How Black-ish Got Postpartum Depression SOOO Right
It’s not every day that you find a comedy that tackles real issues. A comedy that delicately walks the line between gut-busting laughter and tear-wiping honesty. Black-ish did it for their c-section episode, and they did it again today.
For those who don’t regularly watch or missed tonight’s episode, Rainbow Johnson gave birth during the final episode of last season. The new season covers what happens to a family after a baby is born.
Bow is dealing with some serious postpartum depression in tonight’s episode. She’s feeling lost, hopeless, and weepy. She’s having difficulty bonding with her new baby. She feels guilty about not being able to care for her baby. She’s had four children before this newest one; she can’t figure out why she’s having such a hard time with this baby.
Each pregnancy is different, each postpartum period is different. After my daughter was born, I postpartum depression hit hard. I would stay up all night with her, crying as I rocked her fussy body. One time, I made a grocery store run just to get out of the house. I sat in the car, trying to convince myself to go home. I didn’t want to go back. I couldn’t turn the key to go home.
I called my mom, as I sat in the car on a cold November night. I told her I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to go back to my baby who wouldn’t sleep on her own. I didn’t want to go back to the blue glow of the TV that kept me company while I stayed awake with her in my arms. I resented my husband for needing to go back to work and leaving me all alone with this crying, needy blob of a human being. I was done with it all.
My mom talked me down. I don’t remember what she said, but she convinced me that I needed to go home. As soon as she got off the phone with me, she got in the car with my father and they drove through the night to get to me. (They live about 7 hours away). She cancelled work for the next day and stayed with me. She took me to the doctor and helped me get on medication.
Bow’s husband and children are walking on eggshells around her. They want to support her, they want to be there for her. But nothing seems to “make her better.” Her husband, Dre, is constantly asking how she’s feeling. He tries to fix her by asking her to go for a run, or take a postpartum depression quiz.
Her kids are doing the things she feels she should be doing. They help care for the baby. They baby proof the house — but she feels like she should have thought of it and beats herself up over it. They’re all trying to help, and they all have good intentions, but Bow sees it as her failing as a mother.
My husband knew something was wrong. He wanted to help, but he just didn’t know how. Our daughter was exclusively breastfed, so I needed to get up every few hours to feed her. He couldn’t just take her for the night while I slept. He tried to clean and cook. He picked up treats for me at the store every now and then. He wanted me fixed, but he didn’t know how to do it. What he didn’t know is that he couldn’t fix me. I couldn’t fix me.
Bow’s mother-in-law thinks she’s weak because she can’t stop crying. She calls her mentally ill and worries about her being left alone with the baby. Then, when the mother-in-law finds out that Bow’s taking medication for her depression, she thinks the breastmilk is poisoned and is bad for the baby. She thinks the breastmilk is why the baby won’t sleep, so she feeds the baby formula instead. The mother-in-law goes behind Bow’s back and gives the baby formula.
I was worried about being labeled “mentally ill.” I didn’t tell my in-laws, daycare teachers, or friends about my postpartum depression. I didn’t know who would be supportive and who would think I’m just weak. I didn’t know who would help me and who would fear me. I was worried about my daughter’s other caregivers going behind my back trying to “help,” but actually were hurting us. I kept it all in, and that made things so much worse.
Bow is having problems with her milk supply. She can’t seem to make enough for her baby, who is always fussy and crying. Her baby is probably hungry, but she is committed to exclusive breastfeeding. She feels like her body is betraying her; mothering and breastfeeding should be natural to her and she just can’t.
After a c-section, especially one for a premature baby, it can take longer for a woman’s milk supply to come in. A c-section is major surgery, a real trauma to the body. And after trauma, it can take longer for the body to respond. Especially if the baby is in the NICU and the only way to get breastmilk is to pump.
I tried so hard to exclusively breastfeed my daughter after my c-section. She was in the NICU, so I would sit next to her tiny crib and pump, hoping that the sight of her would make my milk come in. I smelled a blanket she slept with when pumping at home. When she finally came home, I brought her to breast hourly, trying to increase my supply. She was never sated and always fussing and hungry. I just couldn’t make enough for her to be full. So I started supplementing. But the more I supplemented, the less I produced. The less I produced, the more I supplemented. It was a vicious cycle.
For an episode that only lasted a half hour (including commercials), Black-ish sure got a lot in. And they got it right. Postpartum depression doesn’t make you weak. It happens a lot.
There’s no shame in it — or at least, there shouldn’t be.
Thank you, Black-ish, for tackling postpartum depression and for being so positive about it. It happens, and with help, we can get through it. Thank you.