Thank You, Black-Ish, for Your “Mother Nature” Episode on Postpartum Depression

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. How the family is affected when the mother is suffering from PPD
  4. 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
  5. How not only practical but emotional support from the significant other–in this case, Bow’s husband, Dre–and the family are crucial
  6. 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
  7. 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!

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FOR MIRIAM

Has it really been over 2 months since my last blog post?  I did say previously that I’ve been slowly losing momentum over the past year or so.  As most bloggers can appreciate, my tendency is to blog in reaction to something that either upsets me or excites me.  While there’s been a general lack of negative news (including ignorant things uttered by the public and journalists about incidents that only serve to further stigmatize postpartum mood and disorders, or PMADs), there’s also been a dearth of exciting new research, legislative and/or postpartum support services developments over the past couple of months to motivate me to put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard.  The former is good; the latter not so good.

Well, I’ve taken up the virtual pen to write today’s blog post.  It’s a blog post that will share the same title with numerous others (based on the support the For Miriam FB page has received in the past few days) who are banding together to spread awareness about PMADs.  These blog posts are dedicated to Miriam Carey.

Miriam.  We know she was a mother.  We know she had her one year old child in her car.  We know that that child is now without a mother.  We know from what has been shared by Miriam’s loved ones that she was being treated for postpartum psychosis.  We know that medication was found in her Stamford, CT, home.  We know she was using her vehicle in a way that caused law enforcement to, unfortunately, shoot to kill.  We know (but far from like the fact) that they are trained to do that.  Though, I’m not sure the one who shot her feels too good about what they had to do.  This loss of life is, simply put, tragic….and the reason why my dear friend, Dr. Walker Karraa, decided to corral this blog carnival in Miriam’s name.

Anyhow, without Miriam’s doctor coming forward and confirming the actual diagnosis, let’s just say that we are going to take this opportunity—since misinformation was once again so quick to be released to the public—to educate the public about PMADs.  Postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum psychosis (PPP), and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder are some of the PMADs that exist.  They are real and they are treatable.  Problem is, all too many mothers suffering such disorders are 1) failing to seek treatment for whatever reason, 2) seeking help but are either not getting the right treatment or are getting the right treatment but not staying on it long enough for it to become effective, and/or 3) not getting enough support during recovery.

A lot of people have this tendency—a tendency that is in serious need of a reality check—to use PPD to generalize the spectrum of PMADs that exist.  It does not help anyone to report in such a fashion as to fan the embers of stigma and myths that PMAD advocates are trying so desperately to put out.  It definitely does NOT help when you have psychologists who are claiming that “postpartum depression has led mothers to kill their children.”  We know we have a lot of work to do if a psychologist is saying things like this on a show watched by over 4 million people.  Talk about taking 1 step forward and 2 gigantic leaps–not steps–backward.  Geez Louise.  Can’t the networks do a better job of finding true subject matter experts from organizations like Postpartum Support International (PSI)?  They should have PSI on their list of subject matter experts under the category of Mental Health (or more aptly Maternal Mental Health).  PSI should be the very FIRST place to consult with in times like this!

I can’t say that absolutely nothing grates me more than major news agencies spreading misinformation, because I do have a couple things that grate me more….but I won’t get into that here.  But I have to say that it angers me enough to want to do something.  Since video/television opportunities are not something I actively seek—and I’m probably the last person anyone would ever call on anyway—the only thing I can do is lend my voice today, on World Mental Health Day 2013.  Today, I join with other bloggers in a For Miriam blog carnival to try to increase the reach of getting our voices out there for the world to see.

PPD is quite a common illness.  It is experienced by one out of eight new mothers.  I am, in fact, a PPD survivor.  Many of the For Miriam bloggers are PMAD survivors.  Many of us took up blogging to try to reach other moms suffering from a PMAD and making sure they don’t suffer as much and feel as alone as we did in our experiences.  We don’t like it that there’s stigma.  We don’t like it that there are unknown numbers of women who fail to seek treatment due to this stigma.  And we definitely don’t like it when we hear about yet another PMAD-related tragedy.

