Maternal Mental Health Movie Review: Tully (SPOILER ALERT!)

May 17, 2018 by Jamie

Have you heard about the newly released film, Tully, that women are raving is finally an accurate description of motherhood? If you haven’t yet seen it, but plan to, stop reading now. I repeat, SPOILER ALERT to follow!

Well, I was originally very excited to see it, then read some not-so-rave reviews, but ultimately decided to was my duty to evaluate it for myself.

Based on some of the reviews I read (see motherly and huffington post), my main concern was about how accurately, or inaccurately, Postpartum Depression is depicted in the film. Aside from the initial portrayal of mom, Marlowe, as being sleep deprived, irritable, and barely functional post-birth, the film lacked a true view into what PPD looks like. For the 70-80% of women who experience the more common period of “baby blues,” usually ending two weeks postpartum, that initial depiction of Marlowe probably really resonates. Indeed, “baby blues” are marked by a sense of weepiness, fatigue, irritability, and brain fogginess, largely caused by the massive hormonal shift that’s just occurred and amplified by lack of sleep.

PPD, on the other hand, persists past that important two week mark, and although is similar in symptomology, is much more intense in severity. A mother struggling with PPD may also have trouble bonding with her baby, feel an intense sense of isolation and inadequacy, and have trouble sleeping even when baby is sleeping fine.

Unfortunately, Tully doesn’t really show us that struggle. Instead, the movie-goer sees a new mom seem to get better as she gets more sleep and support after hiring a night nanny. She seems happier, more engaged with her children, and just generally better able to cope. That is not what PPD looks like, yet that is the diagnosis given to Marlowe at the film’s conclusion. What the viewer realizes, after an accident that lands her in the hospital, is that Marlowe has completely imagined (read: hallucinated!) this night nanny. Sorry folks, but hallucinations are a sure sign of postpartum psychosis, not depression. Like PPD, postpartum psychosis is a very serious illness, but is much less common than PPD. The inaccurate diagnosis and depiction of proper mental health treatment is, at best, irresponsible, and at worst, outright dangerous to women who might be suffering from either.

It did strike me though, that within Marlowe’s struggle is a yearning that I imagine most new mothers feel. A desire for connection to someone who is supportive and understanding, a nostalgia for the “pre-mom” woman that is no more. You see, in imagining Tully, Marlowe was giving herself both a support system and a connection to a part of herself that felt lost. Remember that 20-something party girl that had life all figured out? Yeah, sometimes reawakening her spirit can be therapeutic. But healthier still would be asking your support system for more help, and perhaps joining some kind of mom community where you can share these complex feelings and very real struggles.

My hope is that Tully opens a dialogue about maternal mental health, and encourages women – whatever their particular symptoms are – to seek help without fear of judgement. Determining a particular postpartum disorder should be left to professionals (not screen writers), but every mother should know that she’s not alone, and help is available.

*If you or someone you know might be suffering from a postpartum disorder, please reach out for help by calling me at 415-255-2502 or the the Postpartum Support helpline at 1-800-944-4773.