One of our favorite games to play as doulas is one called, "They Didn't Know Enough". It's where we watch pop culture for birth and parenting references and then chuckle amongst ourselves about how terribly one or both are portrayed in Hollywood.
So, we were beyond impressed to see the second episode of this season's Black-ish take on postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) with stunning accuracy.
Postpartum Depression doesn't discriminate, and you may not have it with all of your children.
In the show, Rainbow Johnson (the mother) develops a postpartum mood disorder following the birth of her fifth child. Initially, this makes it challenging for her to identify and name as Postpartum Depression, because she didn't feel this way after her previous births. She is also a successful physician, and a strong, confident woman.
But let's be very, very clear: Postpartum Mood Disorders effect all kinds of women, and you can develop a PMAD with your first baby or not until your fifth.
It can be challenging to differentiate between a PMAD and the "Baby Blues"
Because Bow is a physician, she was reluctant to label her feelings as "postpartum depression". As a doctor, shouldn't she be able to figure that out? The answer is no. PMADs can be challenging to identify sometimes, even for experts.
Part of this is because we anticipate that most birthing people will experience what we know as the "Baby Blues" in the first week or two after birth. These are typically feelings of weepiness, happiness, and exhaustion, and are completely normal. The other reason it's sometimes tricky to diagnose is because Perinatal Mood Disorders go beyond just "Postpartum Depression", and can include: Postpartum Anxiety/OCD, Postpartum Psychosis and Postpartum PTSD.
When the feelings of being a new parent become overwhelming, or turn into anxiety, obsessiveness, forgetfulness, an inability to connect to or care for your baby, or deep sadness, it time to consider additional support and help for a postpartum mood disorder.
Medication is a safe, reasonable way to treat a perinatal mood disorder. But, it's not an instant cure.
Once Bow begins seeing her own doctor and is diagnosed with a PMAD, she begins to take medication. We were SO relieved to see that the show addressed the fact that 1) medication is a safe and reasonable option and 2) that it takes time to find not just the right medication for a new parent, but the right dosage as well.
So often, we have an expectation that once we begin taking medication it will alleviate the problem *rightthissecond*, and in this case, it's just not true. Dialing in the best option and dosage for you, is worth the time, and it will eventually begin making a difference in your life.
Perinatal Mood Disorders can effect the entire family.
In the show, we see both the humorous and the very real effects of PMADs on Rainbow's family. Her older children assign themselves the tasks of caring for the parts of their lives which their mother typically undertakes. For example, Bow's oldest son assigns himself as "Skin-to-Skin" provider with his youngest brother, and their youngest daughter helps write painfully-harsh Thank You notes for the baby gifts.
We also see a husband and partner who is desperately trying to "pep talk" his wife into feeling better, and who keeps a close eye on Bow after she begins medication to see if she's "Doing OK". (Pro Tip: that's not helpful, btw). More importantly, we see Bow's husband, advocate for her with his own mother, who's expectations of "what's right", and "what's best" for the baby, are not only unhelpful, but are actually flaming Bow's anxiety and feelings of shame.
You are not weak to seek help.
Let me say that again for those in the back: YOU ARE NOT WEAK TO SEEK HELP. You are not selfish. You are not a bad parent.
One of the most emotional moments of the show is when Bow says, "Motherhood is the most natural thing for a woman, and somehow I’m struggling.”
Motherhood is beautiful, and emotional; very often it is overwhelming and exhausting. With treatment, with support, you can and will get better. You will feel like yourself again, someday. It takes time, and there are a lot of paths forward.
If you are struggling with a Perinatal Mood Disorder, please reach out to us today. In addition to our bi-monthly (totally free!) support group, and postpartum doulas who have specialized training in supporting families experiencing a PMAD, we can connect you with resources in our area to help you get on the road to recovery.