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Marie Osmond Interview by Chet Cooper
Intro and Photos by Dianna Ippolito
For over three decades Marie Osmond has been America's sweetheart. With a singing career that began at the age of three, Marie grew up before our eyes, metamorphosing from the Osmond brothers' "little sister" to successful country music star, television personality and savvy business woman, as seen on QVC. Most recently she found success on Broadway as the star of The King and I and on television as co-host of the Donny and Marie Show. Through it all, the striking brunette appeared upbeat, perky and confident--the ultimate trooper. Recently, however, she revealed a dark chapter in her life: her struggle with the debilitating condition of postpartum depression (PPD). In her new book Behind the Smile (Warner Books), Marie candidly discloses her experience with this rarely discussed condition that affects a surprising number of new mothers.
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According to Ms. Osmond, 80 percent of new mothers experience the "baby blues," a feeling of frustration and overwhelming despair that happens days after the birth of a child. The condition is caused by the depletion of "friendly" hormones that help balance moods. It can last from a day to a couple of weeks until the mother's system regains its hormonal balance. Obstetricians often consider this period after giving birth as a woman's "fourth trimester" because of the many changes still taking place in her body, both physically and emotionally. Some women, as in Marie's case, fail to report any symptoms to their obstetrician because they feel guilty about having negative emotions during a time that is supposed to be the happiest in their lives. Thus, not all new mothers pull out of the "baby blues", but instead sink even deeper into the condition. "PPD usually includes all of the symptoms of 'baby blues' but they are more intense and debilitating, are frequently unrelenting, and do not go away after a few weeks," says Dr. Judith Moore, who treated Ms. Osmond's PPD.
Characteristics of PPD often include: anxiety, sadness, low self-esteem, sleep and appetite disturbances and feelings of worthlessness. Undiagnosed, women with PPD suffer these debilitating symptoms in painful isolation for several months and sometimes even years. "For five months I didn't get help," revealed Marie. "It's because I kept thinking, 'Oh, it will go away.' It doesn't go away, unless you get help."
In a small number of cases PPD escalates into a dangerous a condition that can threaten the life of the mother and the child. "A few moms--about one percent--experience what's called PPD psychosis," says Dr. Ruth Newton, clinical psychologist in psychiatry at UC San Diego, which is conducting an in-depth study of PPD. "PPD psychosis is characterized as rapid mood swings and loss of touch with reality which can lead to harming the baby. Treatment is usually immediate hospitalization."
At the age of forty, Marie, elated to discover that she was pregnant again, looked forward to the birth of her seventh child. It was an exciting time for her. In addition to her pregnancy, her new talk show with brother Donny had been picked up for another season and Marie and her family had decided to make the permanent move to Los Angeles. But, within days of the birth of her son, Marie began experiencing extreme feelings of anxiety. Although she had gone through the "baby blues" following the birth of her other children, something was different this time. Knowing it would be her last child she expected to feel excited by every little detail about him. But, instead, she felt unrelenting despair, lethargy and an inability to bond with her son. She hid behind her smile and told her husband and family that she was fine, when in fact her world was beginning to unravel. She found herself in her brand new, unfurnished house, hunted by paparazzi trying to snap a picture of the new baby, and pressured to return as soon as possible to production of her show. As she writes in Behind the Smile:
The doctor had warned me to go easy, but I thought his advice was for somebody else. It couldn't be for anyone as tough as me. I could handle it. I could have a baby and get right back to work. I could get my family moved, make business decisions, get back in shape. I could get past the "baby blues." I could do whatever needed to be done. Five minutes later, I was sitting on the kitchen floor, heaving with sobs and all I could think was, "This can't be happening to me." This couldn't be me, collapsing in hysteria, not even recognizing my own wails. This was not me, shaken to the core, sliding into a despair of the deepest kind. Whoever this was, she had no control of her emotions. Whoever this was, I wanted nothing to do with her. I wanted her away from my house, my children, and my baby.
Marie felt she had to hide her symptoms. After thirty years in show business, she knew how to push herself. But, even after five months, Marie felt no relief, and one afternoon she hit her breaking point. "I gave my nanny credit cards and blank checks and the baby, and said, 'Call my husband, I'm out of here.' And I left. I ran away. I knew something was wrong but I couldn't tell you what." Marie got in her car and drove up the Los Angeles coast until she found a small motel off the Pacific Coast Highway. She felt she could do little more than stare at the wall until a phone call from her mother penetrated her numbness. "The sound of her voice did something to me, brought my attention back into the moment," Marie writes in her book. The conversation with her mother marked a turning point in her journey through postpartum depression. "She had once felt this way and I knew she wasn't crazy. If she had overcome it, then perhaps I could too."
