I recently watched a documentary on Hulu called Not Carol. It was about a woman named Carol Coronado. Carol stabbed her three children to death in 2014 and was subsequently sentenced to three life sentences in prison for the crimes. I was horrified when I read the description of the documentary. Kids, even your own, can be annoying but how could a woman kill her own children? “What kind of evil is she,” I thought to myself. My judgment turned to sympathy the more I learned about her.
In 2014 Carol was a 30-year-old, married stay-home-mom with three children under the age of three. Her husband worked while she stayed in their one-room home which was really a garage behind someone else’s home. There, alone with her children, she breastfed her youngest, played with the oldest and did everything else that comes with being a stay-at-home mom: cleaning, playing, bath time…Add to that, Carol was enrolled in online college courses, working to obtain a degree that she thought would help her get a job to afford her family a nicer place to live. In between “momming” she had to study, do homework, and engage in online classes all while making sure dinner was ready for husband by the time he got home.
Carol’s husband comes across as chauvinistic. A (asshole) man that believes his place doesn’t involve changing diapers, cooking, or cleaning. According to Carol’s sister, Carol would tell her about sleepless nights due to caring for her children with no help from her husband, and how Carol’s husband would yell at her if he was woken up by one of the kids in the middle of the night. “You need to make him help you more,” Carol’s sister told her, but how was she supposed to do that? Family members speak of Carol seeming “off” in the days leading to the stabbings. They say she was rude, short-tempered, and generally didn’t seem like herself. Carol complained of being tired, but people around her took it as regular mom burn out. Moms are always tired. You know?
Carol left her mother seven voice messages on the morning of May 20, 2014. Seven messages begging her mother to call her back. Seven messages crying, telling her mother she doesn’t know what to do anymore, repeating how tired she is. Later that day, she stabbed her three children to death.
Hearing those messages brought me back to a day in December 2016, two months after I had my first child. At the time, my husband and I lived on the sixth floor of an apartment building. I hadn’t slept more than an hour or two at a time in past two months and it caught up with me on that day. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, my head hurt, I was crying for what seemed like no reason. Then, I looked at our balcony and thought, “What if I just throw her over?” I stepped out onto the balcony with her in my arms. I looked over and stepped back in. I called my husband and told him he needed to come home, now! I didn’t tell him what I thought, but he heard the panic in my voice and rushed home. I thought about that for months and vowed never to tell anyone that I had thought of hurting my child. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. I especially didn’t want anyone to think I wasn’t fit to care for her. What kind of mother was I? What mother would even think about harming their child? It turns out, more mothers than I thought.
Not Carol featured mothers recounting their own experiences with dark thoughts about their children. One mother recalls thinking about slamming her son’s head into a cabinet, another drowned her son in a bathtub after the thought of doing it entered her mind. What Carol and these other mothers, and maybe even I suffered from is called postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum psychosis is rare. According to Postpartum Support International, it occurs in approximately 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 births. Symptoms include delusions or strange beliefs, hallucinations, feeling irritated, and rapid mood swings. After watching Not Carol I wondered, if we, American society are helping this condition exist with the norms and guidelines that we follow around parenting and motherhood. In my unprofessional opinion, my postpartum dark thoughts were directly related to sleep deprivation.
I stopped following the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on co-sleeping the day after having thoughts about harming my daughter. I made my pregnancy pillow into a comfy nook for me and my baby. I slept for six hours straight that night and felt rejuvenated and happy the next morning. Once I started getting better sleep, my mood and my thoughts were back to normal. I’m assuming this is the reason co-sleeping is a cultural norm in Eastern cultures. It’s unreasonable to expect women to function at all, let alone in a loving way after weeks and maybe months without proper sleep.
What struck me the most about Carol Coronado’s case is how avoidable it all seemed. I’m convinced that Carol would have been fine if she just had some help. If someone was there to give her a break for an hour or so a day. If she was allowed to go to the library to study and do homework so she could focus. If she got a few moments to herself to simply breathe, I think they would have been okay. People generally look at motherhood as something that women “just do”. You have a child, you raise them. But motherhood is a strange mix of emotions. You love your child but they get on your nerves, motherhood is so fulfilling but it’s so draining, your daughter is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen but she’s ugly when she doesn’t get her way. Toddlers are messy and babies are scary. In my personal experience, being a stay-at-home mom requires more work than any job I’ve ever had. Caring for children full-time leaves women almost no time to care for themselves. We need help so we can sleep, eat, and occasionally have a good time. I need to just be Adia sometimes.
We need our villages back. Gone are the days of multi-generational homes where the older generation helps with the youngest so the middle generations can earn. It’s up to two parents, and in some cases one, to earn money, care for children, keep a house clean, keep food in that house, maintain healthy habits, and keep the kids entertained with learning and play. The nuclear family is literally killing our families.