Wrapping up Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month: Interview with Lindsay Lipton Gerszt on the Documentary “When the Bough Breaks”

Introduction:

When the Bough Breaks follows the journey to recovery for Lindsay Lipton Gerszt.  It also includes interviews of celebrity mothers (i.e., co-producer Tanya Newbould, Carnie Wilson of Wilson Phillips, celebrity chef Aarti Sequeira, Peggy Tanous of The Real Housewives of Orange County), interviews with other mothers, subject matter expects on postpartum mood disorders (like Diana Lynn Barnes, whom I know), and those who helped Lindsay during her recovery (including her doula, her therapist, her acupuncturist, her OB/GYN).

The film is educational in that it touches on the statistics of postpartum mood disorders and what they are, importance of social support, risk factors, importance of screening new mothers, treatment methods, and the stigma/shame surrounding such disorders…..fundamentally, the same elements that are covered in my book.

The film encourages mothers to speak up and share their experiences, and seek help as soon as they feel something isn’t right.  There should be no shame in being sick with a postpartum mood disorder.  It is not your fault.  It is your body’s physical reaction to your childbirth experience.  The more mothers share their experiences, the less stigma there will be.

I smiled when I saw my lovely friends, Jane Honikman, founder of Postpartum Support International and Postpartum Education for Parents (PEP) and Walker Karraa.  Tears flowed when I listened to the tragic stories, one of which I had blogged about previously (Naomi Knoles). One of my favorite lines from the film referred to PPD as a “sickness of the brain, which is an organ of the body.”  If the public and healthcare folks all treated PPD this way, we would be leaps and bounds ahead of where we are today.  My hope is that one day, the diagnosing and treating of PPD will be as routine as diabetes.  The film ends very much like how my book ends.  There is hope, as there is progress thanks to efforts of many of the folks mentioned in the film.

I know what it’s like to be impassioned to share your experience so that other mothers don’t feel as alone, hopeless and caught off guard as you do.  My 429-page book has no doubt scared a lot of people away from buying and reading it, and I haven’t done a whole lot to market it.  But at least I have my blog, which reaches people via Internet all over the world.  For many people, images and movies have a greater impact.  You just sit back and take it all in.  Now that it’s available on Netflix, the film is available among all the other movies that could potentially be seen by the 94 million subscribers, which is a really huge deal.  And with Brooke, Carnie, Aarti and Peggy’s names attached, the film will surely draw in many, and hopefully, many more people will now have an awareness of postpartum mood disorders and as a result, more mothers with PPD will recognize when it’s not the blues and seek help sooner.  And hopefully, the film will help decrease the stigma associated with maternal mental health conditions like PPD, postpartum psychosis, postpartum OCD, etc.

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Lindsay, I’m sure you have heard repeatedly about how wonderful this film is.  It is ground breaking.  It is educational.  It is chock full of information that is so important to share with the public.  Thank you for taking the time to participate in this Q&A on my blog!

Question 1:

When did the idea of filming your experience with PPD first come up? Was there a light bulb moment for you?  What was the pivotal moment that turned your desire to write your story into reality?  For me, there was a specific what I refer to as “light bulb moment.”  Tom Cruise’s words “There’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance” in 2005 was my light bulb moment to write a book about my PPD experience. Incidentally, seeing him included in When the Bough Breaks flashed me back to how I felt when he uttered those infamous words. It was my experience with PPD, combined with childcare complications and lack of social and practical support, that motivated me to write my book One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood.  My mission was to help other mothers realize they were not alone in what they were experiencing and not the only ones seeking practical tips in dealing with childcare complications (e.g., colic, eczema, cradle cap, which I had no idea how to address as a first-time parent), so new moms wouldn’t be as anxious and in the dark as I was on how to cope with these types of issues.

Answer 1:

Director and Producer, Jamielyn Lippman, and Producer, Tanya Newbould, had the idea to make a documentary about PPD.  They put an ad in a mommy blog and I responded, as I felt ready to share my story.  At the time, my son was only a few years old and I was still suffering greatly.  After my interview, Jamielyn reached out to meet with me.  We decided to continue the journey of making When the Bough Breaks with the three of us, and I came on as a producer.

We knew that, in order for this film to really resonate with the audience, we needed to follow someone on her journey.  We needed someone that people could root for and connect with.  When we first started talking about who we wanted this person to be we didn’t have to think further than myself.  I craved to feel better and I realized that I was so far from recovery.  It was also the perfect opportunity for me to seek out different treatment options and to further educate myself on perinatal mood disorders.