The most common prescription for PPD is antidepressants. But there are many alternative ways to treat PPD. Marie tried antidepressants but felt that they only numbed her emotionally, and failed to bring her back to her normal self. After visiting several doctors who insisted that nothing was wrong with her, Marie finally sought help from a homeopath and an osteopath. Blood tests revealed Marie's progesterone level (the body's natural antidepressant) was close to zero. "My system was severely imbalanced: hormonally, chemically, nutritionally and even environmentally‹meaning I had polluted my body with years of self-abusive dieting, sleep deprivation and physical exertion. I had to seek help, and this meant revealing to others that I was having problems." Marie began a treatment of natural hormone and vitamin supplements, lymphatic massage and chiropractic treatments, and was advised to give up refined sugar. Acupuncture is another alternative treatment for PPD according to Mitchell Lehman, a licensed acupuncturist in San Diego, California. Women's health issues form a core of his practice. "Acupuncture is like a reset button for the body," says Dr. Lehman. "Much like a tracking switch on a VCR, the acupoints restore normal functioning of the metabolism. Unlike the VCR, which has one switch, acupuncture has over 400 points on the body and around 200 in the ears. In terms of postpartum depression, Chinese medicine views this condition as a loss of vital substance and energy as well as a resetting of the mother's body's priorities. When the mother delivers the baby, the placenta as well as amniotic fluid and blood is lost. A great deal of energy and substance is created by the mother's body to support the fetus, only to be lost at the birth of the child. Further, the priority in energy consumption is toward the unborn child. The fat, protein and mineral stores are reduced to support the growing child. This is not experienced during pregnancy, but postponed until after delivery. The accumulated stresses of nine months carrying the child are finally addressed after the delivery." Instead of purely supplementing the body, Chinese Medicine aids the body in metabolizing nutrients more effectively. "Best of all," Dr. Lehman adds, "acupuncture is a natural remedy," a comfort to mothers concerned that prescription antidepressants might pass harmful side effects on to their breast feeding children.
A treatment still being tested is the estrogen patch. A recent six-month study of the patch, published in the British medical journal Lancet, reported rapid improvement in women with PPD who were treated with a skin patch that delivered estrogen into their bloodstreams. In addition to medical treatments, many women turn to support groups. Organizations such as the PPD Help Alliance and Postpartum Support International provide free hotlines for women suffering from PPD.
ABILITY's Chet Cooper caught up with Ms. Osmond at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel a few days before the national release of her book. The raven-haired entertainer was a picture of poise and articulation as she fielded Cooper's questions.
Chet Cooper: When did you decide to write a book about your experience with postpartum depression?
Marie Osmond: It is interesting but I had no intention of writing a book, I had no idea that Marie Osmond would be in here talking to you about postpartum depression. When we were getting ready to start up our second season (on the Donny and Marie Show) and we had so much press to do, I couldn't hide it. I think a lot of women do hide it out of shame. It is supposed to be the happiest time in your life after giving birth to a child, you know.
CC: How many children do you have?
CC: So, you have dealt with it seven times?
MO: You know, I can't remember.
CC: What causes postpartum depression?
MO: What happens, basically, is that in the second trimester the body produces 50 times more progesterone than normal. Progesterone is basically your body's natural antidepressant. Normally, an offshoot of progesterone called cortizal functions as your happy pill. Progesterone is created by the body‹it's manufactured through cholesterol. We starve ourselves as women. We have very low cholesterol diets, which basically means we are starving our hormones. Anyway, after the delivery your body comes back down and over a period of two weeks builds your progesterone back to normal levels. With PPD, your levels are very, very low and build up very slowly. In my case, my progesterone levels didn't even register. I was at zero. And by the time I actually got help five months later they were still at zero. The other thing is that doctors test only the most common estrogen level. There are three kinds of estrogen in a woman but they don't test the other two because they are so rare; mine was the third kind of estrogen. What basically happens is your hormones get out of whack. Because of the stress in your life your body says, "I need more hormones." So, your hormones are trying to produce and produce and produce, and it's even more stressful...it is this wicked cycle. It's a no win situation. I had food allergies. My body had basically shut down and decided it was going to die - and I'm a tough broad. You know, you don't work 30 something years in this business without knowing how to push yourself. So, I just kept pushing myself and pushing myself. The other thing that happens is when your hormones get out of whack your emotions come up. So, for me, a lot of buried issues came up with very sharp teeth and a vengeance. There are certain risk factors to getting PPD:if your mother had it or if you have thyroid problems, which I do; if you have very, very bad PMS; if you have abuse in your past‹like sexual, emotional or physical abuse; if there's high stress in your job; death in the family‹anything that really puts your hormones under a lot of stress; or, if you have difficulty conceiving or even giving birth. All those things give you a very high risk factor for getting PPD.
