Behind the Smile: Postpartum Depression with Marie Osmond

Last Editorial Review: 10/23/2003

By Marie Osmond
WebMD Live Events Transcript

The opinions expressed herein are the guest's alone. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Marie Osmond visited WebMD Live to discuss her struggle with postpartum depression (PPD). PPD can seem overwhelming, but with proper help, it can be treated.

Moderator: Hello, Marie. Welcome to WebMD Live. How are you today?

Marie Osmond: I am doing great and looking forward to the chat today. I am hungry. Does anyone have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?

Member: I will pass the PB&J through the disc drive.

Marie Osmond: Thanks but the jelly can really mess up the scanner.

Moderator: Marie, the title of your book, Behind the Smile, is so appropriate. When we think of you, we think of the smiling entertainer, not someone suffering from depression. What was going on behind that beautiful smile of yours?

Marie Osmond: For anyone who has suffered from postpartum depression or any sort of depression, it feels like you are spiraling and spinning into darkness. I had never experienced that before. It felt like my eyes sank into the back of my head, looking into a tunnel with no light at the end. There is incredible fatigue and a feeling of hopelessness. There were bouts of uncontrollable shaking, which is not always the case with everyone. You always feel like you could be on the verge of tears. Is that worth smiling about?

Member: Marie, has this happened with all your pregnancies, the last one, or at certain times?

Marie Osmond: No, it did not happen with all of them.

Member: I had my child three months ago and have been going up and down. I want to know is there a light at the end of this tunnel?

Marie Osmond: Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Part of finding that light is knowing you are not alone. Lots of times we women say we should not feel certain ways, but half of it is acknowledging you do, and it's OK. By acknowledging it, it's less scary and is nothing to be ashamed of. Let me explain about hormones and how they shift: This is information that doctors should tell women but don't. I found out in my research that by the second trimester of pregnancy, the body produces 50 times the amount of progesterone than it usually does. Progesterone acts on the brain in the same manner as an antidepressant. After birth, your progesterone level drops to zero. This is what we call baby blues. It usually [lasts] two weeks. Then it should start to increase after these two weeks and return to normal levels.

When I went in to see Dr. Moore, who is in my book, she tested my levels. My level was zero after four months. No one I had been to prior had ever tested my progesterone level. There are also three kinds of estrogen. Most doctors only test the first one. She tested all three and my third one was at zero. Thus the dark tunnel. This was one of the reasons, in essence, for the dark tunnel.

Moderator: You've always seemed to be able to handle anything -- a total professional and a supermom to boot. Did trying to live up to that image contribute to your problem?

Marie Osmond: I think our society feeds us this image that we have to be woman who do it all. To do it all perfectly. To wear it all perfectly. And to handle it all perfectly. It's interesting to note the No. 1 drugs in the U.S. are antidepressants. I often wonder if this image that's perpetuated by media and magazines of this "perfect woman" is also a factor in depression. I think that we are so busy "doing" our lives that we have lost the ability to live our lives. And what I mean is what I found out when I finally was shut down to the point of being still, it made me stop and realize I had gotten so busy trying to check off my list of things to do that I did not take time to really realize that a lot of the doing was really stupid. Like keeping up with my neighbor, etc.

A lot of it is like, how did you keep up the show and continue working and smiling through all of this? It's like the analogy of riding a bike. Once you learn how to do it, you don't forget. I learned at a very young age to ride the entertainment bike. And there were days that I had no idea who I was, but I knew how to recreate Marie, "The Entertainer". And a lot of women do this -- they try to recreate it and they just blow a gasket.

Moderator: And the show must always go on, right?

Marie Osmond: Yes.

Moderator: When did you realize you had a problem?

Marie Osmond: I think, as I wrote in my book, the moment was when I left my house and drove up the coast of California.

Member: Marie, who tested your estrogen, your ob-gyn or a psychiatric doctor?

Marie Osmond: There is a saliva test that you take for 24 days which is the most complete test. If your doctor does not know about this, get another doctor. The saliva is the most complete test. Also check your thyroid. This is a [biological] test, not a psychological test. You should test your thyroid because it controls your energy and fatigue levels in the body, and it's worth checking into. Hormones produced in the thyroid can also drop following the birth of a baby. The thyroid regulates internal body functions. Other things it controls are weight gain, tension, and anxiety. Remember I am not a doctor. This is just information I have learned from my own doctor.

