It happens in the mom/ parent groups.
It happens with conversations with family and friends.
It happens with your spouse/ partner.
If you birthed a child, you may know what I'm referring to- that part of the conversation when everyone drops their voice 5 levels to a whisper, leans in, looks around for Big Brother to jump out and says:
"She had [a lil bit] of postpartum."
What the F does that even mean? Do you know what it means? Do you understand how it translates?
"Postpartum" is really referring to the postpartum period of a birthing person's life. Merriam Webster defines it simply as:
1: occurring in or being the period following childbirth
2: being in or used in the postpartum period
the bastion of free internet knowledge Wikipedia actually has a great definition, quoted as:
The postpartum (or postnatal) period begins immediately after childbirth as the mother's body, including hormone levels and uterus size, returns to a non-pregnant state. The terms puerperium, puerperal period, or immediate postpartum period are commonly used to refer to the first six weeks following childbirth.
Anyone who has experienced pregnancy (because we honor and hold space for those with angel babies, here) will experience postpartum. So why all the hush hush?
Because, stigmas. Insanely deep ones too. A quick google search of the word "postpartum", will inevitably return 34,000,000 hits on postpartum depression, signs of postpartum depression, how to treat postpartum depression, and so on. Very little, (or rather, none immediately) about what the postpartum period looks like physically, socially, or even how the mental aspect can be leveraged. There's more to the postpartum period than edging off depression. Most major advocacy organizations will even tell you proper physical, emotional, and social supports during this time will actually decrease a mothers/ birthing persons risk of various perinatal mental health/ perinatal mood/anxiety disorders (PMHDs or PMADs for short).
So why am I making this a big deal? Semantics, right? Well, yes and no. By not referring to perinatal mood disorders by their proper names, we've created this culture that postpartum (the physiological and time period) is something to be feared, rather than nourished and celebrated- AND that these conditions ONLY happen immediately after baby; leaving a swath of individuals questioning their minds in pregnancy and toddlerhood.
I've experienced the effects of PMADs with both children. But the why and timing were drastically different. With my oldest, I had support. Friends came by, my mother and mother in laws cooked and cleaned for me and tried to make sure I was well cared for. But the fear never really went away. I couldn't sleep, barely ate... to me everything was a slip away from causing some kind of harm to my new baby. This was compounded by a coerced induction that I was mentally reeling from. By my postpartum checkup at 6 weeks, I was a blubbering mess. My OB at the time encouraged me to talk to the in house therapist, and I was so glad I did. It was a long road (8 months!) but I finally saw light at the end of the tunnel.
My second experience actually started PRENATALLY.
We focus so much on postpartum depression that prenatal/ antepartum depression rarely get any shine, and as a lactation professional we also need to discuss the possibility of weaning depression with our clients. Here I was experiencing BOTH. I discovered I
was pregnant while still nursing my young toddler and the feels were REAL. I was
in the throes of switching my career- coming from fashion design to SAHM to now lactation professional. Trying to hold down a part time job, school, parenting and now a pregnancy was not in the plans. The pregnancy was decreasing my milk supply and my oldest was self weaning. Nobody told me that the hormonal drop associated with weaning was akin to the disruption seen in the weeks after birth. (You can find case studies on this.) Recognizing similar feelings and fears as I did after my first birth, I immediately sought help from a Black perinatal mental health trained therapist, who validated my feelings and experiences and assured me that my experience was not isolated, but interconnected. I went on to have an amazing birth, and started off with a relatively smooth postpartum period. Then the pandemic hit.
As a counselor and clinical intern I saw myself mirrored in the faces and stories of the moms/ parents I worked with. I knew that tired sadness, the desperation for some air...
The pandemic for many parents, but disproportionately Black parents has been rough. Cut off from our usual sources of support, lack of flexibility from employers, and having to be everything and everybody for the kids has been debilitating. I'm no exception. As we got deeper and deeper into isolation I could feel the walls and shadows closing in. But here's the thing- my depression had really nothing to do with my physiological state of being a postpartum woman- it had almost everything to do with spending my postpartum alone with a toddler and an infant, under the stress of a global pandemic. As a counselor and clinical intern, I saw myself mirrored in the faces and stories of the moms/ parents I worked with. I knew that tired sadness, the desperation for some air. This is not how postpartum should be. I'm still working my way out, as I write this, literally taking things day by day. On the surface I'm sure folks think I've been super successful this past year in spite of everything, and I have two amazing kids. Depression and anxiety doesn't care though. That mountain of laundry staring at me tells me I've failed yet again. It's a lie, I know that. I HAVE accomplished some amazing things this year. My kids are alive and loved. I have an incredibly supportive and patient spouse. I'm still breastfeeding a toddler. I take my IBCLC exam in the fall. I'm learning to rest when I need to rest. To say no. To preserve my peace.
Postpartum is not an illness.
If you're reading this, I want you to know that postpartum is not something to fear.
It's not the boogeyman.
It SHOULD be restorative, healing, comforting. A time for you to learn who you are as a parent/ mother, to be loved on, and celebrated. YOU JUST MADE A WHOLE HUMAN BEING! There's a reason that " the mother" has been historically revered throughout time. We need to return to caring for the postpartum body the way we obsess over the newborn. In fact, by focusing our attention to the birthing parent we can ensure that they are their healthiest and whole self, able to fully care for their infant. Studies show that parents who have strong postpartum support have lower incidences of postnatal mood disorders. Many cultures around the world have traditions where birthing parents are waited on hand and foot; being surrounded by their loved ones (typically their mothers, aunts, grandmothers, or sisters), with the goal of healing the body and spirit from childbirth and guiding them into parent/ motherhood.
Postpartum is not an illness.
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are, they are treatable, and it's not your fault. Help is available. And you don't need to suffer in silence. Call it by its FULL name. Antenatal or Postpartum depression. Postpartum anxiety (which is actually more common!!). Postpartum OCD, PTSD, or Psychosis. Your mental health is part of your complete health and wellness, if your heart wasn't working you would seek cardiac care. Your brain deserves the same love. And that's real.
Perinatal Mental Health Support Resources
Postpartum Support International
PSI Helpline: 1-800-944-4773
Text "HELP" (English): 800-944-4773
Text "HELP" (Spanish): 971-203-7773
Blue Dot Project
Local Chapters- MD
NAMI- MD Helpline: 877-878-2371
Crisis Line: 211 press 1 or text zip code to 898-211
Local Chapters- DC
NAMI- DC Helpline: 202-546-0646
Crisis Line: 202-673-3219
Local Chapters- NoVA
NAMI- NVA Helpline: 571-458-7310 x 102
Crisis Line: 703-527-4077