Yes, honor the pain: On Marianne Williamson, #PPD and compassion

January 28, 2016

This is for the suffering mother.
This morning my little Elsie Jane alarm clock woke me up whispering “Mommy…Mommy…” you know, how they do. And I groggily came to and whispered back, “huh?” or something lovely like that. Then she started in, like she’d been waiting for so long to talk about something very important…
It went like this: Why is there a thing that goes way inside the tennis shoe and comes out and you can pull on it, it’s a tongue…and we have one in our mouth too and then there is gum that we can chew and also the gums where our teeth come out, why are they both gum and tongues?
So we talked about that.
I was there to talk about that.
This is my truth: Part of the reason I can strive for a perspective that sustains my spirit and attitude is because I’m on Zoloft. There was a time when I was brought to the doctor in a zombie-like state, shaking, nauseated. I was about three months postpartum with Elsie. I had experienced this before, but not so severely.
Recently Marianne Williamson, a revered author and speaker made some statements on her Facebook page. Marianne’s clearly very strong feelings are focused on “Big Pharma” and the idea that doctors hand out antidepressants (and other medications) like candy and that the system is broken. She isn’t wrong about that. And she isn’t totally wrong about medical doctors not always knowing what the best course of action is for mental illness. This is what she said:
CODE ALERT: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says women should be “screened for depression” during and after pregnancy. Their answer, of course, is to “find the right medication.” And how many on the “Task Force” are on big pharma’s payroll? Follow the money on this one. Hormonal changes during and after pregnancy are NORMAL. Mood changes are NORMAL. Meditation helps. Prayer helps. Nutritional support helps. Love helps. – from Marianne Williamson’s Facebook page (emphasis mine)
This quote in and of itself is not wrong (bear with me), but it caused a huge backlash by those of us who have struggled, or who work in the mental illness field, or are any kind of mental health advocate at all, which should be all of us. The problem with these statements is what was left out.
I am a woman who suffered severe anxiety and depression after each childbirth, with increasing intensity, one at a time. Three times. I am also a woman who worked in the mental health field for ten years as a social worker supporting people with mental illness. I continue this work through Postpartum Progress today, assisting mothers through a terribly traumatic illness (illnesses), answering their questions and cheering them on when they feel as if life is not worth living and that it is because they are doing something wrong, or thinking wrong, or were never meant to be mothers. If you have not experienced severe PPD or other perinatal mood disorders, trust me. Being a mother while whole-heartedly believing you should not be a mother is horrific.
I have yet to meet a suffering mother who does not feel shame and grief and guilt. This makes us so vulnerable. The backlash to Marianne’s comments is because of the valid concern that these mothers, many who have not sought any kind of treatment, are avid followers of this public figure with influence and power. The outrage from advocates is due to what was left out, and what was left out leaves mothers with only one message–medications are bad. What was left out is that we are all different and taking medication is not a failure. Some mothers respond well to other treatment options, besides medications, like prayer and meditation and a good diet and love. Yes, as Marianne said in a follow-up comment, some find the reasons why they are hurting so much to be due to hard truths in their lives they are fighting, and then they work through that and get better. Yes, you can honor the root of your pain and get better. BUT. Some mothers absolutely DO NOT. CANNOT. I was one of those women.
I love God. God loves me. I face down my painful truths almost to a fault. I am insightful and introspective. I fought so hard for that to be enough. I talked to my unconditional friends and family. I begged and screamed and could not stand up. I stood frozen with fear in the middle of my living room, clutching a newborn to my chest while trying to figure out how to take myself out of the picture because I believed my family would be better off without a sad, crying, angry, anxious and uptight ME in their lives. Sitting on the train tracks in my little silver car seemed like the best option most days.
I was biochemically, hormonally and situationally screwed. Or so it seemed. I knew full well that time for myself and eating healthy and prayer were supposed to fix this, but honestly, the racing thoughts and fatigue, the sadness and hopelessness, were barriers to any kind of health. My body was a barrier to my spirituality.
Medication cleared my mind and gave me hope, plain and simple. I could work on the other things that we all need to work on to be whole humans only after medication took the terror from my insides long enough for me to stand up, to walk, to head to therapy and to go for walks outside with strollers.
No, medication should not be handed out like candy and it isn’t the answer to everything always. No way. I love natural remedies as much as the next hippie spirituality-focused woman. But medication never felt like a cop out to me. It never felt wrong. The message Marianne sent with her facebook post is that medication is wrong. That is not just my perception. I think of the mothers suffering in silence, reading her post and how it influences them to see medications as only a Big Pharma Thing. I sit with them in spirit and imagine how they are perceiving her message. This is not something to be flippant about, and each individual mama should be regarded before any influential platform is used for opinions.
Yesterday Marianne said she had nothing to apologize for, but wait wait wait…don’t we all? After this sort of (intentional or not) soapbox rant blows up, there must be some reason for the response, other than people putting their own sensitivity on it. It begs the instigator to take a deeper look–to honor the pain of others
This is not that,
I cannot apologize for what I never said, and i cannot be responsible for someone’s projections onto my words, finding meaning there that simply doesn’t exist. More than anything, I find it sad that women cannot disagree with each other greater respect. – Marianne Williamson, Facebook
No, you can’t apologize for what you never said. But maybe apologize for what you did not say, and certainly should have said.
This sensitive issue was not treated with compassion on either side. Here is why: It is life or death, no matter the projection. That’s not dramatic. It is not irrational. Severe PPD and other perinatal mood disorders are killing mothers. If medication is the first and often temporary vehicle to holistic health, take the medications.
Mama, if you are suffering in this dark hole to the extent that you cannot possibly imagine surviving, if you are so sleep deprived and hormonal and hopeless that you cannot lift your head, I hope your doctor–whatever kind of doctor– hands out medication like candy.
Yeah, okay. Fine, Skittles saved my life. So be it.
It is well with my soul.
I am here to listen to my kids, to feed them, laugh with them, teach them. Because love does help. But not if you cannot feel it without interventions you may have never desired but absolutely need.
I simply wish Marianne would have added something, anything, that would take the shame away for the moms who certainly do need medication. No, not every mother managing hormones and moods in the postpartum period needs meds. And sure, I also wish that every mother who is sick had access to psychiatrists who specialize in maternal mental health, and thankfully many do. But if it is their family doctor (as was my case) or an OB/GYN who prescribes Big Pharma’s meds, so be it. If they do that too often, it is better than never.
Mamas, we are all different, suffering to different degrees. If you need medication, you are not just a pawn in Big Pharma’s schemes, being tricked. I promise. You are not alone. You are not weak. Do not listen to the voices that don’t align with YOUR personal truth. If your gut is screaming that you will not survive, medication most certainly may be an answer for you and there is NO shame in that. I promise.


Jenna January 28, 2016 at 11:09 am

Thank you, Heather. I love your voice and your truth. It matters. You matter. <3
Jenna recently posted..I Hear Them Growing

Heather January 28, 2016 at 1:42 pm

I love that you brought up that medication for PPD is often temporary. That was the case for me, and I resisted it for a long time – too long. Thank you for standing up for moms!
Heather recently posted..Kidz, Stop.

Sarah February 1, 2016 at 10:36 am

Bravo to you for your ability to clearly state why this unfair comment isn’t warranted. Your insight and honesty allows us mothers to know that taking care of ourselves is also helpful to properly take care of our children, too. There are so many aspects of motherhood that aren’t openly discussed that I am greatly appreciative to people like you that bring up hard topics like this so that hopefully another woman will have an extra net to catch them in case they need it. Take care :)

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