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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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 .

 

Advertisements

Be the Change, Be an Advocate, Help Other Moms

Some of you are probably thinking “Well, looky here….Ivy finally posted this.”  Yes, I know some of you who have your blog set up to receive my new blog posts have seen this title come up a few weeks ago.  I was indeed planning to post this a few weeks ago, but before I had a chance to write anything, I hit “Publish” by mistake.  And then of course another topic came along that I felt had to be published right away.  Before I realized it, a few weeks have gone by.  I finally found the opportunity to write this one up.

Why I Do What I Do

Those impassioned about certain causes usually aren’t motivated in such fashion unless they are directly impacted by a life-changing experience such as illness or death of a loved one.  It takes life-altering experiences, such as cancer, postpartum depression (PPD), or surviving the death of a loved one to motivate individuals to try to make a difference in the world and to try to help others.  Some are determined to help others by sharing their stories, like Brooke Shields, Marie Osmond, and Lance Armstrong. Others do what they never dreamed they would ever do, like run for United States Congress, which is what Carolyn McCarthy did after her husband was killed and her son was severely injured during the Long Island Railroad Massacre, and after the representative in her district voted against an assault weapons bill.  

For me, it was anger of people’s ignorance – those who were my doctors, those to whom I’ve talked and those in the media who say stupid things – that propelled me to write a book.  I was angered by the way I was treated by my doctors.  Angry for no one telling me about PPD in the first place and the lack of information that is given to the public via magazines, hospital training, doctors’ offices, and television.   Angry for the way society makes assumptions that all mothers have smooth and easy pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum experiences.   I decided I would channel all the energy stemming from my anger and do something positive and try to help others.  I would tell my story in the hopes of helping and educating as many people as possible about this silent and potentially deadly condition.  I would chronicle my experience and share the horrific feelings and manifestations of PPD that I experienced, so that others can know better what to look for.  

Determined to learn more about this misunderstood, underdiagnosed and undertreated illness, I joined Postpartum Support International in 2006 and attended two annual conferences since to network with and pick up the latest information from subject matter experts.   Each time I sat down at the computer to write more, I felt lighter and lighter.  I have never believed in keeping things to myself.  It is not healthy to keep things all bottled up.  Keeping things bottled up and keeping yourself so busy you don’t have time to think about things that are bothering you—these are popular tactics used to avoid having to deal with problems at hand.  But there is a major price to pay when it comes to doing either.  To maintain a healthy body and mind, you need to deal with the problem, rather than letting it build up over time until the brain becomes overloaded with stress, which can have mood and behavior consequences.  You need to talk about whatever is bothering you either verbally or in writing.  

I’m of the mindset that things happen in for a reason.  If I hadn’t gone down that incredibly painful path and been angered by the idiotic rantings of Tom Cruise and angered by the lack of compassion and understanding of the medical professionals with whom I sought treatment, I would not have felt impassioned about the topic of PPD and about writing a book….or blogging, for that matter.   Having my own blog has given me more courage in speaking out about my PPD experiences and what I have learned from those experiences to others. 

Be the Change

If we all adapted the attitude or belief that each individual is capable of helping to bring about change, the odds would be in our favor in terms of reducing the numbers of moms suffering unnecessarily from it each and every year, and perhaps–just perhaps–lowering the PPD occurrence rate….because and repeat after me “KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.”    If we all just sat on our tushes, waiting for the next woman to do something to make a difference, change will continue to crawl along at a snail’s pace.  Just as my experience with PPD has inspired me to write this book and set up my own blog, as well as tell people in person about my experience whenever the topic comes up, I hope your experience inspires you to try to increase awareness of this common and all-too-often ignored illness.  I hope you will feel the same urge to share your experience with others, so that in the long run, there will no longer be ignorance about PPD and as a result, fewer women will suffer this debilitating illness at a time when they should be enjoying their babies.  I hope you feel the same passion to help other mothers get access to the resources and treatment needed for a speedy recovery.

Be An Advocate

There is still too much ignorance out there about PPD.  If you are currently suffering from PPD, consider joining the ranks of PPD advocates like Katherine Stone, Lauren Hale and Amber Koter-Puline to educate others after your recovery.  Be a legislative advocate like Susan Dowd Stone, whose efforts to support the Mother’s Act sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) helped push it through recently under the Health Insurance Reform.  Join Postpartum Support International and consider being a regional coordinator to provide support and local resources to PPD moms, start a blog, create a website, advocate education to expectant parents by hospitals, advocate education to all medical school students, or travel around the country to educate others about this serious condition affecting so many women, create a PPD support group, or write a book about your experience. 

As long as society remains ignorant about PPD, the stigma associated with mental illnesses–particularly around a time that is supposed to be happy (i.e., childbirth)–will continue to keep mothers mouths shut and suffering unnecessarily in silence.  It’s unfortunate how so many mothers suffering from PPD tend to feel ashamed for not being able to cope like all other mothers around them (not realizing that many around them may also be suffering in silence).

The more PPD survivors speak up, the more people in general will know about PPD.  Then, hopefully, PPD moms will feel less afraid to speak up and seek help.  PPD survivors must come together to break down that wall of silence and fight the stigma associated with PPD.  Look how long it’s taken to get where we are today.  If we sit there and don’t do anything, do you think change will happen on its own?  Do you think research will continue full-steam ahead?   I don’t think so.  So, it’s up to us PPD survivors to make a difference for our fellow women. 

Last but not least, and I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again…..progress in destigmatization of depression and postpartum depression includes addressing ignorant remarks whenever they are heard.  Simply ignoring them won’t accomplish anything, least of all public awareness.    For all those who are PPD survivors, whenever you hear people say off-the-mark comments about PPD, speak up and be heard! 

Help Other Moms

If you are currently suffering from PPD, consider helping other moms after your recovery.  Being a warmline volunteer and/or PPD support group volunteer would be tremendously beneficial to a mother who is suffering PPD.   Just think of it this way.  Try thinking back to the time when you wished you had someone to talk to about your experience, someone who could understand what you were going through.  Wouldn’t it have made a difference had you met a PPD survivor—a mother who has been through what you are going through and who is living proof that you too will get well? 

If there is a lack of PPD or postpartum support groups near you, after you are well again, you may want to consider forming one with other PPD survivors.  We need more leaders like Jane Honickman to take initiative and more organizations like Santa Barbara Postpartum Education for Parents need to exist.  She also, incidently, founded Postpartum Support International.    Now, this is what I call BEING THE CHANGE!

Dr. Shoshana Bennett is a 2-time survivor of undiagnosed PPD who was inspired by her experience to become an expert on PPD, having published multiple books, earning multiple degrees (2 masters degrees, a PhD and licensing as a clinical psychologist), founding one of the first postpartum groups in the country in 1987, acting as former President of Postpartum Support International, helping over 18,000 women worldwide through individual consultations, support groups and wellness seminars, traveling all over the world as guest lecturer and keynote speaker, and training medical and mental health professionals to assess and treat perinatal mood disorders.  Now, this is what I call BEING THE CHANGE!