Parenting Websites Perpetuate Myths of Postpartum Depression
I like parenting and "mommy" websites. I love ParentDish (bias, anyone?) and I enjoy checking out all of the other sites as well. I follow them on Twitter. I watch their bloggers. I know that gobs of women visit these websites, too, and pay close attention to what they say. This is why it makes me so damn frustrated when I see them covering the topic of postpartum depression poorly and perpetuating myths that need to be destroyed once and for all.
On CafeMom's blog The Stir recently, there was a story entitled "The Toll of Postpartum Depression." From the headline, I expected to read a piece on how difficult and painful PPD can be. Instead, I read about two horrible tragedies involving new mothers, infants, knives and windows. And then this:
"The deep, desperate acts caused by postpartum depression are mind-numbing, and it's terrifying to think anyone could be that overridden by the disease to do such awful things."
"According to a new study, the children of mothers who suffer from postpartum depression are more likely to have developmental and social delays."
I wish people could understand how much these statements negatively affect new mothers with postpartum depression or anxiety. I'm not asking writers to be politically correct, but rather to understand that words matter, and the words one uses impact whether a mother will feel safe in reaching out for help.
As I commented at The Stir, women with postpartum depression do not kill their babies. Women with postpartum psychosis, which is a different illness with a very different set of symptoms, do that just about 10 percent of the time. This is because they are delusional, and if no one is watching out for them, they may be able to do something under the compulsion of the illness that they would never otherwise do.
Saying that "the deep, desperate acts caused by postpartum depression are mind-numbing" is misguided, and perpetuates the myth that is oft-propelled by the media that moms with PPD are murderous villains who are not to be trusted. This could not be further from the truth. We have a temporary and treatable illness and are not in danger of harming our children. Even those of us who have postpartum OCD like I did, which features scary thoughts brought on by anxiety that may include visions of hurting our babies or others, are not in danger of acting on those thoughts. Imagine what it feels like to be a mom who thinks she may have PPD and then reads the statement about "deep, desperate acts." Will she avoid sharing what is going on with her? Will she live in fear that she's going to commit some heinous crime?
On top of that, saying matter-of-factly that children of mothers who've had PPD are developmentally and socially delayed isn't fair either. What the statement doesn't make clear is that those are more likely to be children whose mothers were never treated, so the mom was never able to carry out the work of mothering and bonding effectively. As I wrote earlier this year, moms who are treated and able to get back to developing all-important attachment to their children are able to reverse the potential negative effects of PPD.
My children are fine. The women I know who had and were treated for PPD have children who are fine. Yet after reading The Stir post, one of my readers who is currently recovering from PPD said, regarding her children, "Guess they're screwed." Her children aren't screwed, and the article could have been written more artfully so that she wouldn't have to spend the days ahead beating herself up.
I'm not mad at the author of the post. Not one bit. I don't mention her name here because the last thing I want is for people to start some campaign against her on Twitter or Facebook. This is not about her. I'm sure she's a lovely person. It is clear that her intent was to make sure that people are aware of the symptoms of postpartum depression so that they can get help. I appreciate that. What bothers me is that major parenting websites aren't aware enough of the spectrum of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder websites to know there is a difference between postpartum depression and psychosis. That's not acceptable to me. If you're going to put yourself out there as an influential site for mothers, you need to know this stuff.
You owe it to moms to get it right.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.