What I did not know at the time was how big of an impact making this film would have on me.  The emotions I felt while filming were real, raw and intense.  I had anticipated to “hurt” while sharing my journey but what I experienced through filming was life changing.

 

Question 2:

Can you give a brief overview of what the film is about ?

Answer 2:

When the Bough Breaks is a feature-length documentary about PPD and postpartum psychosis.  Narrated and executive produced by Brooke Shields, this shocking film uncovers this very public health issue that affects one in five new mothers after childbirth.  The film follows Lindsay Gerszt, a mother who has been suffering from PPD, for six years. Lindsay agrees to let the cameras document her and give us an in-depth look at her path to recovery. We meet women who have committed infanticide and families who have lost loved ones to suicide.  Babies are dying, women aren’t speaking out, and the signs are being missed.  When the Bough Breaks takes us on a journey to find answers and break the silence.

 

Question 3:

Is there anything in particular you’ve learned as a consequence of capturing your story and these other people’s stories on film?

Answer 3:

I have never learned more about myself, human nature, pain and love as I have with making When the Bough Breaks. I have always suffered from depression but to suffer while having to take care of a baby made me realize how strong I am and what I am capable of.  I also learned that you cannot judge anyone!  Everyone has a story to tell and we must learn from each story no matter how painful it is to listen.  As hard as it was to make this film, it was life changing and I would not take it back for anything in the world.

 

Question 4:

Who should watch the film, and why?

Answer 4:

When the Bough Breaks is not just a film for mental health professionals.  It is a film for everyone.  Since up to 1 in 5 new mothers will suffer from a perinatal mood disorder, everyone will know someone at some point who is suffering.  We need to know what signs to look out for and how to give the support that those whom are suffering so desperately need.  We need to know what treatment options there are and how those treatments work.  Most importantly, we need to keep talking about this very serious illness and fight the stigma that is attached to it.  With When the Bough Breaks being available in 64 countries, now we have a big opportunity to work with other advocates to keep this important conversation going and reach a huge audience that otherwise does not know anything about PPD.

 

Question 5:

What was the most challenging part in the process of filming this documentary?

Answer 5:

For me, filming the interviews that dealt with postpartum psychosis were the most challenging part of filming When the Bough Breaks.  As producers, you are there to tell a story.  However, when you meet and get to know the many people being interviewed in the film, you start to care for them on the deepest of levels because we are sharing this experience and journey together.  To see their pain in telling their stories–whether it was a mom who suffered from postpartum psychosis, her partner or the children who were affected by it–was very intense and heartbreaking for me.  I personally became very close to Naomi Knoles and her family.  When we lost her, we were devastated but it also made us work even harder to make sure the film reached as many people as possible so her story could be heard and help others.

 

Question 6:

Do you plan to screen this movie in major cities, and if so, is there a schedule?  Is there a plan to get OB/GYNs to watch this movie?

Answer 6:

We have just signed two educational deals that will help get the film out in markets to which we would not normally be able to reach out on our own.  We have also set up a screening license on our website so that organizations and communities can screen and share the film. We need the film to reach as many hospitals, OB/GYNs, pediatricians and any other organizations that work with new mothers, and I am and will continue to work hard to make sure that happens. The screening license can be found here https://www.whentheboughbreaksfilm.com .

 

What Hayden and Drew and These 8 Other Celebrity Moms Have in Common

I have to admit, I am a bit behind on blogging about current events that by now are no longer current in the literal sense, but will always be an important topic that should always discussed in as many media as possible–in person via conversations and in both online and print format.  Postpartum depression (PPD), or actually mental health, is a topic that must stay in mainstream news.  Experiences must be shared regularly everywhere if we want to clear away the stigma and misconceptions about PPD.

In the past few weeks, most if not all of us who keep abreast of news have heard about Hayden Panetierre’s struggle with PPD.  Click here for a video of her interview on “Live with Kelly and Michael” and here for a recording of a discussion about PPD on On Point with Tom Ashbrook that includes Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody (Director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Mood Disorders), Aimee Danielson (Director of the Women’s Mental Health Program in the Department of Psychiatry at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital), and Dr. Deborah Da Costa (Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at McGill University in Montreal, Canada).  Realizing her condition was something that she needed professional help for, she checked herself into a facility to help with her recovery.

Ever since her role in Heroes, I have admired her.  I admired her even more when I learned she’s a huge marine wildlife activist and very much involved with Sea Shepherd.  I am passionate about marine wildlife and support Sea Shepherd.  And I admire her even more now that I know she’s struggled with PPD and realizes the urgency of spreading awareness and the great deal of stigma that is associated with PPD.

Coincidentally, right around the same time, Drew Barrymore opened up about her battle with PPD.

