I’m so excited for the first official review of a postpartum depression book by the newly established Warrior Mom Book Club. So without further ado, here’s Amber Koter-Puline, sharing the review of Hillbilly Gothic by Adrienne Martini. There’s a lot of great discussion here about stigma and how it feels to have postpartum depression. Hint: Be sure to read all the way through, because you might win something at the end!
AKP: I chose this book for our first read in the book club because of what I thought was a great combination of wit, gritty honesty and interesting reading that seems almost conversational. What were your initial thoughts about this choice? What did you think of the book title before you dove into the reading?BR: The title was familiar to me, though I am not sure where I had previously heard about or seen the book, and I was not aware of its subject matter. I was drawn to the title – it sounds timeless and classic. I had read several “self-help” style books following my postpartum depression & anxiety diagnosis and I was excited to read a memoir. I hoped to find a “friend” in Martini, who could understand what I had been through and was going through. I dove into it with enthusiasm.AKP: Martini begins her book with two quotes:
“Left my home in the valley put the mountains to my back there’s nothing wrong with where I come from Sometimes it’s meant to be just that.” — Scott Miller, Cross the Line
“As for me, I’ve chosen to follow a simple course: Come clean. And wherever possible, live your life in a way that won’t leave you tempted to lie. Failing that, I’d rather be disliked for who I truly am than loved for who I am not. So, I tell my story. I write it down. I even publish it. Sometimes this is a humbling experience. Sometimes it’s embarrassing. But I haul around no terrible secrets.” — Joyce Maynard, For Writers: Writing for Health
Why do you think Martini chose these quotes?
CF: I like these quotes better after having read some of the book. They didn’t mean as much before having started the reading.
BR: Both of these quotes were very meaningful to me as I was at a point of transition when I was reading the book. I was preparing to return to work full time, which for me marked a huge milestone in my recovery. I believe the Miller quote speaks to a moving on and a more deliberate leaving of the past behind. For me this is going back to work as someone who is well on her way to recovery and not still suffering. The Maynard quote is especially meaningful to me, as I am returning to work fully open and honest about what I went through. I let my team know before I returned and discussed it in my team meeting (I am a social worker, so I work in an environment that is more open to personal struggles than some other work places). I have approached this mission of openness and honesty with little care to how it may change the impression others have of me. I think my interpretation of the quotes has more to do with where I am in my life and my postpartum depression and anxiety than my reading of the text. I think they just match up well to my current situation.
CCP: I feel those quotes are in reference to her family history of mental illness. Regarding the one by Scott Miller, “…There is nothing wrong with where I come from…” There is nothing wrong with coming from a family who has problems with mental illness. Then the next quote by Joyce Maynard she is using to show that she is not willing to keep depression a secret anymore, as they had in the past in her family. I like when a writer begins with a quote. I feel it gives you a closer look into what she is trying to say through her book, and the inspiration behind writing it. I really like the quote by Joyce Maynard. In everything I have been through the past nine months, revealing my “secrets” were a huge step for me. It gave me the ability to express the scary stuff I held inside for so long; it was like a huge weight lifted off my back.
AKP: Speaking of scary stuff, this book had a lot of very vivid and detailed accounts of some scenarios that could be potential triggers for a reader. While everyone needs to judge their own tolerance and ability to be triggered, what are your personal thoughts about who should or should not read this book? Or maybe rather the question would be better worded, would you caution women who are still in the early or yet-to-be treated stages of a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder like postpartum depression to wait to read this book?
BR: Yes, I would caution women who are early in their diagnosis and treatment to take some time before reading this book. I began to read it when I was beginning to gain my footing, and settling into an effective treatment plan. There were statements in the book — thoughts that Martini shares — that I easily could have written myself. When I read the book I was at a point where I could read the statements and still felt a rawness, but was solid enough in my path towards recovery that they did not trigger and totally undo me.
