In the days and weeks after I gave birth to my son, I felt like an alien. Everything about my new role was foreign to me. Swaddling, breastfeeding, burping, soothing—none of it was second nature and none of it felt like me. Though I wasn't depressed, I was struggling with free-falling hormones and a nagging sense that I'd never get the hang of being a mother.
During that confusing, overwhelming first year of motherhood, only two people asked me how I was holding up: our pediatrician and my ob-gyn. Not so great, but that's two more inquiries than many women receive after giving birth. A new documentary hopes to change all of that. As Dark Side of the Full Moon shows, depression during pregnancy and after childbirth is a real issue: As many as 1 in 7 women suffer from some sort of maternal mental health complication, like postpartum depression (PPD), and roughly 1 in 1,000 will get postpartum psychosis. (Meanwhile, dads are also vulnerable to PPD.) It's an issue for families, yes, but also the community at large.
Yet those moms aren't always getting the help they desperately need. "High blood pressure gets treated. Diabetes gets treated. Treating mental health is optional," one woman astutely points out in the film's trailer. The filmmakers, Maureen Fura and Jennifer Silliman, interview several moms who experienced PPD, and their stories are heartbreaking (and all too familiar): women who feel no attachment to their newborns, who struggle with a sadness that goes far beyond the baby blues, and who feel like they have to pull themselves out of this darkness on their own. (Check out the trailer here.)
Fura and Silliman know feelings like those all too well; both women experienced depression after the birth of their children. They're hoping to use this documentary to help raise awareness about maternal mental health issues—and the lack of help available—and speak out for the moms who are struggling in silence. They're also hoping it encourages others to get involved.
So far, Dark Side of the Full Moon seems to be working. It's being screened in theaters and living rooms across the country and is being used as part of the curriculum in schools like Stanford and Emory University and health organizations and hospitals like the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill's psychiatry department and the California Health Collaborative. Hopefully, through education and conversation like this, struggling moms can finally get the help they need and deserve.
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Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.
Postpartum Depression: "I couldn't even talk... without crying."
Image of Dark Side of the Full Moon via Facebook