And then a few other articles popped up via Hollywood Reporter and US Magazine about other celebrity PPD survivors, like Brooke Shields, Marie Osmond, Bryce Dallas Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow–all of whom I’ve blogged previously about–plus Courteney Cox, Vanessa Lachey, Amanda Peet and Alanis Morissette.

I am truly grateful for these celebrity moms sharing with the public the fact that they struggled with a postpartum mood disorder (PMD).  By sharing their struggles it further shows that new mothers of all financial and social situations may experience a PMD.  One out of eight (or approximately 15-20%) of new mothers succumb to PPD.  PPD is experienced by women of all cultures, ethnicities, social statuses, and religions.  It’s primarily thanks to celebrities speaking up about their experiences that postpartum depression stories reach people far and wide.  It’s extremely challenging for the average mother’s story (like mine or any of the other mothers chosen for the A Plus article I blogged about last night) to get any attention, which is why–and I must reiterate from yesterday–I am so grateful that A Plus chose my story to share with its readership.

Celebrity Moms Speaking Up About Postpartum Depression

She’s one of my favorite actresses.  She’s known for her frequent roles with a British accent.  And she lives in England with her husband, Chris Martin (lead sinder of Coldplay), her daughter Apple, and her son Moses.   She was the leading lady in three of my favorite movies:  Sliding Doors, Emma, and Shakespeare in Love.   

Yes, I’m talking about Gwyneth Paltrow.

I’m now more in admiration of her than ever before.  And why is that?  Today, I stumbled across her blog “Goop” where she offers lifestyle advice in the form of weekly newsletters in the following categories: 

  • MAKE:    cooking
  • GO:    travel
  • GET:    gifts – fashion – wine – etc
  • DO:    health – diet – self care – spirituality
  • SEE:    films – events – books
  • BE:     parenting – family – friendships

This week’s newsletter happens to be about her PPD experience after the birth of her son, Moses.  The newsletter also features Dr. Laura Schiller – a NYC-based OB/GYN – who provides a brief overview of PPD;  actress Bryce Dallas Howard; Heather Armstrong, author of dooce.com and author of “It Sucked and Then I Cried;” and psychologist and frequent GOOP contributor Dr. Karen Binder-Brynes.  

Thank you, Gwyneth and Bryce, for your courage in speaking up about your PPD experiences!  Thank you for joining the ranks of celebrities such as Brooke Shields and Marie Osmond who have spoken up about their PPD experiences and have a desire to educate others about PPD.  It’s thanks to these celebrities being open and public about their PPD experiences that PPD is now being discussed more openly among mothers, on blogs, and in the media. 

Celebrities are generally viewed as financially capable of hiring all the household staff that is needed to help around the house and with any babies that come along.  From chauffeurs to maids and nannies, they lead the life the average mom like me can only dream of having.   Celebrity moms are the last ones the public would ever think would experience PPD.   After all, they have all the help they can get around the house, with cooking, laundry, childcare — you name it.    FYI, Gwyneth refused to hire a nanny for her 2 children, even taking time out from acting to focus on motherhood for a number of years, and it was only in the past year that she disclosed that she finally hired one.  

But just as PPD is blind to race and culture, it is blind to socioeconomic status as well.   With an occurrence rate as high as one out of every eight moms, PPD is a serious condition that requires more public awareness and destigmatization…which is why Brooke, Marie, and now Gwyneth and Bryce are speaking up.  PPD surprised them and debilitated them.  Much the same way as PPD surprised me and debilitated me.  PPD can happen to anyone, really.  But there are certain risk factors to be cognizant of.  We need more moms to speak up.  Those who are already in the spotlight have more ready access to the public’s attention, which is why it’s wonderful that these celebrity moms are speaking up!

Gwyneth and Bryce….I just hope you’re not going to stop with this one newsletter.  I hope you can take advantage of that media spotlight of yours and continue to speak and write in different venues about PPD.   Yes, take advantage of your celebrity status and help educate the public about resources that can help mothers get through their PPD experiences.

Anyhoo….one last thing I wanted to point out is that Gwyneth’s PPD experience shows us that just because you didn’t have PPD after your first child doesn’t mean you will be completely immune from having PPD in subsequent births.   And on the flip side, while Brooke suffered from PPD after her first child, she was able to avoid PPD after her second child….and that was due to awareness of her risk factors and minimizing them.  One woman’s pregnancy experience will vary from one pregnancy to the next, just like her childbirth experience will vary from one childbirth to the next.  We can only improve our chances for a good motherhood experience if we are empowered with knowledge about PPD, not caught up in any motherhood myths or thoughts of “PPD?  That can’t happen to me.”

