On January 26, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force made waves when they issued a recommendation that all pregnant women and new mothers be screened for depression. While this suggestion isn’t ground-breaking — and, to be frank, seems intuitive and obvious — this shift in thinking was a huge step forward for maternal mental health advocates.
However, this seemingly benign recommendation was met with controversy. Within hours of the announcement, well-known writer and best-selling author Marianne Williamson had already taken to Facebook to share her own concerns about the proposed PPD screening process. The reaction to her reaction, however, has been met with even more controversy.
“CODE ALERT,” wrote Williamson. “U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says women should be ‘screened for depression’ during and after pregnancy … [h]ormonal changes during and after pregnancy are NORMAL. Mood changes are NORMAL. Meditation helps. Prayer helps. Nutritional support helps. Love helps.”
In comments with followers, Williamson went on to say that, “The [postpartum depression] disease is not inside the woman; the disease is inside a system so based on greed that it does not honor parents’ need to remain with their children long enough after birth.”
As a PPD survivor myself, to say that I was horrified would be an understatement. I was sickened. I was disgusted. I felt minimized.
And I wasn’t alone.
In fact, shortly after Ms. Williamson’s comments were made, the floodgates had been opened. Katherine Stone and the entire Postpartum Progress team immediately sprung into action with the hashtag #meditateonthis, which encouraged PPD sufferers and survivors — aka “Warrior Moms,” like myself — to share honest, “stigma-fighting, truth-telling tweets about postpartum depression, medication, and treatment.”
According to Postpartum Progress, just 24 hours after the initiative began, “796 people on [T]witter sent out 6,526 tweets about postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. The messages were delivered to 27,764,462 timelines with a total reach of 2,005,250 people. With absolutely no notice ahead of time, [the] Postpartum Progress’ Warrior Mom community … reached over TWO million people.”
I was one of those people. I was one of those voices. I am one of “the statistics.”
But the truth is, I am more than a statistic, Ms. Williamson; and I ask that you hear my voice and my story before writing off postpartum depression as nothing more than a manufactured disease. A big-pharma disease. A lack-of-spirituality disease that requires more prayer.
For me, the early days of motherhood were a blur — a mess of daytime naps, half-eaten meals, and sleep deprivation. I thought my short temper was par for the parenting course, because who isn’t pissed when they only sleep three hours every two days? I thought my pathetic eating habits were the result of constant breastfeeding because I certainly couldn’t get up while she was eating, and if she fell asleep on her pale pink nursing pillow — which she often did — I was shit out of luck. (AKA stranded on our IKEA loveseat, watching bad TV and trying to convince my stomach it could survive on Hershey Kisses and whatever other foil-wrapped snacks sat in our candy dish.) I thought the guilt and confusion was normal. I thought the tears were normal. And, in the beginning, I thought everything I was feeling was normal.
I was just adjusting my new mommy role.
But before long, I noticed a pattern. I realized I was crying all day, every day. I would cry if my coffee got cold or if I dropped a cup of water. I would cry because my daughter woke up. I would cry because I was crying. And I’m not talking a tear here or a sniffle there, but long, heavy sobs — sobs where my entire body would heave forward, my stomach would turn on itself, and I would be unable to catch my breath. Before long, I was numb. Before long, I was hopeless. And before long I was snapping at everything and everyone. Forget “being angry” — I was furious. I was miserable. I wanted to die.
For my daughter’s sake, I thought. I needed to die.
You see, depression is impossible to explain. It is as much a feeling as it is a void of feeling. You move, eat, and breathe, so you know you are alive; but you can’t feel — or at least, what you do feel, you don’t understand. It’s confusing, illogical, and indiscriminate, and it is a part of you that runs deep in your core.
I tried everything to feel better, to just “be happy.” I went out with my girlfriends — my childless, unattached girlfriends — I got a cute pixie cut, a pedicure, a manicure, and even a Mother’s Day massage. I tried running more, and sitting in front of the TV less. I tried yoga and meditation and yes, in my desperation, I even tried prayer.
But nothing worked. In my darkest and most desperate times, nothing worked. Not one damn thing.
The rage increased. The feelings of failure increased — of being worthless and, worse than worthless: a bad mom. The suicidal thoughts increased.
I had a plan. I made a plan. I even picked a day.
The fact that I am still here, playing with my 2-and-a-half year old angel, is nothing short of a miracle. But that miracle didn’t come to me because I was loved and supported or because I wished my postpartum depression away, or even prayed it away. It came to me in the form of a man — my OB-GYN — and medication. (Big-pharma, Ms. Williamson.)
I am not saying prayer didn’t bring me that man, or a good therapist and damn good drugs, but I am saying were it not for medical intervention I would not have recovered. Prayer alone couldn’t save me.
I couldn’t save me.
Today I believe I survived for a reason. I survived to be a voice, an advocate, and a “statistic.” But please know, I am more than just that. We all are. And while your comments were innocuous enough, Ms. Williamson, please keep in mind what they could mean — or do mean — to the woman who meditates and gets no relief. To the woman who has no love, and no support, in her life.
To the woman whose prayers go unanswered.More On