Postpartum Depression: we’ve been taught to fear these words. We aren’t allowed to speak them. All we are supposed to acknowledge is the cute baby in our arms. To speak of what women lose in motherhood would be treachery. To speak of grief, confusion, and disconnection is not allowed. Subversively, we are taught that silence and ignorance will keep us safe. This message is confounded by the way obstetricians, midwives, and pediatricians avoid talking about anything other than measurements of the belly, then measurements of the baby.
And yet they are real, these feelings and these words. Depression and/or anxiety exist for 15-20% of new mothers, and it doesn’t have to happen immediatley postpartum. Mothers can feel this during pregnancy, after pregnancy loss, or after their babies 1 year birthday. The transition to motherhood is full-spectrum, radically changing our bodies, brains, identity and lifestyle. It is not a metaphor that our hearts are changed by our babies: we are literally new beings that are also our old selves and also something inbetween. Who would feel only joy in such a radical transition? You can love your baby and feel overwhelmed. You can love being a mom and grieve the loss of your old identity. Your feelings are allowed. The words depression and anxiety don’t have to be something we fear. They can be a foothold in our great change, a way to say “this is hard” and “I’m different than I was before”, a way to explain the blown-apart nature of this transformation. A part of our human experience is the plethora of feelings that run through us.
The birth of a child is a dramatic change to the body and the psyche: There are bound to be repercussions and time is necessary to integrate a change of such proportion. I think we should start expecting this to take time … the fourth trimester is a real trimester, though what was created in 9-10 months is not magically resolved in 6-12 weeks. In fact, there is no going back. There is only integration. We have to stop expecting it to be only smooth and blissful and allow the transition to take all the time it needs. Collectively, we have to shake up the view that happy = connected with baby = good mom and accept that moms can be sad/anxious/traumatized and STILL be a good mom. ALL MOMS (and birthing persons) deserve time and space to recalibrate. Integration can not happen without acceptance of one’s feelings. The mom in the flow of her feelings deserves a path towards connection and health and in order to see this path she has to see herself, accept herself.
I don’t think the transition to motherhood is supposed to be easy. It is a metamorphosis of chemical, emotional, spiritual, neurological proportions. Who wouldn’t feel ungrounded in some of that?