Today’s show is a special episode with difficult and sensitive topics. We’ll be hearing about Nora and her story of postpartum psychosis and filicide. We have the honor of hearing from Nora’s mother, Kathryn Gahl. She will share from her perspective as a mother and what it’s been like to see what Nora has been through and continues to experience in her imprisonment after filicide. We’ll also hear from Dr. Brooke Laufer, a clinical psychologist who picked up on this case and has followed it closely. Nora has given her permission for us to have this conversation with Brooke and Kathryn about her case. The goal is to get information out in the public about postpartum psychosis, its detection, and treatment. Join us to hear the mother’s perspective, the clinical perspective, and what’s going on in Nora’s life right now.
Nora’s mother, Kathryn Gahl, became a widely-published, multi-genre writer after a long career as a nurse manager. She is the mother of a daughter and a son, and in 2004, she lost her young grandson to filicide. Now, her bookshelves sag with letters from her imprisoned daughter, who is also a registered nurse. Kathryn believes in the transformative power of dance, dark chocolate, and red lipstick to help her get through life.
Brooke Laufer has been a practicing psychologist since 2005. She began her clinical work in psychiatric wards with severely mentally ill patients and then worked in schools with adolescents and their families. She is currently in private practice doing psychoanalytic psychotherapy. After having her first child, Brooke had a disturbing postpartum OCD experience, which inspired her to begin researching, understanding, and specializing in the area of perinatal mental illness. She recently started working as an expert witness for women who have committed a crime in a postpartum episode. Brooke has two children of her own, along with a Golden Retriever and a loyal husband; they live, work, and play in Evanston, Illinois.
- The overview of Nora’s story, from Kathryn
- Nora’s experience: suffocating her 14-month-old son, Leo, and then attempting suicide because of her postpartum psychosis
- Circumstances that contributed to Leo’s death
- Nora’s psychiatric diagnoses: major depressive disorder severe with paranoid ideation, excessive-compulsive personality disorder, and PTSD
- What these events were like for Kathryn
- How Kathryn’s writing and dancing have helped her cope with these horrifying events
- How Kathryn was surprised at the people evaporated from her life and those who stepped up to support and help her
- How Brooke got involved through corresponding with Nora because of a childhood connection
- Why Nora believed she deserved to suffer and be punished
- Altruistic filicide (defined as believing that bringing death to the child is better than if the child survives) is an apt label for Nora
- What it’s like to be in a state like Wisconsin, where a case like this gets very little support and legal consideration
- Why Nora made the decision to plead guilty
- The main issue is how poorly we treat mental health issues in our US legal system that is deeply flawed
- How other countries deal with mental health, motherhood, and postpartum psychosis
- How Kathryn dealt with this experience with only one bout of depression
- Why postpartum psychosis is an issue that shows the failure of our culture
- A message from Brooke: “We need to understand that motherhood is equally dark and light. We need to ask for good help when we need it.”
- Why family members need to speak up when a mom seems “off”
- A message from Kathryn: “Trust your hunch.”
- The dire need for more postpartum screening