Why Hayden Panettiere’s ‘Nashville’ Postpartum Depression Story Matters So Much
I love the show Nashville. It has everything I want in television: great music, characters who make me swoon, and plenty of glorious, romantic drama. But I've been especially dedicated since the show tackled Juliette Barnes’ Season 4 storyline, which parallels Hayden Panettiere’s postpartum depression. The storyline, in my opinion, gets so much right about what it's like to be a first-time mom struggling with postpartum depression. There have been parts of it I can directly relate to because Juliette's struggles are so similar to my own experiences with postpartum anxiety, and there then are also so many aspects of her mental illness that are so totally different than my experiences, which is so important to me since the warning signs aren't always as clear cut as we'd like to think. Each woman's experience will be different. When I was suffering with a postpartum mood disorder after the birth of my first child, it wasn't anything like I'd pictured it. It wasn't anything like what Juliette goes through. And that's why it's so important to me that the media brought this type of illness to light. Postpartum depression isn't something that happens to one type of woman. It doesn't just happen to A-list country stars, young moms, or women who, like me, have lived with depression and anxiety. It can (and does) happen to anyone.
I'm someone who staunchly believe that stories can change lives. They can make us feel less alone and comforted. They can teach us things, and allow us to get perspectives outside of our own lives. Nashville's depiction of postpartum depression shows one woman's experiences in an honest, thoughtful, and realistic way. It's more real to me than reading a pamphlet or Googling my feelings. The thing about postpartum mood disorders, especially with first babies, is that they're confusing. Even if you know the typical warning signs and symptoms of postpartum depression, and even if you have a supportive family, you might not realize if or how much you're suffering. As a first-time parent, my entire world had been turned upside down, and I didn't know if it's just hard and I was tired, or if something was really wrong. Nashville took me right back right into the heart of that struggle.
When country diva Juliette Barnes delivers her baby, it's a wonderfully happy moment. Her partner Avery is there, and both he and Juliette look totally blissed out. The moments after birth are such an incredible high, but for me, and for Juliette, that high doesn't last. Juliette depression isn't obvious at first. She's tired and overwhelmed and frustrated, and to top it all off, there are a million things she'd rather be doing than caring for an infant. She's understandably anxious when her baby keeps crying and she can't soothe her. When I became a new mom, I realized really quickly that there's this expectation that once your baby is born, instinct will take over and you'll somehow magically know what to do. But motherhood has such a steep learning curve. I didn't always immediately know. Neither does Juliette. And people channel those feelings differently. Juliette begs her daughter to stop crying. I've been there, too. I was like a raw nerve after my son was born, and his crying hit that nerve big time. When Juliette's partner swoops in and starts shushing the baby, who immediately calms, you can see how painful it was for Juliette not to be the one to soothe her daughter. I knew in that moment that Juliette was a raw nerve, just like I was.
Even though my struggle with postpartum depression was much different — unlike Juliette, I didn't abandon my child, become suicidal, or begin self-medicating — I still needed help the same way she did.
It becomes more apparent as a viewer that something is seriously wrong when Juliette starts avoiding being around her baby. She finds excuses to work and then finds more excuses to ignore the baby, even when she's screaming from her crib. When my son was a newborn, I couldn't stand to hear him cry. Before giving birth, I'd heard that all mothers feel that way; that nothing is more distressing than hearing your baby in any kind of discomfort or pain. And it makes sense. Nature intends for us to respond to a crying baby right away. But Juliette and I responded differently to that stress. She put on headphones to block the noise and give herself time away, and I couldn't put my baby down. Because our responses to the stressful wails of a newborn were so different, I realized that my response wasn't any more "typical" than hers. It also made me realize that "typical" isn't as important as recognizing pain and struggle in whatever form in manifests.
On Nashville, Juliette becomes more and more detached. In my real life, I became more and more protective and vigilant. I couldn't sleep because I was too busy making sure my baby hadn't died. I didn't let anyone else care for the baby because I was convinced I did it better than everyone. When I was in the thick of it, I didn't recognize that I was going through something that wasn't healthy. It's impossible to have perspective when everything's new and you're in the eye of the storm. In that, Juliette's struggle was so much like my own. She'd rather busy her mind with music and her career than face the pain that motherhood had brought her, and I couldn't do anything to escape that world.
It was painfully familiar watching Juliette problems grow worse. Her partner realizes there's something wrong, but he isn't sure how to help her. He gently tries to help her bond, then he begins to insist she spend more time with the baby, and, finally, he contacts her doctor to get help. But she didn't want help.
I wish I'd had more awareness before giving birth for the first time. I wish I had seen a TV show where a new mom couldn't sleep because her baby might stop breathing.
