New motherhood is supposed to be a magical time in a woman’s life, but for one in seven women (some say the number may be closer to one in five) it can lead to a dark place filled with sorrow and shame.
When the Bough Breaks, a documentary now available on Netflix and iTunes, is bringing attention to this public health issue with an in-depth look at one woman’s journey to recovery. The film features interviews with mental health professionals, as well as celebrities, and women from all walks of life. The film’s narrator and executive producer, Brooke Shields, famously admitted to suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) after the birth of her daughter in 2003.
Lindsay Gerszt, a mother featured in the film who also helped produce it, tells Babble that she wanted to be a part of this project for a very specific reason:
“Too many moms go through life being depressed because they are ashamed and worried about the stigma attached to postpartum depression. They do not want to be seen as ‘crazy’ so they stay silent. I hope by sharing my story and this film that it helps them realize they are not alone and there is help.”
I was one of those women. I was afraid to admit that I was struggling after the birth of my third baby until the darkness turned me into a person I no longer recognized. It scared me enough to finally seek the help that I needed.
In the film, we follow Lindsay, who meets weekly with a psychiatrist and treats her depression with medication as she seeks out alternative treatments to help combat her illness. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, has helped Lindsay, who, like a lot of women with PPD, experienced a traumatic birth experience. We also learn about cognitive behavioral therapy, vitamin supplementation, acupuncture, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) as other treatment options.
The message is clear: a lot of treatment options are available for PPD. Women do not need to suffer alone.
The documentary also tackles the subject of postpartum psychosis, which is classified as a psychiatric emergency that manifests through symptoms such as severe depression, confusion, paranoia, hallucinations, and mania. This serious condition requires immediate attention due to risks to both mother and baby. Dr. Merrill Sparago, Gerszt’s psychiatrist, says in the film, “If anyone suspects a postpartum psychosis, we cannot send them home. We have to take care of them as if they were having a heart attack.”
One of the most powerful aspects of the movie are the personal accounts and stories of women who have experienced PPD. Celebrities like singer Carnie Wilson, actress Tanya Newbould, celebrity chef Aarti Sequeira, and Peggy Tanous of The Real Housewives of Orange County share their honest experiences to help shatter the stigma surrounding PPD. Carnie Wilson describes experiencing hallucinations and hearing voices shortly after giving birth, followed by crippling anxiety. “I don’t think I was ever more scared or more freaked then coming home from the hospital,” she says.
Aarti Sequeira recalls a candid conversation she had with her mother after giving birth. Her mother, who lives in India, proclaimed, “I don’t understand how they are doing it in America. If you were here in India, for the first month, you wouldn’t do anything.” Aarti says there is an appreciation in India that “you’ve just gone through an extraordinary thing, and it’s going to take you awhile to recover.” In many countries, it is common practice to hire a baby nurse to help a new mother adjust. In America, it feels like women are expected to do it all on their own and be back to their pre-baby selves in short order.
In a world where there is still much stigma surrounding postpartum depression and other mental illnesses, efforts to educate the public on these disorders and their treatments are more important than ever. Gerszt tells Babble:
“I get many messages everyday of how this film has helped those who have watched it. For some it has made them realize that they are not alone and others it has pushed them to go out and seek the help they so desperately need. What this film has done for all who watch it is educate!”
I wish I had watched this film when I was struggling. I know it could have shed some light on what I was experiencing. Seeing it now has made me realize how far I have come and how important it is to me to help spread the word that help is available. You can feel like yourself again.