Granted, information is nowadays very accessible when you search on the Internet for information and blogs about PMADs.  However, I still have yet to see posters and pamphlets in all the offices of medical health practitioners (i.e., general practitioners, OB/GYNs) in this country!  Between misleading statements made by mental health care practitioners, like the psychologist interviewed for The Today Show, plus the lack of information proactively being given to the public, we still find ourselves stuck in a similar ignorance- and stigma-filled rut that we were stuck in 12 years ago after the Andrea Yates’ tragedy.   I can’t say how disappointed and frustrated I really am.

The good that’s stemming from this tragedy is the number of advocates speaking up and sharing their subject matter expertise on PMADs, specifically PPP.

With that <clearing throat>….

AHEM, ALL MEDIA OUTLETS!  Please DO NOT continue to focus on publishing news in a rush because you want to be the first to get your article out to the public.  Ask yourselves:  Is your priority to get your headline to trend?  Or is it to serve the public well by disseminating accurate information?  Please, please, please read the For Miriam posts and please, please, please go to the below sites for ACCURATE information about PPP:

Postpartum Support International
Dr. Walker Karraa
Postpartum Stress Center (Karen Kleinman)
Perinatal Pro (Susan  Dowd Stone)

Now, as I end this post, I would like to humbly ask you to consider doing the following, as part of World Mental Health Day 2013….and for Miriam:

First, to join me in prayer for Miriam’s loved ones.

Second, to go and read as many of the other For Miriam blog posts that you can find the time to do, and share them on Facebook and Twitter to help spread the word that we will NOT cease in our quest to banish the ignorance and stigma when it comes to maternal mental health matters.

Third, if we see a mom who is in need of support, reach out to her.  Ask her how she’s doing.  If she had a baby within the past year, tell her about PSI.  She just might benefit from speaking to someone on the PSI warm line or seek local PMAD resources.  Remember that  approximately one in eight new mothers will experience a PMAD.

Our mothers matter.  Our families matter. 

Do it for Miriam.

Do it for yourself.

Do it for all the other moms out there who have suffered, are currently suffering, and may someday find themselves suffering from a PMAD.

Blogging for World Mental Health Day – Blog Party 2011!

Glad you can join me as I participate in the very first blog party devoted to World Mental Health Day, hosted by PsychCentral.  I am happy to be one of the bloggers from all over the world who are coming together today to help increase public awareness of mental health concerns, and welcome to World Mental Health Day (October 10), designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to help spotlight the lack of care mental disorders all too often receive around the world.

I’d like to start my post–the original title of which was going to be Let’s Let Our Voices Be Heard: Conquering the Stigma of Mental Illness Together–by asking you what motivated you to start blogging.

  • Was it to get your thoughts out because doing so is therapeutic?
  • Was it to voice your opinion on a topic near and dear to your heart?
  • Was it in the hopes of trying to make a positive difference by sharing what you learned from your own experiences?

All three reasons motivated me to blog about the topic I am utterly passionate about: postpartum depression (PPD).  Other than sharing my own experiences and providing lessons learned from those experiences, my posts would very often address recent developments in this country, particularly as it pertains to PPD in the media (newspapers, television, Internet), legislative developments, and ignorant comments I happen to stumble across in newspapers and online.

What’s my #1 peeve?  I’ve said it before on this blog and will say it again.  Let’s say it together now:  Behavior & remarks made out of ignorance, prejudism, condescension. I have zero tolerance for any of this, thanks to my wonderful high school experience.  While growing up, I was taunted and isolated at junior/senior high school by an all-white crowd for….I’ll give you one guess.  Yep, being Chinese.  As a consequence of my teenage experiences, I am a passionate anti-bullying advocate.  I am determined to become active in my community when it comes to taking a stand against bullying.  Heck, who knows?  I may become active at the state or even federal level.  Another consequence of my teenage years–when the kids had their own cliques, didn’t like the way I looked, didn’t liked the way I dressed, and just plain looked down at me in general…I’ve become quite intolerant of behavior/remarks made out of ignorance and condescension.

