Wednesday, August 18, 2010

An Open Letter to Pat Brown

Ms. Brown,

As a mother who suffered from and was successfully treated for Perinatal Anxiety and Mood Disorder (or PAMD, formerly known as Postpartum Depression or PPD), I am writing to educate you about the disorder, following your offensive comments in the article at

It astonishes me that you're speaking as a medical and psychiatric expert when it is clear from your website that you have no medical qualifications whatsoever.  It also astonishes me that you would go on public record saying that "most claims -- if not all -- of postpartum depression are a crock."  Statements like that do not help anyone.  By saying that Postpartum Depression is "a crock" you are endangering women and children - because why would a woman seek help and treatment for something that's "a crock?"

Your statements belittle the very real experiences of millions of women like myself - women who have been through the horror of PPD/PAMD - a horror which has nothing to do with losing one's body or one's freedom to children, and has EVERYTHING to do with very real hormones and chemicals in the body.  In my own case, my husband and I tried for two years and desperately wanted a child.  My PPD/PAMD had nothing to do with having an unloved, unwanted burden of a child - she was and remains loved and wanted!  I remember saying, more than once, "I spent two years crying because I couldn't have a baby, and now I'm crying because I have one!  It doesn't make any sense!"  It didn't make any sense because I was sick.  I was suffering from a chemical imbalance that caused me to feel anger, frustration, sadness, anxiety...  It wasn't the baby that caused those feelings!  I loved her and wanted her and wanted to take care of her more than anything!

The medical fact is that there are several possible physical causes for PPD/PAMD, including chemicals/hormones and sleep deprivation.  The hormone that is most suspect is hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal hormone or HPA.  Levels of HPA in postpartum women were found to be similar to the levels in women who had chronic, non-postpartum depression in a recent study.  Women who do not breastfeed produce less oxytocin, which is known to cause feelings of love and well-being, and to produce a desire to care for the child in the nursing mother.  Women who do not breastfeed have a higher incidence of PPD/PAMD.  Additionally, in the 24 hours following childbirth, a woman's levels of estrogen, progesterone, and thyroid hormone drop dramatically, and some researchers believe that this drop leads to PPD/PAMD.

As with most things, it's probably a combination of several physical and environmental factors that causes PPD/PAMD. The fact that researchers do not know the exact cause(s) of PPD/PAMD does not mean that PPD/PAMD is "a crock."  Science also can't explain exactly why gravity works, but that doesn't mean we're making it up and using it as an excuse for our failure to fly!

I do agree with you, however, that Shaquan Duley was probably not suffering from postpartum depression.  More likely the poor woman suffered from postpartum psychosis, which is a different and much more severe form of the disorder.

Please refrain, in the future, from speaking to the media on topics which you are so obviously ignorant.  You are doing real women and children a tremendous disservice when you minimize their experiences in this way.  I would hate to think that there's some woman out there reading about Ms. Duley, who is also feeling the same horrible impulse to harm her children, and reading your words.  Because if PPD isn't real, then there's no hope of treatment or cure, and that poor hypothetical woman now has an "expert" telling her that there's no reason to seek help. 

The women suffering from PPD/PAMD, and those of us who have survived it, do not need any more blame and judgment.  Believe me when I tell you that we blame and judge ourselves quite enough.  We need compassion, help, and access to treatment.  We do not need to be told that our disorder is "a crock."

I very much look forward to a public retraction of your appalling statements. 

Amy Prettybaby
author of where this letter will be reprinted

UPDATE:  She wrote back!
I am not ignorant of your argument for PPD and I am not saying in some rare case such a thing could exist based on chemical issues. Generally speaking, I don't buy the chemical imbalance theory for any depression; I believe people just don't want to deal with real life issues and the fact that sometimes life is simply depressing and damn difficult. It isn't about chemical imbalance but tough times and our own issues.
Pat Brown
Investigative Criminal Profiler

To which I replied:

You are not qualified to buy or not buy any explanation for any disorder.  You are neither a doctor nor a psychiatrist!  You obviously, obviously have NO IDEA what you are talking about, and to tout yourself as an "expert" on PPD/PAMD in the national media is ignorant at best, dangerous at worst.

By the way, you've created yourself a real controversy.  Check Twitter - #AOLhurtsmomswithPPD. 

Enjoy the attention.

Updated to add - AOL has removed Brown's comments from the original article!

