On Friday night, I headed to Cary to see Dark Side of the Full Moon, a new documentary produced by two moms about postpartum mood disorders. Local new mom resources, Postpartum Education and Support offered the film as a fundraiser and a post-film discussion panel which was moderated by yours truly.
First, a few thoughts on the film itself. I was sent the a link to see the whole film before Friday night. I'm glad I did. Dark Side can be shocking in points, even to someone who didn't suffer from a postpartum mood disorder. Interspersed in the film are past news stories about moms like Andrea Yates and Cynthia Wachenheim who had either killed their children and/or killed themselves. As one member of the audience pointed out during the panel, these news stories are problematic because they exclusively portray postpartum psychosis which is at the other end of the postpartum mood disorder spectrum. Postpartum psychosis only affects about 1 in 1000 women, about 1%. Postpartum depression or anxiety however is much more common, affecting 15-20% of women. In spite of this (and the sometimes overly dramatic "is this really how it is?" refrain that Maureen and Jennifer often utter incredulously) Dark Side of the Full Moon offers an authentic exploration of the number one complication of childbirth that no one really wants to own. It's well worth seeing.
As good, if not better than the movie, was the discussion panel after the movie. Yes, I moderated it but I was truly blown away by both the honesty of the panelists as well as the insightful audience questions. We had an OB/GYN, the former medical director of the UNC Perinatal Mood Disorders Clinic now in private practice, a physicatric physician assistant and new mom, a mom ppd survivor and a clinical social worker who facilitated a postpartum support group for twenty years. They were an impressive group. Not just because of titles and experience but mainly because of their honesty. The audience heard about ER docs who didn't know about UNC Perinatal Mood Disorders Clinic 6-8 months after it had opened. We learned about pediatricians who follow more of a "don't ask, don't tell" policy with new moms even though we all know a new mom's mental health has an impact on a baby's success. One panelist admires the centering pregnancy model and wishes that was more prevalent in our area as a way to build community, support and trust into prenatal care. Audience members worried about socio-economic gaps for new moms, as many of the moms featured in the movie were employed and in better financial shape than poor moms, "what's being done for them?" she asked. (Socio economic status is a risk factor for postpartum depression.) Collectively, we talked about the bar being raised so high for new moms and how that can exacerbate the isolation and loneliness that new moms can feel.
Perhaps the best question of the night, however, came when an audience member asked panelists if they were to wave a magic wand to help fix some of these issues, what would they choose to do? One panelist thought separating OBs from GYNs would be a good idea. Paid maternity leave was suggested, by the sole male panelist. "Being the main breadwinner exacerbated my symptoms," one woman said. Another panelist wished for communities to rally around each other and neighbors to get involved and check in on new moms, families. More training and interaction between OBs and psychiatrists was also suggested.
It was a remarkable evening. But if you did miss out on this showing and you'd like still like to see the film, there is a screening coming up May 1 in Chapel Hill. Head here for details on that and other showings nationwide.