In October 2017, the maternal mental health world was atwitter with news that the TV sitcom, Blackish, was going to tackle postpartum depression in its storyline. I, just like everyone else, was curious to see how it would be treated; however, I had not been watching the series. Like the anal-retentive reader that I am, I knew I wouldn’t be able to watch except from the beginning, to get a full sense of the story, the setting, the characters.
I started binge-watching this winter during one of the multi-week stretches of snowstorms and flu-like symptoms. I loved getting to know the Johnsons, seeing their story unfold. As soon as Rainbow told Dre she was pregnant, though, I waited anxiously for the signs. They didn’t come until the last episode of season three: Sprinkles. A headache brought Bow into the doctor’s office and the train of preeclampsia rushed from the station.
As she lay on the operating table waiting for the anesthesia to kick in, Rainbow delivered the opening address of postpartum depression. She may not have known it at the time, but she outlined many of the contributing factors of postpartum depression.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen like this.”
Unrealistic or unmet expectations
“I’m really good at this stuff. I’m a baby maker.”
High standards. Betrayal or failure of body.
“This is not normal.
Doesn’t meet the ideal.
“I’m really scared.
What if something goes wrong?”
Ruminating. Irrational fears or worries.
While her blood pressure began to decrease immediately following the baby’s delivery, Rainbow couldn’t hold her baby. He’s whisked away to NICU while she’s anchored to the operating table. Go with him, she pleaded with Dre; someone needs to be with our baby.
Dre had his own emotional trauma surrounding the birth. The doctor intimated that their first priority in cases such as Bow’s is to save the mother, introducing the concept of maternal or fetal mortality. Trying to anchor his wife in this unexpected development was complicated tenfold by the possibility of losing one or both of his loved ones. Even when the baby was successfully delivered, he confessed to his father that he’s afraid to love him in the event that something horrible happens to him.
Sprinkles isn’t even the postpartum episode. But even if I didn’t have the spoilers I did, the writers did a phenomenal job foreshadowing the struggles to come. As was my own experience with postpartum depression, a perfect storm of conditions converged and they’re laid out in a nuanced and real, respectful manner.
I’d had a long day yesterday and needed to decompress at the end of it. I knew I was staying up far too late for my level of exhaustion, but needed to unwind. As I sat there, solitary, sobbing, as the rest of my family slept, I thought, well that didn’t work. But then, I remembered the date: May 2, World Maternal Mental Health Day. How very fitting that I finally happened upon the postpartum part of the Blackish story on this of all days. This story stirred the very raw emotions of my own experience because it was so eloquently treated – and the story is just beginning.