My husband called her “Sheila.”
“I noticed Sheila’s here today” he’d gently say, as gently as can be said when you’re telling someone they're crazypantsing. He and his buddies got a good laugh with the names they’d chosen for their wives’ postpartum alter egos.
Oddly enough, this isn’t a story about chauvinism (my husband is actually super cool. Also if your name is Sheila, I'm sorry. I'm sure you're a great person.) This isn't about Postpartum Depression either. This is a story (ok, a manifesto) about the normal upheaval after childbirth being automatically assigned a million negative connotations, causing insecurity and shame just when mommas should feel most like superhero boss-women- because that is what newly birthed mommas actually are.
A culture that assigns “Postpartum Depression” to every woman who is not a glowing and ecstatic after birth is in need of a mental reset.
Postpartum Depression (PPD), Blues and Psychosis are all extremely real, clinically diagnosable conditions. What is not real (save for a very few women who have night nurses, no doubt) is the unattainable image of the entirely put-together, constantly overjoyed new mother. And yet women are sold this image as though it is the “norm” and anything else is a diagnosable mental problem. New mothers are set up for ‘failure’ and sabotaged by reality.
Postpartum is a season, not a disorder.
Every single woman who has a baby has postpartum. Even if they’re not showing you all their cards. Even if their Instagram account looks perfect, dewy, refreshed. This is not real. The hemorrhoids and the pain and the exhaustion are real, but social media likes the highlight reel, not the behind-the-scenes chaos it took to get that shot. Dear social media: Back the heck off.
New Momma, take heart.
There is, in fact, a space—a wide, deep, and long space between the poles of PPDand continuous joy where most all the mommas live. New motherhood is not in it’s natural state an ecstatic time. It is an incredibly conflicted time of very high highs and very low lows, compounded with lack of sleep, physical trauma and recovery, hormonal upheaval, the constant neediness of a completely dependent person, all manner of strain on marriage, temporary loss of sexual function and desire, zero minutes of alone time for so much as clipping your toenails, and total isolation. Add to this the regular expectations of life, relationships, and work, which alone are enough to keep every woman running at full speed. Throw in the unexpected problems that arise with newborns such as colic or nursing issues (of hundreds), and you might notice how the scales are tipped severely against the these blessed women.
God forbid a friend should come down with cancer just then, or there is a loss of work or need to move. How mommas keep on doing all the things without falling entirely apart is a tribute to the bona-fide rockstar status of womenkind.
For anyone to tell a woman that the incredible mass of intense difficulty that is postpartum should not weigh on them at any point, that the need for a good cry or scream is out of the ordinary and indicates “a problem”, is ludicrous at best, dangerous at worst. So many moms feel they are not supposed to need extra help, extra understanding, extra rest, and a place to vent; so when the lack of these things causes severe stress and emotional upheaval, they hide and pretend, lest they're considered mentally unstable.
This wrong societal mindset has set multitude women on a course of isolation, difficulty, and a damaging lack of confidence in their ability to mother. Not to mention the women who do indeed have diagnosable PPD but for the shame of it will not seek help. The consequences of this mentality are devastating.
Society needs to change it's view of postpartum. We have to acknowledge that the postpartum scales are normally not tipped toward ecstasy. We must support women at the moment they need it most WITHOUT making them feel crazy or unusual for having deep wells of need and emotion.
There is no such thing as being able to “bounce back” after birth. Birth is shattering, and recreates a woman into an entirely new personhood and identity- a mother. This transition bears with it pain, adjustment, upheaval, sacrifice- by it’s nature it is exceedingly difficult. Only when we begin to acknowledge that it is so for all women can we begin to create solutions and open healing conversations that will allow mothers to experience a truly radiant, peaceful, and nourished season after childbirth.
For you who are going through it right now: It can be better than this. Really it can. If you are suffering from PPD (or think you might be) head over to the Postpartum Health Alliance to take the test and start on a path to some great resources and help.
If you're raising little people of any age- and especially if you're in postpartum- you need a legit tribe now more than ever. Head over to the Circle for a place to get real with some amazing mommas.