want to ask her myself.’ So I pushed my way in to her room, and she said, ‘Yes, please leave.’ I felt horrible and apologized, and we left. That would be the last time I saw her.”

On another occasion, Mary Anna said she and another Charleston friend were also going to drive up to Lexington to visit Ruth, Joey and Andrew. “I remember Joey called us the night before and said, ‘Don’t come.’ And that was not Ruth.”

As Ruth continued to withdraw, Helena pleaded with Ruth to stop breastfeeding. “I finally said, ‘Ruth, give it up. There’s nothing wrong with formula.” Ruth had been producing plenty of breastmilk, but she and Andrew were having trouble figuring it out together. She tried for about two weeks, Helena remembers, and then tried to exclusively pump. That proved to be too stressful as well, and so she decided to use formula.

“I could see, in her perfection, that that might be a failure [for her],” Mary Anna said.

Being overwhelmed continued to haunt Ruth. In the dawn of the Internet age, Ruth communicated with another woman online who was selling baby clothes. Helena said she had asked the woman how she juggled being a mom with all of its responsibilities, like getting all of the bottles washed. Ruth thought that if she couldn’t figure out how to get organized, she was going to lose it.

Five days after Ruth’s first suicide attempt, on Thursday, Oct. 7, Helena called Ruth’s OB. She had traveled to Lexington to be with Ruth again, and Helena told the doctor that Ruth was still very depressed and was now having suicidal thoughts. According to the doctor’s notes, Helena told him that Ruth “wants to go to sleep forever and never wake up.” He advised Ruth to increase her dosage of Zoloft and referred her to a psychiatrist.

 Joey, Ruth and Andrew, on one of Ruth's good days.

Joey, Ruth and Andrew, on one of Ruth's good days.

Helena lived in fear for her daughter. She was having trouble finding resources on postpartum depression, in medical literature and support online.

“I walked through the dining room to get to the kitchen, and I hated that house because it was dark,” she said. “[Ruth] was in this dark corner between a china cabinet and another piece of furniture. I said, ‘Ruth, what are you doing? Are you sitting there hiding from the cats?’ ‘No, ma’am. I’m just hiding.’ And that’s just when I really got terrified. I said, ‘You must be chilly, sitting there on the floor. Why don’t you go in the den on the sofa and get under some cover?’ So she did that. And that’s when I got online, and I was very, very new to the Internet. And I was trying to find anything I could on postpartum depression. I had no idea how to help her.”

On Sunday, Oct. 10, Joey woke up Helena in a panic, saying “Call 911. Ruth took a bottle of pills!”

 

Read Part 3 here.