Even though my struggle with postpartum depression was much different — unlike Juliette, I didn't abandon my child, become suicidal, or begin self-medicating — I still needed help the same way Juliette did. I wasn't in denial, but I was experiencing things so different from my previous mental health struggles. My partner had already seen me through periods of depression, and he knew what that looked like. He was there when my panic disorder came out of nowhere and I had severe agoraphobia. But my mood postpartum looked totally different.
I hope the story can underline that help is out there. That mental illnesses are treatable. That healing and health take time and sometimes include relapses and stumbles, but that things can and do get better.
I wasn't having panic attacks, so I didn't recognize my obsession with my child was actually my anxiety. I was sleep-deprived, but I thought that was normal. Every time I had a follow-up visit with my midwives, they'd remark at how calm I was. I didn't seem like a first-time mother. Nursing was going well and I was clearly bonded to my son. I didn't know something was wrong. When I asked if my worries were normal, I was told that, yes, they were, but if I was finding them troublesome, I could be referred for more help. But my partner and I still didn't think it was bad enough to get professional help. Though Juliette and I had vastly different experiences, the outcome was very much the same: We were overwhelmed and we weren't getting help.
When Juliette finally does get help, I cheered her on. And then, when the actress that portrays Juliette, Hayden Panettiere, opened up about her own struggles with postpartum depression and her need for intensive treatment, I applauded her as well. Postpartum depression is often used as an umbrella term for all postpartum mood disorders, depression doesn't cover the wide experiences women have. After the first few days, I wasn't weepy. I wasn't detached from my baby. I wasn't suicidal or considering self-harm. I was anxious and obsessive. But I was still experiencing postpartum depression.
I wish I'd had more awareness before giving birth for the first time. I wish I had seen a TV show where a new mom couldn't sleep because her baby might stop breathing. Instead of hearing, "if you think how you're feeling is worse than the baby blues, talk to your doctor," I wish I'd had the chance to have a real discussion about what typical adjustment to motherhood looks like. I wish I'd known that postpartum depression looks different for every woman experiencing it. I wish I'd know that not all signs and symptoms happen the same way for everyone. Juliette's story on the show feels so real to me and I feel like, the more depictions of postpartum depression in the media, the better off new and veteran moms will be. When one in seven new mothers will experience postpartum depression, it makes sense that this is a realistic storyline to include in any TV show that deals with motherhood.
Hayden Panettiere returns to Nashville tonight. Her character has been absent for quite a few episodes as she undergoes in-patient treatment, which coincides with the actress' treatment of her own postpartum depression. I'm thrilled that the writers and producers of the show saw the importance in giving Panettiere the time she needed to heal. I'm so glad that both Panettiere and her fictional counterpart were encouraged to get professional help, instead of just muscling through it, which is an extremely damaging attitude that's often shared when discussing mental illness. Instead of dismissing Panettiere's struggle, or sensationalizing it, I've been really glad that most of the coverage I've seen is positive and encouraging. The stigma surrounding postpartum depression is very real, and it gets in the way of women seeking treatment. Every time a story like this is shared — both in real life and in fiction — it helps chip away at that stigma.
What if my midwives had recognized I was struggling? What if I hadn't worried so much about appearances, or about being the perfect mother? What if someone had I'd just "get over it" in time? What if there had been a show or a movie that closely mirrored what I was going through? What if a celebrity was going through the struggle with me and wasn't scared to share it? What if, what if, what if?
I can't wait to see this week's episode. I'm excited to see how Juliette is healing and how she's working toward taking care of her own health in addition to her child's. I can't wait to see what tools and resources she's been given to help her through. I hope the story can underline that help is out there. That mental illnesses are treatable. That healing and health take time and sometimes include relapses and stumbles, but that things can and do get better.
It was a blessing in disguise when I began having panic attacks again when my baby was nine months old. It was a clear indicator that things in my brain were out of whack. I began medication and therapy when my son was about 1 year old, and I emerged from the haze. When my second child was born, I was better armed with information. I was in treatment during my pregnancy and after she was born. It was only then that I fully realized how sick I had been after my first. I am often full of "what ifs" when I think of that first year as a mother. What if my midwives had recognized I was struggling? What if I hadn't worried so much about appearances, or about being the perfect mother? What if someone had I'd just "get over it" in time? What if there had been a show or a movie that closely mirrored what I was going through? What if a celebrity was going through the struggle with me and wasn't scared to share it? What if, what if, what if?
Now I share my experiences openly, in the hopes that someone will read my struggles and recognize their own, getting help sooner than I did. And I applaud Nashville for including this storyline and supporting their leading actress for the same reason.