Childbirth can have complications such as postpartum depression. U.S. health officials estimate that 1-in-9 American mothers suffer from the condition, also known as the ‘baby blues.’
But many new mothers are not aware of the symptoms, and many doctors don’t screen for the condition.
CGTN’s Mary MacCarthy introduces us to one comedian who went experienced it and is raising awareness through humor.
“They put my daughter on me for skin-to-skin, and I was like, what is the return policy?” said comedian Angelina Spicer. She’s received rave reviews for her stand-up act about becoming a mother. She’s even created a rap song about it: “PPD — I can’t explain it. It’s what the doctors name it, when you’re cryin’, laughin’ same time with it.”
Her daughter is now four, but she still remembers just how hard those early days were, a dark time that led, for her, to a diagnosis of postpartum depression.
“I remember feeling confused and afraid,” she said. “Like someone had dropped me off in a prison camp somewhere and told me to survive. I was confused. I was scared. I was exhausted. And then it got worse. The sleep deprivation. Feeling like I lost myself. I couldn’t perform. I was too tired. The demands of breastfeeding. It didn’t improve for a long time.”
In Spicer’s case, treatment involved being admitted to a psychiatric ward, a tough subject she doesn’t shy away from in her comedy, despite push back that even comes from her own mother.
“She thought you shouldn’t be joking about this,” she said. “This is a real serious thing! You went to a psychiatric hospital, you were on medication, you could not go home, you were locked in! And I’m like no, mommy, that’s the stuff we’ve gotta talk about. That’s what’s gonna not only heal other people, but heal me.”
Spicer is now working on a documentary that was inspired, she said, by the many women who’ve thanked her for putting words to their own struggles with postpartum depression.
“It’s like the new #metoo movement,” she said. “People in comedy clubs are like-finally, somebody is talking about it. Me too!”
In the U.S., there has been a push for better treatment of postpartum depression. Here in California, that includes a new law requiring medical practitioners to screen all mothers for mental health conditions. Postpartum depression affects women across all socio-economic levels and races, but, like many maternal health issues, it affects African-American women at a disproportionate rate.
Experts said that screening is just the beginning, and that it’s imperative that women diagnosed with postpartum depression are also given easy access to treatment.
Clinical psychologist Eynav Accortt said Angelina Spicer’s comedy is especially effective at tackling the stigma and shame that often surround a postpartum depression diagnosis.
“What she’s doing, using humor, getting the message out, normalizing it, so they realize, oh this isn’t just baby blues, it’s been more than two weeks, it’s interfering with my functioning,” said Accortt. “It’s that kind of communication, that as we doctors and psychologists and psychiatrists, we can’t do. We don’t have that kind of reach, that she does.”
Spicer’s message is for all women, but she’s especially determined to educate other African-American women. She said many lack support from family members and mental health professionals, a support network that saved her life, she said , during the worst days of her postpartum depression.
Spicer’s efforts have done more than raise awareness — she was part of the push to get legislation passed in California requiring doctors to screen for postpartum depression, and has testified before lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington DC on the issue.