BR: I think the need to belong comes from fear of being different and of not meeting the expectations others have of us when they look at us. I think that this is an underlying fear that can play into postpartum depression. If we feel as mothers that we aren’t living up to expectations that puts further pressure on our already weakened selves. Not belonging is also scary because it means we are ungrounded, not connected to something that can bring comfort, strength and the framework for understanding our experiences. I believe that Martini’s focus on discussing where she came from (both genetically and geographically) is perhaps her way of attempting to put that framework in place for herself. I think this theme has much to do with being a mother, experiencing postpartum depression and with Martini’s personality. I think she might fit into a “type A”, high achieving, but also having high expectations of herself. I believe those of us with such a personality are very shaken when we feel we don’t belong.
CCP: In my family, medication to treat mental illnesses is acceptable to most; but there are some who feel it is used as a band-aid to cover up the real problem. Those people, of course, have never been medicated for depression or any other related mental illness. I believe the medication can be necessary to make you stable enough to fight your battles, but the medication alone is not a “cure.”
JPG: I agree with CCP that the medication alone is not a cure. My sister seemed to think that I would get better simply by taking my antidepressant faithfully. That just was not the case. In the circles of my family and friends, the medication is acceptable. Some people do not see the benefit of therapy or support groups. It is still considered a taboo subject.
CCP: Yes, Jennifer, I have had some people say that the support group might be hurting me more than helping me, but they have no idea how much it has helped since they are not in my shoes. It also gives me the opportunity to support others going through PPD and gives me a real confidence boost! I feel that the MMC PPD support group has been the most helpful in my journey through PPD. The amount of support I get daily is amazing. I also find that being able to support my new friends through their own journey with PPD has been very healing for me. Postpartum depression has revealed so much about me to myself and those close to me.
CCP: I was not surprised that Martini was pregnant again at the end of the book. I am struggling with that decision constantly. Seeing that after all she went through she was willing to give it another try gives me hope that maybe one day I will get there too. For now I just want want to recover from PPD and then, just then, maybe I will consider doing it again.
RMM: I’ve just finished the book, and thought it was terrific and very brave for her to write.
MJ: I finished the book a few weeks ago. It was much harder to read than I expected, partly because it brought back memories, partly because it just felt like something was missing, even though she’s a talented writer and, I agree with Rebecca, very brave.
KP: I found the book to be incredibly insightful, although same with several of you, it definitely brought back memories and made me rethink my own experience and all the trials and tribulations. Given that I’ve already read several books on postpartum complications in my healing journey thus far, it was a wonderful breath of fresh air to read a book that was full of witty retort. It was at times painful, captivating, yet inspiring to me to one day document my journey.
LH: I enjoyed the book; it shed a “softer light” on postpartum depression.
MJ: It’s probably the best PPD book I’ve read, way better than Down Came the Rain, which didn’t have the level of writing talent and honesty. Was it just me that wished she’d found more joy by the end?
JPG: I would recommend this book. I am glad that I read it after having recovered, though. It was so raw and honest that it could trigger people who are still really struggling.
BR: Yes, I would definitely recommend this work to others. Actually, my mother is reading it now on my recommendation. She did not have PPD when my sister and I were born, but she has battled with anxiety and depression for much of her life (as have many women in the past generations of her family). I believe that readers who are currently journeying through or have survived postpartum depression will find reassurance, validation and a friend in this work. I believe those who have not gone through PPD will gain a greater understanding of the experience of those who have. I also feel like this work will appeal to many other audiences, including those who enjoy memoirs and those with a connection to Appalachia or their own geographical history. In general I found this to be a very smartly written and engaging book that I know I will read again.
AKP: Thanks, everyone who participated in the Warrior Mom Book Club, and to those of you who are reading this review. Great news!! The author, Adrienne Martini, has offered a signed copy of Hillbilly Gothic to one lucky reader! All you have to do is comment on this book review at Beyond Postpartum or here below at Postpartum Progress by August 25th to be entered in the random drawing. Please include your email so we can let you know that you’ve won!
Jennifer Pody Gaskell