Warning: I talk about details from the movie so spoilers are rampant. Additionally, this article contains information and opinion about maternal mental health and could be triggering.
So today I saw the movie Tully with my girls from The Top Knot Squad. For those of you that don’t know, I started a podcast with two mom friends. Top knots aren’t required to listen, we just um sometimes wear them and that ish makes for a cute logo. So today, 2/3’s of us wore said top knots to see Tully and then recorded an episode about our reactions. Let me start by saying, this movie has had a shit storm of information spewing well before it was even released. There were hella spoilers being shared that left many a woman, especially those passionate about maternal mental health dumbfounded and angry AF.
Unpopular opinion, but uh, I liked the movie. I have yet to see mainstream media tell the story of the newborn haze in such a realistic way. Tully did a stellar job showing the audience that new parenthood is a fucking shit show. The scene where the main character, Marlo, is bouncing, shushing, feeding, changing, pumping, rocking, shushing, bouncing, rinse, repeat forever and ever cause you gave birth to a fucking digestive system cut. me. deep.
But back to the angry mobs surrounding this film. One of the main spoiler articles that circulated was written by a midwife. She had some real concerns. Many valid, but hey y’all guess what? She claims something happened in the movie that DID NOT. She claims Marlo is diagnosed with postpartum depression. In her exact words, “we learn from a doctor that Marlo has been suffering from postpartum depression.” Um no we don’t. We learn from the doctor that Marlo has been sleeping zero and hence hallucinating night nanny’s into existence. The doctor fo sho puts husband in his place for being oblivious to all of the above, but no actual diagnosis was given.
In fact, that’s where the movie ends. We don’t see her actually get help nor do we get a picture of what that help looks like, but it is implied that she gets help and starts to heal. Which to me is somewhat of a win. Unfortunately much of the media inaccurately portrays postpartum depression. Media has been inaccurately describing PPD for some time (long before Tully), and the bulk of any media coverage surrounding it focuses on moms that kill themselves or their children. Think Andrea Yates. Yes, everyone knows her and everyone remembers her as the mom with postpartum depression that murdered her children.
Problem is, Andrea Yates did not have postpartum depression. She had postpartum psychosis, a serious diagnosis that seems to have been Marlo’s experience in the film as well (although I do wonder about bipolar mania too). The difference however is that Marlo’s story doesn’t have a tragic ending. The film ends with a sense of hope. It ends with the idea that with help, you can heal.
That’s the thing about postpartum mood disorders, they range significantly in type of symptoms and severity. Some women experience depression, others experience anxiety or PTSD, some might experience a combination, and a small percentage (less than 2%) can experience a psychotic break from reality. No matter where a woman might fall, she is not to blame, this is not her fault, and with help, she can heal.
This was another point made by Pinocchio the midwife, that she felt the movie presents itself as validating the experience of motherhood and sends the message that Marlo’s symptoms are normal, when in reality her story is not simply that of a mom in the trenches, but a story of mental illness. I hear this. But again, women can experience a full spectrum of experiences and that in itself needs to be normalized. Normalizing it reduces shame. Validating it encourages asking for help. And all of that reduces the likelihood of any woman navigating their level of struggle alone.
This topic is sensitive AF. It still makes humans uncomfortable. There is still rampant amounts of stigma surrounding maternal mental health and there needs to be more education, awareness, and general fucking understanding about the many ways new parenthood can light your brain the fuck on fire. And you know what? I think Tully succeeded in doing some of that. Could the film have done better than it did? Yes. But did it make light of maternal mental health and leave the audience misinformed? I think that’s a stretch. If anything, it left the audience wanting to know more. And yo girls blatant lie about Marlo’s diagnosis, well that just created the energy and conversation we need to reduce stigma and create positive change.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, help is available. Contact your medical provider or a therapist who can help you find the right treatment plan. If you want to hurt yourself or your child, please call 911. For more information on perinatal mental illness and treatment options, please visit Postpartum Support International.