Moderator: Please check with your physician.

Member: Did your mom ever admit to feeling the way you did? Having PPD?

Marie Osmond: Yes, it's in the book and I talk about what she disclosed to me. I speak in a lecture series and a lot of the things I speak about are not in the book. But it's been interesting. Afterward, I will have moms and daughters come up and the mother has tears in her eyes and says, "I have a lot of things to share with my daughter." On my book tour in the same line as my mom sharing with me, this woman said her doctor called her a hypochondriac and said, "nothing is wrong with you." This woman told me (in tears) that she had a nervous breakdown, was hospitalized, and her parents took her children.

I think this topic needs to be discussed because I think there are women out there actually terrified to get depression. It's nothing to fear. It's information that our doctors need to know. I think one of the things we can do is follow our intuition. We have isolated ourselves -- we can have our groceries delivered, we do what we want on the Internet. Face-to-face communication is becoming extinct, especially for women. It's why I like to do the lecture series -- so we get to talk as women, face to face. In this isolation, we don't realize others are going through the exact things we are going through. We feel like a failure for these problems and we don't realize it's happening to a lot of other women around us.

I would urge all family and friends of any woman taking care of children that if she says she's fine, don't take for granted that she is. I have worked my whole life, and the hardest job I have ever had is being a full time mother. It's the most rewarding, but it literally takes the most energy compared with anything else I've ever done.

My mother didn't want me to talk about my story initially, which tells you the shame that is attached to this. But she helped me so much in telling me of her own situation. And maybe too because I never had a sister, I felt a sisterhood in sharing this with other women.

Moderator: You first tried to deal with PPD on your own. What finally made you go for help?

Marie Osmond: I became immobilized. I literally shut down. I could not get through a day. The idea of making a phone call or keeping an appointment seemed impossible. I was previously "Miss Workhorse." I will admit I used to be somebody who thought depression was just self-pity. I am ashamed of that. Because I now know different. No one wants to be depressed or go through it. You cannot just snap out of it. Trust me, I tried.

Member: What did you find was the most effective treatment for your postpartum depression? Was it your faith or conventional medicine?

Marie Osmond: It was all of it, plus humor. To me there are lots of wonderful things I have discovered, but I believe in the power of prayer. I was led to find the people I found. Prayer is a true power, and I think we as women have those spiritual gifts more than any other. That's what I meant by we get so busy doing life that we forget to live life. And I think when we stop and feel and live we will be led. It's like a ladder. I truly believe that we spend our life trying to climb a ladder, and if we are not careful, we will get to the top and realize that our ladder has been against the wrong wall the whole time. Before, when I would hit an obstacle in my ladder or a missing rung, I would take great pride in the fact that nothing could stop me and I would find ways to go around it. Now I realize that they were there for a purpose, and that I should have stopped, and evaluated why it was there.

Member: Marie, first, thanks for helping so many women by talking about this serious problem. Were you feeling depressed before the birth, or did it all come about after, and if so, how long after?

Marie Osmond: I think there are risk factors. I definitely had some of those risk factors. I would never consider myself to be a depressed person.

Some risk factors:

  • Your mother had PPD
  • You had a difficult time getting pregnant
  • You have stressful events in life (I had every one of these), such as:
    • Loss of a job
    • Moving
    • Death in the family
    • Marriage and relationship problems
    • Sexual or emotional abuse as a child
    • You suffer from PMS or thyroid problems
    • Your pregnancy or birth experience was complicated
    • You have a family history of depression

Another factor that is interesting is that there is evidence now that the depression you may have may not even be your depression. It may be literally carried through DNA from an ancestor. I have seen photos of my ancestors and there were a few branches of my family tree that I think should have been broken off. So thanks a lot, grandma!

