Film & Television

“Tully’; or ‘Adventures in Postpartum Depression’

The medical community, if not society at large, recognizes that postpartum depression is a very real and debilitating condition. The less-serious “baby blues” affect about 80 percent of women, while between 10 percent and 20 percent develop a more severe mood disorder, requiring treatment.

But just try explaining that to Tom Cruise back in 2005. A loyal Scientologist, the actor vigorously asserted on the Today show that chemical imbalances were a pharmaceutical construct, that drugs were completely unnecessary, and that depression should be treated with vitamins and exercise. Brooke Shields, who had chronicled her own experience in her earlier book, Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, responded with an op-ed in The New York Times. “I’m going to take a wild guess and say that Mr. Cruise has never suffered from postpartum depression.” She continued, “If any good can come of Mr. Cruise’s ridiculous rant, let’s hope that it gives much-needed attention to a serious disease.”

When I had my daughter nearly 21 years ago, I was only briefly incapacitated with the blues. She wouldn’t sleep, cried incessantly, was having trouble latching, and to top it off, my husband was away on a business trip. One morning, I tearfully confided over the phone to an older coworker, “I think she hates me.” The father of a teenager, he set me straight right away. “She doesn’t hate you, Alex,” he assured me, laughing. “She will hate you. But she doesn’t hate you now.”

In the new movie Tully, an unflinching look at the joys of motherhood (minus the joys), expectant suburban mom Marlo is already spiraling downward. Nine months pregnant with her third — and unplanned — child, she juggles a precocious and asthmatic daughter Sarah and a “quirky” son Jonah, who is clearly on the autism spectrum. Her husband, Drew, is a good guy, but doesn’t pick up much of the slack in their chaotic, Lego-strewn household. Pretty much everything is a struggle, from meeting with her son’s principal, who explains that while they all love Jonah, Marlo and Drew need to hire a one-on-one aide or he won’t be able to stay in the school (that they can barely afford as it is), to ordering a decaf coffee and being told by another patron, who pointedly looks at Marlo’s belly, “You know, there are traces of caffeine in decaf.”

Marlo orders the coffee anyway, and we know we’re going to be rooting for her.

After the baby is born, things quickly go from bad to worse. Marlo can barely function as life becomes a never-ending cycle of feedings and diapers. Her successful brother (whose perfect wife serves their perfect children truffled mac and cheese) offers to pay for a “night nanny” for her. At first Marlo resists. “I don’t want a stranger in my house,” she insists. “That’s like a Lifetime movie where the nanny tries to kill the family and the mom survives and she has to walk with a cane at the end.” But, in a moment of desperation and sheer exhaustion, Marlo calls the woman. Although she doesn’t fly in with a talking umbrella, Tully is about as close to Mary Poppins (via Bushwick, Brooklyn) as you could hope for. Warm, competent, and lovely to boot, she’s nanny ex machina.

Magically, the house is clean, cupcakes are baked, and Marlo gets the first sleep she’s had in ages. Tully simply brings the baby up to the bedroom when it’s time to nurse. No fuss, no muss. Even better, Marlo gets a BFF.

“I’m here to take care of you,” Tully tells her. “I thought you were here for the baby,” Marlo replies. “You and the baby are the same thing,” she’s told.

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