When I saw the announcement on my feed yesterday morning that that evening’s episode of Black-ish was going to be about postpartum depression (PPD)–and on World Mental Health Day, no less–I was so excited. And skeptical at the same time. Why skeptical? Because first of all, this is a sitcom. As far as I’m aware, a sitcom has never had a show that focused on PPD. A sitcom is comedy. PPD isn’t really a laughing matter. I was concerned they would brush off the seriousness of the topic and lose yet another opportunity to properly educate the public about a condition that affects 1 out of 7 new mothers but is still such a hush hush thing. Because it’s such a hush hush thing, so many mothers continue to suffer from it and not know that what they are suffering from is not their fault, is so common among new mothers, and can be treated but good help and the right meds can be hard to find. I was concerned with how accurately Bow would portray a new mother with PPD.
I can only recall one other non-documentary show on Prime Time television focused on PPD, which was ABC’s Private Practice episode back on February 13, 2009. Boy, did ABC get it all wrong! And that was mostly due to the fact that they hadn’t considered seeking guidance from any subject matter experts, like Postpartum Support International, before airing the episode. It wasn’t until after I watched the Black-ish episode, aptly titled “Mother Nature” that I saw a PSI post that said that Disney/ABC had, in fact, contacted PSI prior to airing the episode. This was after I already saw, to my great relief and excitement, that the writers of Black-ish did a good job with the script and Tracee Ellis Ross did a good job with portraying a mom with PPD.
For a sitcom, it did a really good job with showing:
- That PPD can happen to anyone, even to someone like Bow who is a medical professional and didn’t experience PPD with her 4 other children; every pregnancy and postpartum is different; not all childbirth experiences are smooth; Bow never had PPD after having her 4 other children and yet she is experiencing it with this baby after experiencing preeclampsia, premature childbirth (8 weeks early) and emergency c-section.
- What it’s like to have PPD….difficulty bonding with the baby, being unable to sleep, feeling anxious and weepy, unable to smile, unable to perform usual activities, unable to appreciate what you would normally appreciate, and not feeling like your usual self for weeks are some of the trademark symptoms
- How the family is affected when the mother is suffering from PPD
- The views of the older generation on doing what all mothers have done for generations, which is to plow through your temporary emotional period (i.e., postpartum blues) like all mothers manage to do; some of these views cause the new mom (especially one who didn’t have PPD with her other children) to believe she should just power through her feelings without help, since it will go away on its own
- How not only practical but emotional support from the significant other–in this case, Bow’s husband, Dre–and the family are crucial
- How there is this societal belief that all mothers glow after having a baby; there is much shame and stigma when a mother doesn’t “glow” like a new mother should; in actuality, having a baby is very hard work and is not always a happy/glowing experience for all moms; some moms need help but don’t want to ask for or accept help out of shame that they aren’t experiencing the kind of motherhood they believe all mothers are supposed to have
- PPD happens in 1 out of 7 new mothers (yes, they included this in the script!) so if you are feeling this way, get help!
If you missed it, no problem…you can watch it here: http://abc.go.com/shows/blackish/episode-guide/season-04/2-mother-nature. And you can read a Babble article by Wendy Wisner titled “‘Black-ish’ just boldly went where few sitcoms have gone before: postpartum depression.”
Thank you, Corey Nickerson (writer and executive producer), for taking your own experience with PPD and coming up with the idea to have an episode about PPD. With a viewership of approximately 5 million, it’s a perfect way to raise awareness!