Which leads me to where I stand today.  I’ve spent the past 6 years working on a book (which should be out by Thanksgiving) and the past 2-1/2 years blogging (has it really been that long already?) because of the following:

  • All the ignorant comments made by people around me—including colleagues, acquaintances, my doctors, and their staff
  • The way I was treated by my doctors
  • No one telling me about PPD in the first place
  • The lack of information that is given to the public via magazines, hospital training, doctors’ offices, and television
  • The way society makes assumptions that all mothers have smooth and easy pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum experiences

Yesterday morning, an encounter with someone I know almost threw a wrench in the day that I had planned with my daughter.  It took me until I wrote this post last night to put 1 and 2 together to figure out why in the world I was in tears by the time I got home. It’s because 2 of my 3 triggers–or actually “crushing blow” points–were pulled today.  There was a momentary lapse in my determination to stand strong against these types blows. (believe it or not, in the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a personal transformation due to an increased self confidence due to my blog, the book I’m just about to publish, and public speaking classes; at work, I’m able to let certain people/circumstances slide while in the past I would’ve been crushed). 

What were the 2 things that bothered me so much yesterday? 

  • Ignorance – I got an “okay, then” look when I told her about the topic of the book I’ve been slaving over the past 6 years…..like it didn’t matter because it didn’t mean anything to her
  • Feeling of isolation (that’s how I felt all through high school from kids picking on me, not wanting to be my friend because I didn’t dress well and because I was a shy Chinese girl) – For several weeks now, whenever this woman (and I’ve known her for over a year now and we are on friendly terms) is speaking with another friend while our 3 daughters are swimming, she has yet to introduce me to her friend (I know, I can introduce myself, but heck, it’s the principal I’m struggling with here).  I’m trying not to take it personally, but it’s tough. I always introduce someone I’m talking to if someone else I know is sitting with us. I would never ignore the 3rd person (yesterday, that 3rd person was me…very ignored) and deliberately exclude her from the conversation. I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive. I think someone is being rude here. And I really don’t need rudeness in my life, thank you very much.

Okay, now more on the topic at hand.  Postpartum depression (PPD). This has been the topic I’ve dedicated the last 6 years to my book and the last 2-1/2 years to my blog. 

If asked what the number one complication of childbirth is today, most people would probably say C-sections. One would never think that depression is the leading complication of childbirth because no one ever talks about their experience. As a result, so many cases go unreported and untreated. This is more than likely the reason why, aside from ignorance about PPD and stereotypes of motherhood, postpartum illnesses don’t receive the attention of health practitioners, hospitals, and funding for education and public awareness that they deserve.

Frankly, I’m amazed that there is still so much ignorance about PPD. That ignorance is perpetuated by the lack of information about PPD available to the public, not to mention the general unwillingness of people to talk about it. Had I known about PPD before I had my baby, I would not have suffered the way I had suffered, not knowing what in the world was wrong with me. Ignorance, or the fear of not knowing, can intensify an already bad situation exponentially. There is no need for that kind of suffering, especially at a time when a new mom should be enjoying her baby. After all, she only has one shot at experiencing her baby’s first few months.

Before my own experience with PPD, I’d never really heard much about it before. I thought it was rare. I’d heard of the occasional sad news of a stillbirth or miscarriage, but in terms of experiences after the baby’s arrival, I’d only heard women rave about how great motherhood is. I’d never heard of any terrible motherhood experiences. I never thought it would be something that would happen to me. I thought it was all a matter of mind over matter.

Had I known that as many as one out of eight new mothers develop PPD, I would’ve tried to become familiar with what it is, its risk factors, and its symptoms before having my baby, and I would’ve never traveled that long, lonely, and dark road during those dreadful weeks I was sick with PPD. But I emerged from my PPD experience much smarter and stronger than before, and for that, I am grateful.