Updated again - this woman just doesn't know when to quit:
I stand by my comments even if AOL does not.
Pat Brown
Investigative Criminal Profiler


My blood is BOILING!


Unknown said...

If she replies, I will post it.

You can also write to this woman at

The Twitter hashtag for this discussion is #AOLhurtsmomswithPPD


angel0199 said...

Apparently people agree with you. I read the article then when back to check a quote before I posted and they put up a revised article without the criminal profiler's part.

I do feel that articles about horrific murders of children using PPD as a defense is doing women suffering from PPD a disservice. More stories of women struggling and getting help and actively parenting would be more helpful. Killing babies no matter why is never good PR. Of course those are the stories that have the flash to get media attention.

TexasBobbi said...

I have never emailed someone about something they wrote before but on this I am. I can't believe she goes on to attack depression in general.

Alena said...

She responded to me as well:

Andrea said...

oh, wow. just. WOW.

Lindsay said...

Thank you for writing that letter. This women is obviously not qualified to comment as an "expert" on anything related to mental health! Do you know what her edu background is?

Erika said...

I am speechless about this. I am a mental health counselor AND I endured three and a half years of PPD and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. And *I'm a freakin' mental health professional*!!

Depression got inside my head even though I should have known better. I did everything I knew how to do to make it go away and nothing worked because I didn't realize depression had taken over the inner sanctum of my mind. I just thought I was doing motherhood "wrong" somehow and it was just that hard during the early years.

After two babies and it still persisted, and with the patterns of my PMDD and my menstrual cycle, I *finally* figured it out. I was too ashamed to admit something that was that flawed with my head.

Two weeks of anti-depressants and a short stint of personal counseling and I was a new woman. Not really truly better for a couple of years, but *light years* ahead of the previous menstrual cycle.

Once I had meds for a couple of years and reworked a lot of my personal care habits, I was so much better off and much better educated about depression (even though I had a lot of book knowledge).

If that isn't a chemical imbalance of some sort I don't know what is!! She is an idiot!! And unfortunately, a pretty brash one at that.

Annie @ PhD in Parenting said...

Wow...that is unbelievable. AOL made a mistake by using Pat Brown as an expert, but those statements/replies here from Pat Brown are horrendous.

Heather Bungard-Janney said...

Thanks for letting me know you wrote this. I will be responding this evening as soon as I can.

She and Tom Cruise can go hang out together, as far as I am concerned.

Erika said...

We all filled with natural chemicals in our bodies. What does she think she has swimming around between her synapses? Nano-robots??

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing this. I can't put words into how infuriated with this stupid, insensitive, idiot who claims to be an expert...Now we can be sure to put the blame on AOL AND her...not just AOL.

Katherine at Postpartum Progress said...

Glad you have helped show what Pat Brown really thinks, for anyone who questioned our vocal response to the AOL article.

anne said...

Well done. I will retweet your hashtag. I am so sick of people jumping on bandwagons for their 15 minutes when they have nothing helpful to say. In this case, you are right. She is dangerous. I have come across others in the field of childcare who would also make your hair curl. They get nasty when challenged. It takes energy to write these letters, but thank you.

Unknown said...

Thank you for all the positive comments! It breaks my heart that so many of us know from personal experience what it's like to suffer from PPD. But I'll tell you what, I sure love living in a time when a few committed women can use their voices to get a major media outlet (AOL News) to change a story in less than half a day. I'm proud of all of us, and I'm proud that we can use our voices to raise awareness, so our own daughters hopefully won't suffer the stigma and the shame that we did.

Lunasea said...

I heard something similar to this attitude recently. But it was from a 20-yr-old man with 1 semester of junior college psychology under his belt. I let it go. But this is inexcusable and uninformed.

I know very little about ALS, for example, but I sure as hell don't go around saying "it's all in your head."

Anonymous said...

Pat would have been wiser to stick to her own quote (taken directly from her website) "We struggle to understand how any mother could kill her own children."

I guess she said that before the paychecks started coming in from "crock" News agancies, like AOL.


CallieSam said...

I agree with you on almost all counts – just as Pat Brown has no business claiming to be an expert on PPD, I don’t really think you have any business diagnosing a woman you’ve never met with postpartum psychosis. And I, frankly, don’t care what her reasons were, I hope they put her under the jail. If she had the presence of mind to take her children to a motel, kill them, strap them in the car, push them into a river, and then cook up some story about an accident and call 911, then surely she could have called CPS or 911 and said “I want to kill my children. I need help.” Or hell, dropped them off at a hospital or fire station. Or left them at her mom’s house and ran away.

