Family Life
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Issue Date:  November 16, 2007

-- Patricia Lefevere

Sylvia Lasalandra
Faith and family aided mother's healing

Sylvia Lasalandra is youthful, attractive, energetic, a skilled professional and a happy wife and mother. Seven years ago no one would have described her this way.

On Aug. 10, 2000, Lasalandra delivered a beautiful baby girl, Melina, but she did not want to hold her, feed her or change her, and she’d even spoken to a nurse at the hospital about adoption. At home Lasalandra sobbed uncontrollably for days, dumbfounded by why she had no feelings for her new child and why she felt like such a monster mother.

If she had gotten medical help for her malady that first month of her child’s life, she might have learned that she was among the 10 to 15 percent of women who experience postpartum depression (see main story), a mood disorder that devastates tens of thousands of new moms at a time when they are expected to be their happiest.

Instead of warming to her daughter at home, Lasalandra felt more isolated and trapped and experienced a nightmare in which she was snuffing out the newborn’s life with a pillow. When she awoke, she ran in fright to the bassinette, and after finding Melina safe inside it, she could not bear her shame and decided to take her own life by overdosing on her prescription medicines.

She emptied the medication onto the bed, and as she was picking up a handful of the drugs, Melina sighed and stirred. “My mind snapped to attention. I reached for the phone and called my mother. ‘Ma, I can’t do this. Please help me,’ ” a terrified Lasalandra begged.

For the next nine months Melina’s grandparents cared for her in their home while Lasalandra was only allowed family-supervised visits.

Lasalandra returned to her job and was visited one evening at work by Franciscan Fr. Michael Carnevale, then her pastor at St. Mary Church in Pompton Lakes, N.J. It was a day in which “I felt my lowest,” she told NCR, adding that the priest was the first person outside the family in whom she confided.

Even after telling him how she’d wanted to kill her child and herself, Lasalandra said, nothing shocked the pastor. “In his eyes I was a real mother and good person. I was a parishioner and a friend. He told me, ‘Sylvia, God loves you.’ ”

Carnevale reassured her that God was not frowning on her, that “he doesn’t think less of you.” The priest listened while she told him of her feelings of shame about not having her child at home.

“He told me: ‘A mother makes sure her baby is taken care of and that’s exactly what you are doing,’ ” she said. He affirmed her choice to have her mother care for Melina by telling her that a good mother makes sure her baby is fed, clean, housed and loved.

“I never thought of it that way,” Lasalandra said.

She said her pastor also assured her that “through faith you will find the strength to heal,” and that God’s healing strength was to be found right inside her.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Melina and I are here today because of my faith in God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the 150 or more saints that my mother made sure she called on for help. There were candles everywhere,” Lasalandra said. “It was truly divine intervention.”

Lasalandra, who has written a book about her experience and produced a short film, “Daughter’s Touch,” urged church leaders at the archdiocesan training session “to embrace this illness and open your hearts to it. It is then and only then that we will knock out postpartum depression,” she said.

-- Patricia Lefevere

National Catholic Reporter, November 16, 2007

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