CC: So, you were considered high risk?
MO: Yes, and I didn't know it. I didn't know my mother had it. I think a lot of women don't know their mothers had it; that's the sad thing about depression. You know, you don't function anymore. You shut down. You feel like you are in a void. You are in the back of your head somewhere and you want to close your eyes and go away.
CC: What are some of the common indicators of postpartum depression?
MO: In the back of my book there is a checklist to see if you have it. There are some great questions to ask your doctor. If he says "no," then you find yourself a different doctor. There really has to be a change in how we medically look at women at this time. I mean, this is not just baby gloom. This is a serious, serious condition that is also called postpartum psychosis. And that's where, literally, you get so bad that you end up either hurting the baby or killing yourself. As a matter of fact, I did a book signing when we were in New York the day before yesterday. A lady came through and she was just weeping, and said, "I wish this would have been brought out sooner, my sister is in prison for suffocating her child." So, babies are taken from their mothers because they get temporarily insane and it's not the mother's fault. This is the thing: they shouldn't feel ashamed. They didn't cause this. It is not something they did to themselves. You can take an antidepressant. antidepressants are the number one prescribed pill in our country. That tells you something is funky (laughs). I took an antidepressant and it numbed me. I couldn't stand it. What it was doing was shutting down my feelings, so I wasn't dealing with any of them. Instead of taking a pill and going around my problem, I went to a psychologist and went through my problems and came out on the other end incredibly healthy. Little things in my past that I really thought were over and done with were still elements of the puzzle that weren't pieced together, and so she helped me do that. For example, I would talk about sexual abuse and I really felt like I had to, but, what it did to me‹and I felt like I couldn't write truthfully about PPD without mentioning it‹skewed my thinking. I lost boundaries as a child that I didn't even realize‹and it wasn't talked about back then. You know, it was something you just buried and dealt with, and moved forward. What could you do about it? But, I found for me that my safe place was work. I could control my environment. I became very fastidious and detailed, and wanted things a certain way. Lots of times, when we feel out of control in certain areas, we find ways to control ourselves in other areas. And I became a bonafide workaholic. I can see now how it skewed my thinking. So, when...I could no longer control these buried issues I went crazy. I was so, so depressed. I could not find any...joy. Nothing.
CC: Do think there may be genetic factors that cause or contribute to the condition?
MO: This is the thing that I think is fascinating. My mother told me when she had her last child she felt overwhelmed, overworked, not appreciated, underloved. Something just snapped and she gave the baby to my father and she got in the car and drove up the coast of California, which is exactly what I did. I was three years old when that happened. Why would I get into the car and drive unless there was some kind of a memory or some kind of a recall from my childhood? I think it is in the very DNA we could have inherited from our great-great grandmother or grandfather. It's like, man, I just don't feel good and I don't know why. We may be carrying things we don't even realize. We know well and we know chronically ill, but there is a whole bunch of gray in between where I think we can heal people before they become chronically sick. I believe our thoughts make us sick. They can tie emotion into certain aspects of the body in Chinese medicine. There are a lot of things we can look at.It's been one heck of a journey.
I just think that women feel guilty.The number one thing I found out from e-mails is that whether you're right or wrong it is still your reality. It doesn't make you a bad person to feel that. You just need to be honest with how you're feeling.But, a lot of women are afraid of it because they think, "Oh, they are going to take my baby away. They're gonna call me incompetent. I'm going to lose my job. I've got to be tough, it's a man's world." This is a physical thing that is fixable. I know, I'm a survivor. Believe me, there was no way I thought I could survive. There are answers out there that need to be found.
CC: Switching to another subject, I understand you have two brothers who are deaf.
MO: God does interesting things to you. My parents' first two children were born deaf, and the next four have perfect pitch. The Osmond Foundation was started many years ago . . .
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