Senator Menendez Press Conference, Ridgewood, NJ Celebrating Mothers Act Passage – May 10, 2010

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) held a press conference today, Monday, May 10th at the Women’s Club of Ridgewood in Ridgewood, New Jersey.  The Senator stood with advocates Brooke Shields, Mary Jo Codey, Susan Stone and Sylvia Lasalandra to celebrate passage of the MOTHERS Act as part of Health Insurance Reform.    Passage of the MOTHERS Act will ensure establishment of public awareness campaigns and additional research and support services so desperately needed for moms who will at some point suffer from the debilitating and unnecessary suffering caused by postpartum depression (PPD).

All PPD advocates and many, many survivors are thrilled about the passage of this legislation that will make a HUGE difference for new moms who will at some point–with an occurrence rate of 1 out of 8 (or 15%) of all new moms–suffer from postpartum depression. This is so long overdue, and it it weren’t for Senator Menendez’ persistence in supporting this legislation all these years, this wouldn’t be possible….at least not for a very, very long time.  I wish this had passed before my own scary experience with PPD.  Perhaps I wouldn’t have suffered the way I did.  Only those who have suffered from PPD firsthand and/or those who have seen others they love suffer from PPD can truly appreciate why this is considered such a crucial development on the part of mothers.  With a national awareness campaign, hopefully there will be much less suffering, less incorrect diagnoses, less brushing off by doctors (and other well-meaning, but ignorant individuals) that “Oh, this is just the blues…all mothers experience some amount of emotional ups & downs after childbirth, anxiety and sleep deprivation.”  From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Senator Menendez!  This is truly a wonderful Mother’s Day gift!

Okay, here’s where I digress, and I apologize…but I have to get this off my chest.  If you don’t want to be bothered with my complaining, feel free to skip!

Today, I learned a valuable experience.  Stay focused.  Be proactive.  Don’t just sit back and expect things to happen on their own.  As with life in general, if you do that, you’ll get nowhere fast.  You’re probably wondering what the heck this has to do with the press conference.  Well, I’ve been annoyed the majority of the day over my experience there.   You see, the invite to attend this press conference was extended to me, and I was encouraged by a couple of individuals to bring my daughter along because they were planning for moms and their children to join Senator Menendez and advocates on stage.  I took my daughter out of school for this and had to pick up my mother on the way, just in case I needed her to help me watch/distract my daughter.   We were one of the first ones to arrive.  After the Senator arrived, things happened really fast.  No one came up to me to make sure I got rounded up with the other moms.  All of a sudden, all the other moms were all up on the stage and the Senator was speaking.  It was too late for me to join the group on stage.  On top of everything, I tried to speak to members of the press (I thought that had been pre-arranged too) but they only wanted Bergen folks or told me they already had their quota.  I don’t want to overthink things, but let me put it this way….if you were one of only 2 mothers in the audience with their child with them who wasn’t on the stage and a photographer goes up to the other mother (who was across the aisle from me) and asks her for her name but completely ignores me….wouldn’t it be normal to wonder “Hey, am I invisible here?  Am I chopped liver?”  Gee whiz.   That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  It’s like one, two, three strikes I’mmmmm out.  This whole experience annoyed me to no end, which is unfortunate because I went there to celebrate.  I hate to say it but I really felt excluded….but what else is new?    I brought my daughter there for a reason–and mind you, it’s NOT easy keeping an antsy 5 year old from jumping up and around, squirming and complaining to leave from the moment the press conference began–and it all turned out to be for naught.  Arggggghhhhhh!!!!!!

So, I learned a valuable lesson today from my experience at this press conference.  I am relatively new at all this, so there is much to be learned.  And I always appreciate learning experiences.   If I ever get invited to one of these things again, I definitely need to be even more alert and organized!

Brooke Shields slipped out the side door immediately after the conclusion of the press conference, so no one had the opportunity to speak with her.  Shucks!    I did manage, however, to get some photos with former NJ Governer (2004-2006) and Senate President Richard Codey (2002-2010), the lovely and inspiring Susan Dowd Stone, and Senator Menendez.

Blogging is to help get my thoughts/emotions out, and is therapeutic…….I feel a little weight shift off my shoulders already!  Whew!   I’m also, as always, sharing my experiences with you and why I, along with my fellow PPD advocates, am so excited.  And as well we should be!!!  🙂

Brooke Shields

Brooke Shields

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Me, Richard Codey

My daughter, Me, Susan Stone

My daughter, Me, Susan Stone

Me, Senator Menendez

Me, Senator Menendez