being a mom
‘Tully’, the New Movie About Authentic Motherhood, Is Misleading and Dangerous, According to Maternal Health Advocates
Ever since the trailer for Tully dropped a couple of months ago, people have been praising the film’s portrayal of “authentic” motherhood. And I was one of them! It really looked like a movie that finally got it right. The trailer makes it seem like a movie about the ups and downs of having a baby, the struggle that most women face after the birth of a child, and the journey of finding oneself in motherhood. But now that advance screenings are happening and people are seeing the whole film, it sounds like the trailer only told a tiny fraction of what happens in the movie. And the surprise twist is very concerning to maternal health advocates.
Warning: MAJOR MAJOR TULLY SPOILERS AHEAD.
If you’re like me, you watched the trailer for Tully and thought, wow this hits really close to home. My eyes welled up when the pumped milk spilled, not going to lie. But while the movie depicts some parts of motherhood more realistically than we’ve seen before, it’s its portrayal of postpartum depression and psychosis that is angering people in the maternal mental health field.
In the trailer, we see Charlize Theron as Marlo, a mom who just had her third baby. We meet Tully, a night nurse who swoops in and “rescues” Marlo.
But the movie isn’t exactly what it appears to be. MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! Tully, as it turns out, isn’t real. Marlo imagines her, in an apparent bout of psychosis. Viewers are hit with this plot twist after Marlo and Tully go out drinking one night, and get into a car accident. In the hospital, a doctor diagnoses Marlo with postpartum depression. That isn’t necessarily the problem. The problem, according to maternal health advocates, is that Marlo doesn’t have PPD. She seems to be suffering from postpartum psychosis, which is markedly different and, left untreated, can have devastating consequences for mothers, children, and families.
Postpartum depression affects between 15-20% of women. But postpartum psychosis is rare, affecting one or two women out of every 1000 deliveries. By calling what Marlo is experiencing PPD, advocates feel the film missed a huge opportunity to address maternal mental health. And that misdiagnosis perpetuates the stigma surrounding PPD and other perinatal mental illnesses.
Not only that, but plenty of unsuspecting mothers will be going to see a film that could be incredibly triggering. And that’s what some in the maternal health are concerned about. Claire Zlobin is the founder of Life With A Baby a Canadian non-profit helping moms deal with the isolation of postpartum depression. She told HuffPost Canada, “If it’s true, it’s very disappointing the illness would be so grossly misdiagnosed in a major motion picture when we know that only 15 per cent of women who experience a postpartum mood disorder get treatment because of the stigma and shame associated with it. I think mothers should be made aware going into the movie that it might be triggering.”
Motherly has a really great review of the film, from the point of view of a maternal health provider. I think any movie that addresses perinatal mental illness is important. However, it needs to be handled with so much more care than it appears Tully manages to do. I’m curious to hear from moms once the movie comes out in May.
What do you think? Knowing what we know, will you be seeing it?