Unknown said...

For the record, I didn't diagnose anyone. But I do stand by the assertion that of the two disorders, PPD and PPP, PPP is the more likely diagnosis in this situation.

What is interesting is that no one involved in her defense had asserted any diagnosis as explanation for the mother's actions in this case. Brown apparently saw an opportunity to run her mouth about PPD and she ran with it.

Missives From Suburbia said...

Thanks for this post and for publishing what Pat Brown wrote, because by the time I visited the article, they had already retracted her statements.

I find it particularly distasteful that a woman is making these statements, and that her "expert" status may make other women believe she knows what she's talking about. Perhaps she knows serial killers. But she certainly doesn't grasp that PPD is real.

Regardless of PPD's etiology (which I won't debate, because I don't want to argue with Pat Brown's internet research), it's a real illness and real women and families suffer from it. If I read her statements correctly, what she's essentially saying is, "Suck it up, you wimpy bitches."

Clearly, Pat is past her childbearing years, but even if she wasn't, I wouldn't wish PPD on her. (Yes, Pat, it's THAT real. Even someone who scoffs at tens of thousands of women's pain doesn't deserve that fate.)

Metro DC Mom said...

The more I read about this woman and the AOL article, the more I'm amazed at her lack of knowledge. I can't believe she was considered an "expert" by AOL!

PPD caught me completely by surprise and I'm one of the lucky ones who was able to fight it just with endorphins. I can't imagine claiming it isn't chemical/hormonal!

Rebecca M. said...

Ms. Brown was not the appropriate expert to consult for AOL's news story, for sure. That organization should have used better journalistic and editing judgment and NOT included her comments, not the least because she's not an expert on the subject. And I do think that Ms. Brown's comments were insensitive and factually wrong, because yes, depression in general and PPD especially DO have hormonal (aka chemical) components.

After reading this post and Alena's posts (including Ms. Brown's responses to both letters), I do think she's right in saying that mothers need better support; the isolation that usually comes part-and-parcel with new motherhood is NOT conducive to a good state of mental health. Most of us live far from family means we have less help, which means worse sleep deprivation and exhaustion. And not growing up around children and babies means that first baby many of us ever care for, is our own. This means seriously flawed ideas of how babies should act, which can lead to frustration and anxiety. The point is, medicating PPD is not the only and/or full answer. Our society and our personal choices DO contribute to PPD. But ignoring the hormonal/chemical aspect is silly at best, potentially very harmful at worst.

Rebecca M. said...

I forgot to say, I'm a mom to an 18 month old, and in hindsight I believe I was suffering some form of PPD for the first 6 months of my son's life, mostly due to social isolation, sleep deprivation, and marital stress due to lack of realistic expectations of new parenthood. It manifested mostly as anxiety/rage - I rarely, rarely cried, so I didn't believe it was PPD. I did not see anyone until close to that 6 month mark, but by then I was already feeling motivated to get out of the house, meet people, etc., and my son's sleep was improving. I exclusively breasted so it wasn't related to that.

Ember said...

Added my own post on social support


Ceci said...

It's just so sad. I was never so isolated and alone as when I was a new mother. I have no family here. I had a baby who cried every waking moment with colic. I soon plunged into a depression that I kept talking about and the situation was clear from looking at me, but no one wanted to acknowledge it.

I was skin and bones. I would stand up too quickly and nearly pass out. I could not sleep even when I had a few hours and barely was eating because I was a wreck. But the doctors were too rushed, too quick to dismiss my statements as not their area. I was able to go home to my family when the baby was 3 months, let them help me rest and regain my strength so I could care for the baby properly. Otherwise, I don't know what would have happened to us. I was on the verge of an emergency. We had a good life, house, insurance, jobs with benefits. And I had become invisible. I can't even imagine what happens with people far less fortunate than this. It is heartbreaking.

Jenna said...

Thanks for sending that response. That is so unbelievable that someone like that would publicly try to attack depression all together. I have a depression history to begin with and with my PPD I knew it was a chemical thing. I am very self-aware of what the symptoms look like in me but I still had trouble getting help.