It’s hard for me to watch depictions of postpartum depression on TV shows and in movies. The feelings come rushing back to me—helplessness, hopelessness—thinking there would be no end or a way out. But they’re an important part of the depiction of new motherhood. While many people might know about “Baby Blues,” they don’t know the extent to which postpartum depression can take a hold of someone’s life. Women need to know that those feelings are not shameful or uncommon.
Early on in this season of “Girls,” we see that new mother Caroline, Adam’s sister played by Gaby Hoffman, is not doing well. She yells at her partner Laird, shoving their baby into his arms so she can hide in the bathroom for 40 minutes. It could mean that she, like many new parents, is sleep-deprived and needs a break. After all, taking care of a baby is a never-ending, exhausting task. But as we found out last night, her unhappiness meant something far more serious.
In last night’s new episode, Caroline has disappeared. Adam visits Laird after he is unable to get in touch with his sister for days. After a quick search of the apartment, they find a good-bye note. In it, she confessed that as soon as her baby was born, she was consumed by thoughts of hurting her. And, in her darkest moments, thoughts of hurting herself.
I know those feelings. They are awful and horrifying, but so incredibly important to share.
When women see depictions of themselves on screen, they know they are not alone. Those feelings are also validated when celebrities speak up. When famous women share their stories about depression, regular women know that fame and fortune don’t guard against it.
Brooke Shields was once of the first celebrities to bring post-partum depression to light. Her book, “Down Came the Rain,” is an honest, unflinching portrait of a woman in crisis. Last year, Hayden Panettiere admitted that she was struggling after giving birth. Her admission is the stigma-breaking announcement that women need to hear. While their experiences don’t normalize post-partum depression per se, they let struggling women know they’re not alone. And, they let the women’s partners know that their feelings are valid and shared by others.
It’s uncomfortable to watch anyone struggle with the overwhelming feelings of post-partum depression. But “Girls” has never shied away from “uncomfortable.” In fact, the show embraces it, allowing us to relate to less-than-perfect characters.
While I’m not glad that a character on a popular television show is in pain (as much as a fictional character can be), I hope at least one woman will see a piece of herself onscreen and know she needs to get help.