We sat there. Holding hands and crying and avoiding the stares of the nurses who were silently judging us. They were judging Jada for her actions and me for not shaming her. Ultimately, her baby Noah would be born beautiful and healthy- despite his rocky start.
Jada, a woman I call sister, has suffered with bouts of depression throughout her life, and she is one of the most powerful women that I’ve met because of, not despite, that fact. When she learned that she was carrying Noah, her body went limp. The pregnancy was unplanned, and she quickly came to understand that she wouldn’t have much help from the father. Jada couldn’t bare the thought of aborting her fruit, but she knew, in her heart of hearts, that she wasn’t emotionally prepared to go through a pregnancy and birth, alone.
She wasn’t happy to be pregnant, which happens with a lot more women than any of us would like to admit. Admitting such a thing would mean seeing women as individuals; some of who don’t care to, or simply cannot, follow the traditional roles we are all made to believe make us women. As someone who made it through a miserable pregnancy, it is important for us to discuss how our mental health can be affected when we experience pregnancy and birth, and those experiences differs heavily from what we see on TLC. According to the American Pregnancy Association, between 14-23% of women experience depression during pregnancy, although that figure seems low and may only include reported cases.
And what about when we get lost? What happens to those of us who can’t bare the weight of pregnancy? As her baby bump began to turn into a nice round tummy, Jada decided that she didn’t want to live anymore. She took a lot of pills. We were able get her emergency care. She survived, and so did Noah, thanks to the Divine. She was able to get the help she needed, and now she’s a beaming, surprisingly fussy and meticulous mommy.
Unfortunately, Bei Bei Shuai’s daughter, Angel, could not be saved. Shuai, like Jada decided she couldn’t go on. Her friends, like Jada’s, were able to get her to the ER. But Shuai’s suicide attempt was so severe that Angel died- despite Shuai’s and the hospital staff’s work to save Angel’s life. While grieving her daughter’s death, and her own lot in life, Shuai was arrested in Indiana for murder and attempted feticide, and remained behind bars for a year (only recently being granted bail).
When I first read about Bei Bei Shuai, I immediately thought of Jada, and what might have happened if Noah hadn’t made it through. Prosecutors are using laws that give fetuses ‘personhood,’ therefore making anyone who hurts them subject to prosecution (these laws are also being used to challenge abortion. They are, on the federal level called “Laci and Connor Laws”, a nod to Laci Peterson, who was murdered in 2002 while pregnant. The law is being interpreted and utilized in cases such as Shuai’s, who by virtue of her suicide attempt, may have been responsible for her daughter’s death.
A younger me, who had less life experience, may have set out to blame Shuai and not see this prosecution, and possible persecution, for what it is: yet another attempt to take control of women’s bodies. According to Julie Rovner of NPR:“The American Civil Liberties Union argued in its friend of the court brief on Shuai’s behalf, “any pregnant woman could be prosecuted for doing [or attempting] anything that may put her health at risk, regardless of the outcome of the pregnancy.” Once we set a precedent arguing that women who take part in “risky behavior” while pregnant can lead to prosecution, we are essentially saying that women are only machines that make babies, and not human beings who sometimes, like all other people, make bad choices with their bodies and otherwise.
The Shuai case also represents how this nation looks at and interprets the needs of those living with mental illnesses. After Angel died, Bei Bei, had another breakdown that kept her in the hospital for an additional month. Shortly after she was released from the hospital she was arrested. Now she is struggling to cope with her mental illness and readjust to life after being in prison for a year, all because she was a pregnant woman with mental health issues. Shuai is battling an illness, she is not a criminal, and this needs to be fully understood and embraced in our hearts and in our courts.
Josie Pickens is a writer, educator and activist who blogs at www.jonubian.com. Follow her musings on twitter: @jonubian.