I just got honored as Mother of the Year, and during my acceptance speech I said I don't think I deserve this. Right before I came out, my house was in complete chaos, my 4-year-old had just cut the top of her hair off and looked like Larry of the Three Stooges, my 10-year-old's bug jar was open (who knows what the contents were?), my 5-year-old was playing Spiderman off the couch (snow boots and beach towel -- that was all!) My 2-year-old had a go-gurt (yogurt in a stick) and he was in the living room and slinging it all over my walls. My 85-year-old father was walking around with my TV clicker, trying to mute my children! I had laundry piled up and dishes were flowing out of the sink. And it was like I was having an out-of-body experience, screaming, "Who is their Mother"? And I said, "Oh Yeah, it's me."

Is life perfect? Absolutely not! Can we find the joy and humor in it? Absolutely. I made a decision and just turned down numerous Broadway shows, television shows, because I felt prompted to, since I took the time to live life instead of just do it. And I felt prompted to stay home. It's so important to be with your kids. They grow up so fast.

But the most amazing thing in all of it is that my mother took ill. And I am able to be with her. If I had taken any of those projects, I could not do that right now. So you can call it prompting or intuition. We may not know why. But if we follow God, we'll make the right choices.

Member: What is the No. 1 thing a husband can do to help a wife with postpartum depression? I really, really want to make sure I do the right thing if this happens to my wife.

Marie Osmond: I think the most important thing is to realize it's very hard for them to help themselves. So I think the best thing is to be supportive and give them the help they need. Nothing feels familiar anymore to the woman. Don't take anything personally. Their emotions don't feel familiar, their body, and not even the relationship feels familiar. When your hormones go haywire, it takes away your ability to reason correctly. The earlier you can get her help, the greater chance she will have of being able to cope.

Member: How long after giving birth can postpartum depression last? I have a daughter who is 23 and my granddaughter will be 4 in December. My daughter seems to still be very depressed.

Marie Osmond: In some cases, if it goes untreated, it can go on indefinitely -- coming and going when it feels like it or when you are under stress. In most cases, maybe two years. And that's dependent upon the deep emotional issues in their past. The reason I mentioned my sexual abuse in the past in the book was not to bring it up for any other reason than to let people know that those are contributing factors. There are some wonderful ways to help with abuse. Some of that is counseling or a new thing called REM. It's Recalled Emotional Memory. But be careful with that and make sure you go to the right people. So it depends on how deep the emotional issues are and your state of recovery. In my case I see how literally some of my emotional issues made me a "workaholic, perfectionistic" type of woman. And by clearing up some of those emotional issues, I am really not that way anymore.

Member: I'm afraid my PPD will affect my baby. Do you know if it will?

Marie Osmond: I am sure that there are contributing factors, but I don't know the answer. I will say this though: I was 3-years-old when my mother got in a car, left our house, and drove up the coast of California. Is it coincidence that I chose to do the exact same thing? Somewhere in my subconscious memory I retained the memory of my mother making that choice. So I think everything we do affects our children.

Moderator: Marie, we are almost out of time. Before we wrap up for today, do you have any final comments for us?

Marie Osmond: First of all, don't be so hard on yourself. Your baby is not critical of you so why be so hard on yourself? There are answers out there, so if you can't make the phone call, have your mom do it, or your friend do it. But make sure you do it. Just how I got some of my answers -- just keep searching. The information is out there. Look in the back of my book for some great information for you. Find a doctor that you can talk to. And if you cannot do it, do what one lady told me she did. She read my book and underlined everything she was feeling. She then handed it to her doctor and said, "Here. This is how I am feeling." Remember you will get through this.

The most amazing thing to me is that I threw my book away five or six times because I did not want to get that personal. But something kept prompting me to finish it. And then when it became a New York Times bestseller, it made me realize we are all depressed, and we all need each other. I feel like you are all my sisters. Life is a work in progress. Enjoy the process. I am grateful I went through this experience. I have much more compassion for those who are going through it.

Thanks for the chat and eat some chocolate. It's a natural antidepressant!

Moderator: We are out of time. I'm sorry we couldn't get to all of your great questions. Thank you, Marie Osmond, and thank you, members, for joining us today. For more information, please read Behind the Smile: My Journey Out of Postpartum Depression, by Marie Osmond. Please check out WebMD's news stories, features, and archived interviews with experts for more information about PPD. And visit our pregnancy and parenting message boards to talk with other members.

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