Kendra Meaker, the Toulon mother who left her three-week-old baby by the side of a country road and concocted a kidnapping story says she was blindsided by undiagnosed postpartum depression.
"The postpartum took over my mind. I didn't know what I was doing. I told Tim, the father, 'I can't do this,' and he kept pushing me to keep going. And he said, 'Everything's going to be fine,'" Meaker said.
The now-20-year-old single mom served about one year of a three-year prison sentence. She is now working to regain custody of one-year-old Mia and her two-year-old sister, Mercedes.
Meaker says she remembers leaving her three week old baby Mia in a ditch, and telling Mercedes, who was then 10 months old, everything was going to be alright.
"I don't even remember the exact thought that came to mind. I just got them dressed and just started driving," Meaker said in an emotional interview with WQAD-TV.
"I didn't think I was a good enough mom for her; and that's what postpartum can do to you, it really can. At the time, I felt like it was my last hope. My last and only hope," Meaker recalls.
"I felt worthless, I felt like a horrible mother. I mean, what kind of mom can't take care of her kids? I didn't want to explain it to anybody so I thought, 'If somebody just randomly found her...'" Meaker said as she wiped tears from her eyes.
Meaker says she stood by her kidnapping story for about 11 hours, but later told police where to find Mia after she failed a lie detector test.
She was still, she said, in a postpartum cloud. The condition was diagnosed after her arrest.
"If I would have been aware of how serious it was, I would have gotten help," Meaker said.
Mia and her sister are in the care of Meaker's mother and father. She has not seen either of her children since the day she was arrested.
"I absolutely love Mia. I obviously don't know her. It's been over a year, but she's still my child and that's why I'm doing everything I possibly can to get back with her. I have got to earn my way back to her and I'm doing that," Meaker said.
"I only get good reports on them. I'm going to give them all the love they need," Meaker said. "Just to be one happy family again. I know it's going to be awhile, but that's my goal."
Right now, Meaker lives with her grandmother and grandfather in their farmhouse in Toulon. She completed four college courses while she was in prison. She attends Bible study regularly, and she plans to take online college accounting classes. She has undergone mental health counseling and hopes she'll be allowed to see her children by Thanksgiving.
"I want to stress upon mothers, whether it's their first child or tenth, to get checked to avoid this kind of thing, to check for postpartum depression. I could have lost my baby because of it," Meaker said.
Meaker says she struggles with her decision and who she was that day.
"I want people to know I'm not a monster. What I did was wrong and I deserved to be punished. I was acting on impulse, I guess. I didn't take time to think because I wasn't thinking. The postpartum depression, it took over me. It's only a brief thing but, unfortunately, it was too much to handle and I didn't catch it in time," she said.
It's more prevalent that you might think
The exact cause of postpartum depression is unclear, but the National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests abrupt hormone changes could contribute to the illness.
Symptoms may include extreme difficulty in day-to-day functioning due to cognitive impairment and feelings of guilt, anxiety and fear. Women with postpartum depression may experience a loss of pleasure in life, insomnia, bouts of crying and thoughts of hurting themselves or the child.
The largest study to date shows one in seven mothers are affected by postpartum depression. Researchers screened 10,000 mothers, six to eight months after they gave birth, for symptoms of depression.
The study results said women who tested positively for symptoms of depression were “more likely to be younger, African American, publicly insured, single and less well educated.”
"The study calls for all pregnant women and new mothers to be screened for depression, beyond what current medical practice requires," according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.