It's Part Of Her Routine, But This Comedian Is Not Joking About Postpartum Depression And Anxiety
Angelina Spicer's experience with postpartum depression has found an audience at comedy clubs across Southern California.
"I'm not one of those people that thrives on pain or tragedy to find my material," she told KPCC/LAist. "I'm an outspoken black woman, my husband is very straight-laced white guy. There's enough there."
She said that after childbirth "broke her vagina," and depression and anxiety led her to a psychiatric ward, she's found a way to talk about it in her stand-up.
It's not just for laughs.
Spicer has also become a serious advocate for maternal mental health. She's testified before lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington, D.C, and she speaks about postpartum depression at hospitals and conferences. She calls herself an "accidental activist."
"I didn't plan on this journey," Spicer said. "It chose me, for sure."
One in seven women experience depression and anxiety during or after the birth of a child, and because it's underdiagnosed and underreported, some estimates show much higher rates.
When Spicer and her husband got pregnant, she was happy and hopeful, but things changed when her daughter, Ava, was born.
"I thought that pushing the baby out was going to be the hardest part," she recalled. "I was preparing, like, 'OK, gotta do my yoga, gotta get the epidural,' but I was not expecting what followed."
She says everything about caring for her new daughter was just hard and scary. And she was still shooting a web series and doing standup. When she was in the thick of her struggles with depression, she first tried out jokes about her new motherhood and bombed.
"While I was in the midst of it, I'm like, 'Girl time plus tragedy.' You've got to give it some time before you just jump out there," she said. "But I was out there, and I heard crickets."
Like many new moms, Spicer was struggling with sleep and stress, but she mostly kept it inside.
"If you had been around during that time, you would not have seen that," said her husband, Joe Trigilio. "She looked like she was holding it together."
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At eight months postpartum, everything crumbled. She told her therapist about the intrusive, violent thoughts that were overwhelming her.
"I was essentially apologizing to my therapist for what I had done in my mind. That's when my therapist was like, 'you need to go check into a hospital'," Spicer said.
She spent 10 days getting care at a psychiatric hospital. This was three years ago, but she didn'ttalk about it on stage until late last year.
"Most comics thrive on pain, we thrive on the struggle," she said. "But for me this was so shameful."
In the years since, Spicer has started talking publicly about her postpartum depression and her hospitalization because she wants to remove that shame and let people know how she got to the other side.
After her hospital stay, Spicer continued therapy, she started taking antidepressants, her family pooled money to pay for child care, and she learned how to cope and envision a future where her baby daughter grows up.
She'd been so caught up in those "anxious, depressed, never-ending moments" that she said she couldn't even imagine her daughter ever saying a word.
"I couldn't! I just thought her love language forever and ever and ever was going to be crying. Screams!" said Spicer. "And it's just a miracle now to see, like, she's a person."
In February, a national government panel released guidelines around preventing depression during pregnancy and after childbirth, highlighting two forms of counseling that can make a difference.
'YOU DOWN WITH P.P.D?'
Spicer said she finally felt completely healed after Ava's third birthday. And this journey that chose her has completely evolved her work.
"Now I just feel so liberated that I have a much deeper understanding of who I am and a deeper message."
She's figured out how to merge her new message with her classic parody style with a song that flips the lyrics of the Naughty by Nature classic "O.P.P." to"You down with P.P.D?"
Spicer says there are many more parts of her story to mine for material. She's raising money now to shoot a comedy special, as part of a documentary she's making on postpartum depression.
And she'll be on a seven-city tour with the parenting convention MommyCon this year.
"I was really impressed by how new she is to this field and how quickly she's really made an impact," said Kelly O'Connor Kay, executive director of the local advocacy group Maternal Mental Health NOW.
Spicer has helped the group with lobbying efforts and regularly shares her experience with moms at various events. Kay says Spicer's approach helps other women open up.
"I think it's really important to find humor in some of the darker experiences of our lives because otherwise you're just going to be down and out for the count."
Spicer recognizes that with a subject as sensitive as postpartum depression, there's a delicate balance between being funny and being insensitive. She carefully walks that line and is constantly tweaking her set. She says the responses she gets make her feel like she's part of a new #MeToo movement.
"I think it's easier for women is to stand up and say, 'Me too.' Like, I went through it, too, and in hindsight, it is kind of funny."
After all that she went through, Spicer sees that the severity of her case was preventable. She and her husband, Joe Trigilio, have some advice for others -- tips she calls "postpartum busters."
- I did not need to work that hard. Women need to know that they don't need to force themselves to rush to get back to work.
- Ask for help and accept the help. People say, "Oh, I want to come see the baby." You can see the baby, but come see me. Check on me.
- When you have your baby shower, pass around a list of responsibilities (wash the clothes, fold the clothes) for everyone who's at that daggone baby shower.
- I didn't know that there was like a feminine ice pack. I was sitting on frozen bananas.
- Ask doctors and caregivers, Is this normal? Is what we're feeling normal? To have someone objective check in on where you guys are at, I think is a really good idea. Her therapist did that, but nobody told us what to look out for, or warning signs, or anything else.
- Pay attention to issues that are difficult for your partner. Aside from whatever mental health issues she had, there are a lot of things that I think I needed to work on, like picking up around the house and anticipating her needs.
FIND HELP NOW
UCLA Maternal Mental Health Program - Offers partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs for women their second and third trimesters of pregnancy or up to one year postpartum.
This story also ran on the radio. Listen here.