Why Postpartum Depression is a Feminist Issue

Five months ago today, I gave birth to a beautiful, perfectly healthy baby girl.  I had a smooth, uncomplicated delivery and was immediately enthralled with my daughter. Everything about her – from her little button nose to her ridiculously tiny finger nails – was absolute perfection. Admittedly, the first six weeks were the closest thing to torture I’ve endured: zero sleep, a stitched up vagina, sore nipples, and no mental capacity to do anything more complicated than brushing my teeth.

What was all this nonsense about childbirth “being totally worth it”?! I’m kidding. Sort of.

After those first grueling weeks, which I endured like a champ, I was hit with postpartum depression seemingly out of nowhere. Right as I was sliding into a comfort zone as a new mother and gaining confidence that one day soon I’d be able to hold an adult conversation again, the proverbial rug was yanked out from underneath me.  I spent countless hours sobbing, couldn’t eat, suffered from insomnia, and was convinced my life was over.  I felt like a terrible mother – I have this gorgeous, happy and healthy little human and I couldn’t stop crying or screaming at my husband long enough to appreciate my good fortune. I was crumbling on the inside and, like an out of body experience, was watching myself push loved ones away in the midst of uncontrollable outbursts.

It took weeks of urging from my husband, parents and friends before I relented and sought professional help. Today, I question why I waited. It boils down to one word: stigma. Women are supposed to love motherhood and embrace it with an almost unspeakable enthusiasm. So what was wrong with me?

I’ve spent way too much time pulling at that thread, and while doing so, realized that the stigma associated with postpartum depression is not unlike that of other “women’s” issues: rape, abortion, domestic violence.  Each of these involves complex emotions and they are, statistically speaking, widely shared experiences. However, they are also largely shrouded in silence, with expectations of guilt and shame. The feminist community has rallied around rape and domestic violence victims and has worked tirelessly to eliminate stigma surrounding abortion. And while postpartum depression is a complicated multi-layered issue, its feminist component is coming into sharper focus by the day.

By definition, postpartum depression is entwined with motherhood, which itself is extremely politicized and scrutinized: from how and where a woman gives birth, to whether and how long she breastfeeds, to her decision to stay at home or work, etc. It’s an issue that the feminist community has become increasingly vocal about. So why the silence around postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression is deserving of attention and action from multiple communities, including the feminist community. We need to raise our voices to increase public awareness of the issue, so that women do not feel stigmatized, and demand availability and access to support services. While it is experienced exclusively by women, postpartum depression has a ripple effect; and unless it’s addressed on a large scale, women and their families will continue to suffer in silence.

I firmly believe that speaking out about an issue is the first step in erasing its stigma. So this is me, speaking out and sharing my story, albeit a very abbreviated version.

Have you had experience with postpartum depression?

 

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Categories: Health, Motherhood

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

11 replies

  1. Thank you for writing this. I too suffered a “pulled from under the rug” depression almost 10 weeks postpartum. I think that in general, feminists need to be more openly supportive of mothers in every respect.

  2. Post-partum depression refers to the changes both in terms of physical and emotional aspects in a woman after pregnancy. What exactly causes post-partum depression is something that still eludes medical experts up to the present. What is certain is that most people simply refer to the episode as “the blues,” which is a nonchalant way of pointing something that is more than just casual. What is more certain is that the episode may manifest a few days after delivery and may last for weeks or even months, the duration of which depends on the coping mechanism employed by women and those around her. ..

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  3. Thank you for drawing parallels between postpartum depression and the feminist platform. I think that the feminist movement in large part has ignored the intersection of gender and family. Although they regularly advocate for family issues such as reproductive healthcare, contraception, and abortion, they tend to shy away from other women-centered issues such as breastfeeding, birth politics, and, as you mention, postpartum depression. We need to ask more of our feminist community and start vocalizing the desire to include mothers and their realities as part of the feminist platform.

    I would like to point out, though, that men do suffer from postpartum depression. Men undergo similar hormone changes to mothers. Testosterone levels decrease, estrogen levels increase, and prolactin levels (associated with breastfeeding moms) also go up in men. About 14% of men suffer from postpartum depression, and fewer of them seek treatment and have fewer resources available to them than mothers.

  4. What brave people to speak out… More people need to speak out more, as its illness and stop the stigma attached to it. Please can everyone pass a petition about more awareness support education research.. Change.org fathers reaching out …. Thank you mark http://www.fathersreachingout.com

  5. help is available in the southwest of england- http://www.mothersformothers.co.uk we are a group of mums who have suffered from, and recovered from PND. You are not on your own, you are not going mad, and you WILL get better as we all have

  6. I struggled with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety after the birth of my youngest daughter two years ago. It took me seven months to get help. Medication, therapy, the support of my family and friends, and finding support in the online community were all keys to my recovery. Please know this that you are not alone. You will get better. There is a moderated chat on Twitter #ppdchat on Mondays at 1:00 p.m. EST and 8:30 p.m. EST. I began blogging as a way to help other mamas who were suffering to share my story. I continue to talk about my struggles with my friends and extended family. I’m sending yousupport and love. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

  7. Oh yes I know about postpartum depression! It happened to me 47 years ago. I didn’t even know what it was. I had never heard of postpartum depression. When I told my pediatrician how I felt, she didn’t mention postpartum depression. She told me I should get my husband to help me with the two kids. Fat chance. When I tried to tell him how I felt his answer was, “If you would just get busy and take care of things in the house, you’d be fine.” (It was three years later and two years of counseling when he became my ex husband.) At the time I felt so guilty. It was all I could do to make myself get up in the morning. I thought about suicide but could not leave my children without their mother. I was very open to therapy and fortunately went to a church where many of the mothers there had been in counseling. The words “postpartum depression” never crossed the lips of any of the people who interviewed me or the counselors I had! It’s a long story but I came out relatively okay on the other side. And that was the beginning of my study of feminism.

  8. So amazing for you to write on this subject and share your story. I remember giving birth to my twin girls and crying every waking moment. I felt like I should be so happy to be so blessed, but I felt like my life was over. I couldn’t feed them without help, I couldn’t breast feed and didn’t want to (another big self guilt issue) and I was exhausted. I wanted to know where the instant love was because I felt like I had just taken two little babies home but hadn’t much connection yet. Now they are four and I have such a strong connection with these two little girls and I thank my lucky stars every day for my little family. It took a long time, and let me tell you, the medicine I take helped me to be the best mom I can be and cope with all the difficult emotions and situations that go hand in hand with motherhood.

  9. Maureen, thanks for sharing your story. I’m sorry you’ve be struggling through postpartum depression. Since I’ve never given birth, I have no specific advice to give. I’m sending you a hug, though, and letting you know that I love and support you. I hope you get some good advice from other moms.

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  1. Is Postpartum Depression A Feminist Issue?
  2. Women and Mental Health | Fem2pt0

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