Having PPD is so embarrassing and difficult to talk about, that most women will not tell their stories to people they know, let alone to the world. There’s this fear of being judged, criticized, and labeled as inferior mothers. Well, I am not afraid to tell my story, especially if it means helping other mothers. I want to make a positive impact by empowering women with knowledge about an illness that is more prevalent than people think.

From all the books and articles I’ve read, it appears that denial, embarrassment, and/or pride keep women from admitting they have any psychological issues. Out of curiosity to see if this holds true, and since I am unafraid of admitting to anyone, even a stranger, that I suffered from PPD, I’d try to broach the subject whenever possible to try to get a new mother to tell me she had PPD. Other than a couple mothers who thought they had PPD when in actuality they probably only had postpartum blues (based on the description of their experiences), I couldn’t find a single woman who had actually experienced PPD. Or I just didn’t find anyone who would admit that she’d suffered terribly, too ashamed to admit to having such a negative experience at a time when everyone expects her to be happy. It wasn’t until after I started blogging that I realized there are a lot of women out there who are currently suffering from or who have suffered from PPD. Perhaps it’s the anonymity that comes with blogging under, in many cases, aliases that is encouraging more and more women to speak up about their experiences.  People openly talking about their own experiences encourages others to do so as well. Whether it is via online media (blogs, discussion forums, PsychCentral, WebMD, etc.), newspapers, magazine articles, or public service announcements, we need more of this!

We should all develop a zero tolerance position when it comes to ignorance, and stigma, of mental health.  Ignorance leads to: 

  • New mothers not knowing about PPD and being blindsided, they won’t necessarily realize what they have requires medical and/or mental health care, and unnecessarily suffering feelings of shame, fear, guilt, and self-doubt come from not knowing what causes PPD in the first place. With awareness of what causes PPD and why, there would be fewer mothers struggling with such negative feelings. The belief that it’s just a mind-over-matter thing and that if they were truly a good mother they wouldn’t be feeling this way at all must be eradicated. The only way to do that is through constant hammering away the message in as many forms of media as possible that PPD is a common occurrence, that it happens more often than you know because most mothers don’t talk about their experiences, and it has a biochemical cause.
  • People mistakenly believing that PPD is the same thing as the blues and moms should be able to snap out of it, since it’s mind over matter.
  • Misconceptions, prejudices, comments and societal attitude that cause new mothers with PPD to suffer in silence and hide their condition behind smiles, unwilling to get treatment.
  • Lack of sympathy or understanding by the public because there’s just not enough being done to educate the public on what it really is (instead of inaccurate depictions of PPD in the media). Because the only cases of a postpartum mood disorder you hear about in the news are about mothers who kill their babies, the general population has misconceptions of what PPD really is. As long as women are afraid to speak openly about PPD, the longer the public at large will remain ignorant about it, its prevalence, and its seriousness. Try asking people if they realize that one out of eight new mothers suffers from PPD. I can almost guarantee that they won’t believe you. The terrible irony of the ignorance about PPD is that it will continue as long as mothers are afraid of telling others what they are going through.

We need to get to the point where the public acknowledges PPD for what it is: a real medical illness. The PPD mom deserves support, not criticism. She did not bring this on herself, nor is PPD a contrived illness. PPD doesn’t just arise out of a new mother’s failure to cope with her transition to motherhood, despite what some people who don’t know better would try to have you believe. It is not mind over matter, and she cannot just snap out of it whenever she feels like it. This should not be a negative reflection on her. PPD does not mean a woman is weaker or less of a mother than those who don’t have PPD. In fact, those who speak up about how they are truly feeling—unafraid of what others think—are brave women who are not afraid to take that first courageous step toward recovery because they realize their health is critical to the overall family’s health.

Instead of looking back with regret at my PPD experience, I look at it as an experience that has truly made me a more knowledgeable and stronger person. And that is what I hope other PPD survivors and those who are battling (and survived) depression will do. My hope is that more of you will speak up. The more that speak up about their experiences, the less ignorance and stigma about depression there will be.