La Llorona: A Case of Postpartum Psychosis


Infinite Dreamer
The Legend of La Llorona (The Wailing/Crying Woma) is known all over Latin America and the South West of the U.S and there are as many versions as there are countries and states. However they all agree on the major points of the story.

La Llorona was a poor native woman who is wooed by a rich nobleman. After the birth of their second son, her husband begins to act differently and is rather distant and indifferent to her. One day he leaves never to return which drives the woman crazy. She blames herself for his leaving and that delusion is only compounded when one day she sees him strolling down the streets with another, upscale woman. She confronts him only to be rejected and humiliated. Here versions vary as to what was said, but one version states that he brings up the fact that she was a native, thus beneath him and how stupid could she be to believe that they'd end up together? That it was who she was, it was in her blood. She began to think that her blood was tainted and that if her blood was tainted, that meant so was her children's. She was so consumed with guilt that she took her children to the nearby river and drowned them to prevent them from being rejected by society the same way she had due to their impurity. Once the act was done she came to her senses and immediately regretted her actions. She began to cry for her children. Some say she then drowned herself others just say she died of sadness by the river. Either way she is seen by the river/lake (depends in what state/country the story takes place even though it originated in Mexico City) crying for her children.

The symptoms for Postpartum Psychosis are:
Illogical thoughts
Refusing to eat
Extreme feelings of anxiety and agitation
Periods of delirium or mania
Suicidal or homicidal thoughts

Thinking that her blood was tainted is definitely delusional and illogical and safe to say that her husband's rejection provoked extreme feelings of anxiety and agitation along with other of the symptoms. While a separate illness from Postpartum Depression symptoms such as guilt, low self esteem and feelings of unworthiness are shared. She felt worthless and thus, by extension so were her children.

In researching both the legend and the illness I found a lot of unexpected information. For example, the legend goes as far back as 1502 when it is said that the goddess Cihuacoatl takes the form of a beautiful lady draped in white garments. Throughout the night she cries out in misery, “Oh hijos mios…ya ha llegado vuestra destruccion. Donde os llevare?” (Oh my children…your destruction has arrived. Where can I take you?) Many believe that Cihuacoalt was speaking of the future conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards.

the "historical" basis for the legend is the relationship of La Malinche and Hernan Cortez. La Malinche was a beautiful Aztec woman sold by her parents to Mayan merchants. When Cortez arrives in 1520 he sees great value in the woman for her knowledge of Nahuatl and Maya. He marries her and soon she gives birth to twin boys. The King and Queen of Spain fear Cortez is building his own empire in the Americas and ask him to return to Spain. Cortez refuses explaining that if he leaves they will lose all progress made in the New World.
The crown decides to send a beautiful woman to the New World to convince him otherwise. Their plan works and Cortez tells La Malinche that he will take his two boys back to spain with him. The night before Cortés’ departure, La Malinche escapes with the babies. Cortés’ soldiers soon discover her absence and set out after her. Upon arriving at the lake that Mexico City now rests on, the soldiers surround La Malinche. Just as they are at the brink of capturing her, she pulls out a dagger and stabs her babies in the heart, dropping their lifeless bodies into the water. La Malinche lets out a heart-wrenching cry, “Oh, hijos mios.” (Oh, my children.) La Malinche dies Circa 1531. Up to the time of her death she is seen and heard near the lake weeping and wailing for her children. She is given the name “La Llorona,” the crying woman.

The other shocking information is how many women suffering (or probably suffered) from Postpartum psychosis decide to drown their Children. in 1994 Susan Smith locked her children in her car and let it roll into John D. Lake. In 2002 Bernardine Lopez drowned her children and then herself in the Rio Grand in Pilar, New Mexico. Andrea Yates drowned her five kids in the bathtub...

In another case, that of Melanie Blocker-Stokes, she ended up jumping from the 12th floor of a Chicago building, she didn't harm her child.

This differs from Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome in that women with Postpartum Psychosis are not attention seeking, rather, they have such low self esteem they rather take their own lives or that of their children to spare them from living with an unfit mother. Women with Munchausen harm the child to get attention, but their intention is not to kill the child, though that is sometimes the result.

Interesting how this originally Mexican legend is a classic case of this rare illness (1 to 2 women in 1000 will suffer from it.)

I propose that Postpartum Psychosis be renamed: La Llorona syndrome...