Last month, in a rare public appearance since she assumed a role in her father’s administration, Ivanka Trump revealed on The Dr. Oz Show that she had struggled with postpartum depression, or PPD.
"With each of my three children, I had some level of postpartum depression," Trump told Dr. Mehmet Oz. "It was a very challenging, emotional time for me because I felt like I was not living up to my potential as a parent or as an entrepreneur and executive. I had had such easy pregnancies that in some way, the juxtaposition hit me even harder. Truthfully, I didn't know what I was experiencing. I just thought I was failing to be the best version of myself, and it was very hard."
PPD is incredibly common, with an estimated 11 to 20 percent of women who give birth every year exhibiting symptoms of the condition. Yet it is still heavily stigmatized, which is why many media outlets applauded Ivanka for opening up about her own experience.
Yet for as many people commending Ivanka for her bravery, there were detractors. Many pointed out correctly that the same week that Ivanka disclosed her PPD, her father had tried to push through the Graham-Cassidy bill, which would have repealed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and made it optional for insurers to provide coverage for those with mental health conditions—up to and including mothers who struggle with PPD. As Michelle Ruiz at Vogue writes, “This context makes Ivanka’s revelation feel both terribly timed and mighty tone-deaf: While her bouts with postpartum are safely in the past, and she presumably had access to treatment, many mothers in America have no such luck—or are in peril of losing it at the emphatic order of the very White House under which Ivanka serves...While sharing her battles with postpartum was likely an effort to relate to American women, it only served to once again show the gulf between them.”
Others, like Ruth Graham over at Slate, posited that now that celebrities are starting to come forward to discuss their own struggles with PPD, the condition has essentially become totally destigmatized, a pet cause that famous white women throw around in interviews as a way to sound more relatable or appealing to mothers in their fan base. “It was once taboo for role-model mothers to talk about PPD, regarded as a confession of weakness or unnaturalness. But it has now become a mainstay of women’s magazines and tabloids,” Graham wrote, adding that Trump’s admission “felt like evidence of Ivanka’s greatest talent: recognizing when a topic is innocuous enough that she can safely use it to build her personal brand at no risk to her reputation.”
This all comes at a time when the Center for American Progress gave Ivanka Trump an F grade for her work on women’s and family issues. CAP notes that Trump has “a lack of real world understanding” of the breadth of issues that affect the women she’d like to empower. The CAP report card reads: “Women do not lead single-issue lives and a women’s empowerment agenda driven by the White House cannot continue to ignore the diverse realities that all women bring to the table—from women of color, to LGBTQ women, women with disabilities, immigrant women, and women of different religious, educational, and socio-economic backgrounds.” The organization gave Trump grades on individual issues as well—they gave her a D- in effort for paid family and medical leave (but an F for execution), and an F in matters concerning her work in child care, equal pay, global women’s health, the Affordable Care Act, LGBT equality, education, and more.
It’s true that in light of the (failed) Graham-Cassidy bill, Trump’s PPD reveal reads as somewhat self-interested, if not outright phony. It’s unclear, for instance, whether she was ever officially diagnosed with the condition. But the suggestion that Trump ‘s revelation of her PPD is on par with her previously held anodyne political beliefs that she has trotted out at her own convenience—i.e., her opposition to “racism,” or her goal to “empower women”—is at best cynical and at worst dismissive of other women’s struggles with PPD.
While it’s true that PPD has become a female celebrity cause as of late, with women like Trump, Chrissy Teigen, and Hayden Panettiere coming forward about their struggles with the condition, the truth is that in the real world, PPD is not an imaginary illness trotted out by female celebrities during magazine interviews as a way to connect with their fans in the heartland. Contrary to what Graham suggests, it is still a highly stigmatized and highly controversial condition, and like most other forms of mental illness (which have also been traditionally and inaccurately dismissed as “rich people problems”), it is much more common among low-income women of color. In fact, women who live in poverty are twice as likely to have PPD as white middle-class women who have just given birth.
The link between PPD and economics makes a lot of sense: Poverty has been shown to exacerbate existing mental health conditions, and if you are a single new mother of color struggling to pull down two work shifts while dealing with an infant sleep regression, your mental health is likely to be the least of your concerns. To make matters worse, in some disenfranchised communities, people are actively discouraged from seeking mental health care, even if they are able to afford it to begin with: Due to a cultural mistrust of the American health care system, one study found that African-Americans in particular “held more negative attitudes toward individuals with mental illness compared to other racial and ethnic groups.”
Does this mean that Ivanka Trump—given her enormous privilege and her complicity in an administration that is systematically attempting to strip women of all backgrounds of their rights—is an appropriate face for maternal health care in the United States? Absolutely not. But it is important to note that contrary to clickbait headlines and softball talk show interviews with rich female celebrities, PPD is a serious condition with serious consequences; for many new mothers, particularly those who, unlike Ivanka, do not have the economic means to get proper care and treatment, it is nothing short of a waking nightmare, and it remains just as taboo as it ever was. Mothers need to hear more of these types of stories so their experiences are no longer dismissed as irrelevant or “innocuous.”