This past Tuesday, an article by Sheryl Paul entitled “Three Tips for Navigating Motherhood” was published at Maria Shriver’s website. After public outcry regarding the contents, the article has subsequently been removed. But for 48 hours, the article existed and was accessible to an enormous amount of traffic. Maria Shriver has just over 900k followers on Twitter and is well known as an activist and celebrity. When she speaks or shares something, a lot of people listen.
In this case, the danger of deciding to post Sheryl Paul’s article lies within the manner in which Ms. Paul treats Postpartum Depression. According to Ms. Paul’s article at Maria’s site,
“Pregnancy anxiety and postpartum depression are avoidable and preventable! They both result from normal thoughts and feelings that are pushed underground because we don’t realize that they’re normal, where they then grow into an unmanageable state.”
While I agree that most pregnancy anxiety and postpartum depression is avoidable and preventable, some cases are not. These cases more than likely do not result from normal thoughts and feelings which are pushed underground. Research over the past years has proven a biological and chemical link to more severe cases of Postpartum Mood Disorders. Cortisone levels, etc, are often higher in those who experience Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders. Research continues into the root cause of Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders so we can better help those who struggle with this difficult condition. Ms. Paul also stated these emotions are rooted in a deep sense of loss which accompanies any transition, emotions we push aside in order to “focus on buying the right car seat.” These emotions then “mutate into anxiety, and your doctor suggests anti-anxiety medication.” Really, Ms. Paul? Because Hippocrates wrote about PMAD’s and I’m pretty sure the ancient Greeks didn’t need to purchase car seats.
First of all, shame on any doctor who prescribes an anti-anxiety med just because. Secondly, some women truly do suffer from anxiety. From depression. Regardless of how intuitive they are with their own emotions. Failure to explore yourself emotionally at every stage of a transition is not the root of Postpartum Depression or Anxiety. To tell a woman in the throes of a Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorder such sets her up for even more guilt and anxiety in my personal opinion. Time and time again, we must defend our experience with this issue. Time and time again we are told by too many our experiences are not real. If we had only done this or done that, we would be fine. It’s all in our heads. We need to buck up, just get over it, snap out of it, look inward, pull ourselves up, grin and bear it.
I call bullshit.
Some of us have true issues. Mental Illness is not some facade. It’s not some excuse we use to get out of Motherhood. It’s not something into which we collapse willingly because Motherhood isn’t all we dreamed it would be once we arrive. It’s not because we don’t know ourselves. It’s not because we didn’t get in touch with our inner “woman” before giving birth. It’s certainly not because we didn’t accept the loss of self prior to and/or after birth. There are physical causes in which some cases of Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders are rooted – thyroid issues, iron deficiencies, Vitamin D deficiencies, trauma, etc, all of which cannot be cured by simply “emotionally exploring oneself during transitional phases.” To quote Rene Russo from Lethal Weapon 4: “THIS IS NO GODDAMN ASPECT OF A TRANSITION PHASE!”
Yes, there are transitions involved with Motherhood. There is a loss of sense of self. Many struggle to adjust. But even those who are the picture of perfection may fall into Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorder. You see, PMAD’s are non-discriminatory. They don’t recognize emotional health, societal status, natural or medicated childbirth, breastfeeding or not-breastfeeding, traumatic or non-traumatic birth, etc. I’ve known professional therapists, psychiatrists, and OB caregivers who have struggled with a PMAD and not recognized what’s going on with them. People in the know, people aware of what’s going on in the transitional phases. And yet, they still end up with a PMAD. Yes, some pre-existing conditions do put you at a higher risk but overall, Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders are the number one complication of childbirth regardless of your monetary or social support bank account.
When you recognize the signs and symptoms of a PMAD within yourself or a loved one, you seek answers. Solutions. That answer or solution should never discount your feelings or emotions. The issue at hand is not easily solved in 10-15 minutes per day as Sheryl Paul claims about her courses within a video at her website:
“If you follow this road map, which isn’t hard to do, it takes just 10-15 minutes a day, you will prevent Postpartum Depression, you will feel empowered as a new mother, and you will be giving your baby the best possible beginning for emotional health.”
The above quote preys upon vulnerable mothers who desperately want a better life for their “baby.” It’s irresponsible marketing, pure and simple. The only goal here is to get $200 into Sheryl Paul’s pocket – a bargain, she says, at her website, because the course is easily worth $1000 but because she wants everyone to have access, she only charges $197 for it. You can also opt to pay for it in two installments. So you see, for about the same price as a car seat, you can buy your way into avoiding Postpartum Depression but avoid shelling out money for anti-anxiety meds.
Careful, Sheryl, if someone buys your course and still experiences Postpartum Depression? Under the Lanham Act, she can sue you. She can also report you to the FTC. The Better Business Bureau. Also? Instructing a severely depressed mother to “explore her feelings” may lead her to conclude suicide is the only way out. Is that something you really want on your hands? What about Psychosis, which is a medical emergency? Should a mother “explore” those feelings as well? If you are going to mention Postpartum Mood Disorders, you absolutely need to be responsible in regards to all aspects of the spectrum, something this piece and your website fail to do, which is extremely dangerous.
I have zero respect for any caregiver treating Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders as a fallacy or claiming to completely prevent the experience. For those of us who have fought the battle, it feels as if we have been discounted. As if we must stand up and defend ourselves. It tears us down. Angers us to see our difficult journey dismissed. It makes us feel we failed because we didn’t prevent our experience. Would you tear someone’s cast off and beat their broken bone? No. You wouldn’t. Don’t do the same to those of us who have experienced a Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorder.
Birth is a powerful event. Every woman has a different story, a journey which is all her own. No one, anywhere, should ever discount the story of another. If you’ve avoided a PMAD, I’m happy for you. I’m happy you were not subjected to the many circles of hell so many mothers (including myself) have been. I’m glad you found something which worked for you. Don’t claim to cure my situation with your solution. Don’t ignore the facts. Support me as I find my own, regardless of what that may include. I may need to take medication. I may need therapy. I may need hospitalization. And that’s okay. It’s also okay if you found success with natural approaches.You have to do what works for you. Be open to the fact that my path may be different than yours.
Bottom line here: People who claim to completely prevent Postpartum Depression are dangerous. You can do everything Sheryl tells you to and still end up with a Postpartum Mood Disorder. And yet, you won’t be educated about Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorders. You’ll be educated instead in how to explore your emotions instead of what to do when you can’t get out of bed in the morning or brush your teeth, or even make small talk with another adult. You won’t know how to recognize Psychosis. You won’t know that an intrusive thought isn’t Psychosis. You won’t be empowered to go to your doctor for help because well, Sheryl’s program more than likely doesn’t cover such a course of action.
If you or someone you love is struggling during pregnancy or after birth with a possible Mood Disorder, go visit Postpartum Support International for information and support. If you’re suicidal, there’s a helpline at the top of the sidebar here at My Postpartum Voice. If you want a powerful community at your fingertips, go visit Twitter and use the hashtag #PPDChat for moms just like you. Our moms range from those who have been hospitalized to those who have used natural methods, etc, to battle Postpartum Mood Disorders. We are all over the world and there is always someone watching the hashtag. You’re not alone and we’ll give you more than 10-15 minutes of our time every day if you need it. Best of all? It’s FREE.