Warrior Moms use the hashtag #MeditateOnThis to speak out against the stigma surrounding postpartum depression after author Marianne Williamson criticized meds.
An internet debate sprung up recently after the U.S. Preventative Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of experts in primary care, recommended depression screenings for pregnant and postpartum women. While the recommendation came as good news to many, especially advocates for more proactive maternal wellness care methods, not everyone was on board. In response to the new proposal, New York Times best-selling author, speaker and spiritual guru, Marianne Williamson took to Facebook with the following statement:
Quickly, mothers began responding to her comments, many saying that medication was the only thing that helped them through postpartum depression or that it may have even saved their life.
Warrior moms hit back
Postpartum Progress, an advocacy group for women suffering from maternal mental illness, rallied its troops, known as Warrior Moms, using the hashtag #MeditateOnThis. The hashtag reached over 2 million people, with many offering up personal stories or letting Williamson that her comments may be harmful to struggling mothers. One mother spoke to the importance of not over-looking PPD with this poignant tweet:
— FormulaFeeder (@FormulaFeeder) January 27, 2016
After the initial backlash, Williamson defended her stance, again on Facebook.
"Depressed women are like canaries in a coal mine. We are often depressed because something is wrong that needs to be made right, and what is wrong is not always what is inside us. Postpartum depression, example, is often a result of a woman's heartbreak over having to go back to work sooner than her body, mind and heart are ready to," says Williamson. "It's a can of worms that needs to be open."
It's no doubt that women in the United States are also in need of better maternity leave, but it appears Williamson herself opened an entirely different can of worms. There is already a huge stigma surrounding PPD and many mothers experiencing it continue to suffer in silence, so it's not surprising that her comments with met with such a fierce response. Women need more support in coming forward when they are experiencing sometimes scary symptoms, not to be told they simply need to pray, meditate, cross their fingers and hope for the best. The consequences are too steep because it is not unheard of for suffering mothers to cause harm to themselves and their children if they are ignored. We shouldn't continue to let these mothers go without the help they need and of course, these recommendations seek to address that.
Better treatment for PPD
According to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the screenings are one step in creating better treatment plans for women experiencing depression during pregnancy and postpartum. While medication is likely to be part of a treatment plan for many individuals who are suffering with depression, there is no one size fits all cure. No mother's struggle is unique, but having better screening tools in place is no doubt a step in the right direction in giving mothers the care they need.
On a personal note, I was deeply affected by severe anxiety after my first child's birth. The only mention of it was when my doctor, in passing, while looking at her notepad, asked "and you're not feeling depressed, right?" It took a few months of insomnia and heart palpitations to admit I was having a problem, but perhaps with proper screening in place, I would've received it sooner. Unlike Williamson's claims that PPD only affects women who are forced to go back to work quickly (no doubt, a huge problem on it's own in the US), I was home with my baby every day until she hit preschool. I was also active in yoga and meditation and while I'm sure these things helped me on some level, they were nowhere near enough to calm the mounting anxiety that sat on my chest day and day and kept me awake night after night.
While Williamson's comments were seen and heard by many, the women who spoke out against them were much louder. Hopefully, this debate will open the eyes of those who still don't believe that this is a real and dangerous illness that affects so many mothers. While medication is not a perfect fit for every struggling mother, screening all pregnant and postpartum women is a wonderful tool that hopefully will give many new and expecting mothers their lives back much sooner than if they were simply overlooked.