As I write this, I am on a plane flying across the country to greet my oldest son as he completed a cycling trip from South Carolina to San Diego!
This is relevant, as the movie I just finished watching was “Tully”. And relevant more so, as he will shortly turn 16, it was 16 years ago that my I experienced Postpartum Depression after his very medicalized and challenging birth.
I’ve written about my difficulties elsewhere, (see blog for PSI) but I felt compelled to post here as I was deeply disturbed by the movie. When it was released, there was much criticism and press around whether it was “realistic”. I was disappointed I had been unable to see it in the theater particularly as the conversation online went on and on. I knew the bare minimum about it and wondered what it would bring up for me. Spoiler alert, by the way…
My reaction was strong.
As Marlo sits on the toilet at the hospital after giving birth, willing herself to urinate, angry at the nurse for watching her, I could relate. The movie does a wonderful job of highlighting the monotony of newborn life, one diaper change after another, the diaper genie, the relentless crying…. it all comes right back.
I felt for her as she navigated this time, without any real support. She doesn’t seem to have any friends, her relationship with her brother and sister in law is not terribly reassuring and her husband tries but seems somewhat checked out and overlooks the changes in her personality. And truthfully, it is a bit odd to think anyone would hire a night nurse to take care of the baby, and the husband would never even meet her.
The alarm bells went off
Clearly, as a psychologist specializing in postpartum issues, alarm bells were going off pretty quickly for me. It was clear that Marlo was not sleeping, and that all of the events supposedly encouraged and performed by Tully were actually done by Marlo herself. The cupcakes, the waitress outfit for her husband, the field trip in the middle of the night to Brooklyn….
Postpartum Psychosis is Different from Postpartum Depression
But here’s the important distinction. Marlo is experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations. We learn late in the film that Tully is Marlo’s younger self experienced as a soothing hallucination. She is likely manic (thus explaining her decreased need for sleep) and is out of touch with reality. In other words, she is experiencing a Postpartum Psychosis. The most important part to understand here is that she is NOT experiencing Postpartum Depression.
My concern about the film Tully, which to my knowledge, had no mental health experts consulting on the film or its production, offers an inappropriate and inaccurate portrayal of Postpartum Depression.
There is a hint, after Marlo crashes her car into the river. The ER doctor speaks to her husband and wonders if there have been observable changes in her personality. Her husband seems to develop more awareness and steps up his level of support. But here’s the thing, hallucinations and mania unfortunately don’t disappear without medical intervention. No one utters a word about Postpartum Psychosis, any treatment or medication. I found this utterly disturbing and truly a disservice to women who are struggling with any postpartum issue.