You might remember Carnie Wilson from her hits with 1990s trio Wilson Phillips. Who among us didn’t croon “Hold On” into our hairbrushes as teens? Wilson, the daughter of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, sang alongside her sister, Wendy Wilson, and childhood friend (and fellow rockstar daughter) Chynna Phillips.
These days, Wilson is a mom of two young girls. She’s also a mental health crusader, having shared her own struggles in “When The Bough Breaks,” a documentary co-produced by Brooke Shields about postpartum depression and psychosis. Wilson was the keynote speaker last week at the annual Jewish Family & Children’s Service Women’s Breakfast, benefiting the Center for Early Relationship Support (CERS).
CERS provides crucial services to new moms, from sleep consultations to in-person visits with volunteer moms who’ve been there, done that, and can provide much-needed support. Their wrap-around services tie into a network of programs that help link at-risk new moms to resources to help them become more confident and more resilient, including moms dealing with mental health and substance issues. The breakfast raised $275,000 for these important services.
After having her oldest daughter, Lola, now 11, Wilson suffered from postpartum psychosis and hallucinations, and she shared those experiences during her breakfast talk. We caught up with her in an elevator in Oklahoma (she’s a busy woman!) after the event.
What has to change regarding people’s perception of depression?
I still don’t think there is enough awareness. We’re 20 percent there. I almost feel like there’s not enough awareness and there’s such a stigma attached. It hasn’t been acknowledged as legitimate. It’s almost like, when we talk about obesity as a disease, people say, “Put your fork down.” There are more components to it! It’s not just about giving birth. There are so many layers and elements to childbirth and pregnancy, and we’re human beings with bodies and chemical reactions, and everyone is different. No two bodies are the same, and I think that there’s not enough patience and compassion.
Why does this persist?
There have been intense cases in front of the world, like women who murder their children, and it’s so mortifying and so horrible, tragic and disturbing. Not everyone is going to do something like that. But otherwise, you’re normal, you give birth, you’re done, whee, life is great? Or else you’re psycho. I feel like more compassion and patience needs to be had from all sides.
How would you advise women who are going through postpartum mental health struggles?
I would say having those feelings is valid. I’m not a doctor, but I believe hormones play a 65 or 75 percent role in depression. For me, I can physically feel those hormones. Try to sit with the feelings and know it’s a process. It’s OK to feel those feelings. Be sad. It’s normal and OK. And absolutely, you don’t have to do it by yourself. The core underlying thread is the support for what a postpartum woman goes through, rhythmically. Nobody has to be alone: Even if you’re single or have no family, there is always someone who will listen.
What was your experience like at the JF&CS Women’s Breakfast?
I would love it if we had JF&CS in every city in the country. I was so moved by the true community, and all that the volunteers do and all the programs that they have. It needs to be spread everywhere.
Talking about motherhood and postpartum is different for me, and it really sparks my major, deepest core emotions. I felt a very deep connection. My grandmother was Jewish, my mom is Jewish and I feel that in me, and it was strong in these women.
How are you doing now?
I’m on the road, and I miss my girls so much. I hate leaving them, and it has taken me a long time to let go of fearful feelings. I can’t always tell, am I a control freak? Am I trying to be controlling, or is this normal motherhood? It’s a combination of all of it. It’s OK. I care about my children’s safety, well-being and health. But I try to stay positive.
Postpartum is a continuum. It will last forever, and I have to constantly go back and recalibrate my thinking. It can go deeper and deeper to a darker place, and I have to forcefully and purposefully recalibrate my brain to say, “You’re going into a negative space. Where is this coming from?” It comes from fear. What am I afraid of? I pinpoint it, think about what’s realistic and what’s not. At the end of the day, life is short. I try to enjoy and pass on that positivity to my children.