Postpartum Depression on the Small Screen


postpartum depressionAs a survivor of postpartum depression, I’m always curious when I hear that a television show will have a storyline about the illness. A commercial caught my eye for a recent episode of ABC’s hidden camera show titled What Would You Do? The overall premise of the show is to examine people’s reactions when they are put in uncomfortable situations.  Will they help? Will they intervene? Or will they keep to themselves and mind their own business?  In this episode of What Would You Do? the focus is on customers in a restaurant and their reactions to a new mother clearly suffering at a nearby table. Hmm…what would they do

There have been times when postpartum depression has made the TV rounds. Highlighting the illness on television is great because it brings attention and much-needed awareness to the cause. A few examples stick out in my mind:


After Bow gives birth to her 5th baby, she appears to struggle bonding with the new little one. She experiences crying spells, has low energy, and portrays a consistent feeling of being overwhelmed. Her husband, Dre, recognizes that something is wrong and suggests to Bow that she may have postpartum depression. As a doctor and a mother of four already, Bow believes that she would know.

Additionally, her mother-in-law calls Bow crazy and thinks she is overreacting. Thankfully, Dre supports Bow all the way! A pivotal piece of this storyline that I love is Bow does not get better overnight (aka one episode). It takes time and treatment, as well as an understanding family.    


Hayden Panettierre, who suffered from postpartum depression after having her daughter in “real life,” plays the character of Juliette. After Juliette’s daughter is born, she becomes detached and disinterested in caring for her baby. She also has fits of anger, which is a symptom of postpartum rage. This is a lesser-known PMAD. With postpartum rage, a new mother may physically or verbally lash out about something that typically wouldn’t bother them. 

Juliette turns to work as an escape (consciously or subconsciously). A kicker is that Avery transitions easily to parenthood as a natural caregiver and seemingly able to care for the baby better than Juliette, leaving her feeling inadequate. Avery intervened, and Juliette wound up with the official diagnosis of postpartum depression. There are mixed reviews on how the storyline was resolved, but the fact that the show was willing to have these conversations at all should be commended.


After Carla’s daughter is born, she begins to feel signs of postpartum depression. She tries to hide this from her husband, Turk, but she cannot pull herself out of it. Turk realizes something is very wrong when Carla can’t stop crying and says, “I can’t do this. We have to take her back.” Although Carla still insists that she does not have postpartum depression and that she can handle whatever she is going through. Through the season, it is clear that Turk is unable to get through to Carla, but connects her with a friend who experienced the same. When Carla heard from this woman felt similarly when her baby was born, she felt a sigh of relief and was finally convinced to receive help. This storyline won an award from Hollywood, Health & Society, for its representation of the illness.

While each of these shows might not have been the perfect representation, they touched on many parts of the illness and symptoms, and I praise the supportive partners. The shows offered some solutions such as peer support, therapy, and medication and did not depict the illness as something with an “easy button” cure. 

Some shows, less so. Ahem, Private Practice. Psst Homeland. As a survivor, these storylines are too tough to recap, but just know that health advocates slammed the way they portrayed the subject matter. These scripts were remiss in helpfully representing the illness, and could have even scared mothers away from asking for help. On the contrary, if the postpartum depression gets glossed over and cured in one episode, let’s say, mothers might not seek assistance thinking that it will fade away eventually. 

So I watched What Would You Do, I greatly appreciated that they brought the illness into real-life scenarios. 

The scenes were shot in a diner. In one scenario, a woman, her infant baby, and her friend were sitting at a table. Ariane, the actress playing the new mother, speaks of her struggles and sadness, but her friend brushes off her depression and anxiety symptoms as “nothing serious.” 

In another scene, Ariane is speaking with her husband about her feelings. He shows little support in return and seemingly makes it all about “him.” Additionally, Sara Haines, a television host and journalist, who herself had postpartum depression after the birth of her first son, also played the role of a mother struggling.  

As I watched What Would You Do? the scenes brought me back 15 years to when my son was a baby. Ariane and Sara were pretty spot-on in their roles. I felt like that. I had been there. I didn’t feel that instant love either. And yes, I said those very same words of, “He’d be better off with someone else,” when referring to my baby boy.  

Although I know that editing plays a huge part in what winds up on the small screen, it was heartwarming to see the concern of the fellow patrons. Folks would approach Ariane with pure concern, support, offers to help, and even a few hugs. This includes one woman who suffered from postpartum depression many years ago. One gentleman in a booth nearby tells Ariane that men are clueless. He directs some words of guidance to the husband as well. 

I had shared a post on Facebook to bring attention to the show and the storyline, hoping friends would watch as well. The show elicited comments from a few friends and family:

  • I find I often make eye contact with new parents. The need to check in with them and have them know they are seen feels instinctual at such a deep level, especially at times when the baby is crying, and they are stressed.   
  • (In reference to having PPD) I felt SO invisible, yet at the same time, I felt that everyone was watching and judging me!
  • I just had people stare at me as I pushed the stroller crying while the baby cried hysterically. Yet, even though they stared, no one would look me in the eyes.
  • The validation of the struggle is freeing. 
  • At the time, it’s an excruciating feeling of failure. Any acknowledgment given from others is a lifesaver.

Although most commonly referred to as Postpartum Depression, it’s important to know that it is not “just” depression. There is a spectrum of disorders, which fall under what is called Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs). These include depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis, and OCD and intrusive thoughts, which is what I had. PMADs manifest differently in different women. They can appear during pregnancy or days or months after childbirth and do not usually resolve without treatment. 

Still, in the year 2020, PMADs aren’t easily diagnosed or recognized. I mean, it’s not like a sore throat. When you have a sore throat, your throat hurts. When my son has a sore throat, his throat hurts. With PMADs though, the symptoms run the gamut. Sadness, disinterest, rage, constant worry, physical pains, etc., were represented pretty well on What Would You Do? 

I applaud the small screen for showing the true aspects and overwhelming emotions of the illness. I love how What Would You Do? dedicated time on their show for this significant topic. And I love how it prompted conversation on my Facebook feed. Because the more we keep talking, writing, and sharing about PMADs, the more we normalize it. And the more we normalize it, the less stigma there will be. 

Is the answer to What Would You Do? simply to ask the question, “How are you?” It’s an ideal place to start.

About 4 1/2 years ago, I started my journey with writing because I wanted to share my experiences with PMADs to help others. It was important to let new mothers know that there is help and to know that they are not alone. Between Westchester County Mom and a few other venues, I’ve written around ten posts on PMADs, in addition to contributing to a compilation on the subject called A Dark Secret. Over the years, my subject matters have expanded greatly, but I have to remember that have a platform to keep talking about PMADs. I’m not a doctor nor a medical expert – just a mom who has lived through it. And came out the other end as a survivor. Some women aren’t as lucky. 

Mothers should never feel ashamed about having a PMAD. If you or someone you know is suffering from a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder, there is help:

The Bloom Foundation for Maternal Wellness

Postpartum Resource Center of New York

The Motherhood Center of New York

Postpartum Support International