Cultures all over the world welcome the postpartum period in different ways. In France, it is common for new mothers to have a pelvic floor physical therapy consultation prior to leaving the hospital, followed by routine pelvic floor physical therapy throughout the recovery period.
Cultures that honor pregnancy and the postpartum period assist with the tangible tasks that come with the addition of a baby to a family, encourage the strengthening of the partnership bond between parents, when appropriate, and openly discuss both the joys and challenges that birthing people face. Unfortunately experiencing this is the exception now, not the norm.
I am a therapist of color with specialized training in postpartum mood and anxiety disorders and a birth doula. I also happen to be a woman who found herself short one dessert plate after a dinner party I hosted at my house shortly after the birth of my youngest daughter.
You see, the birth of my sweet girl, now almost two, was the stuff #birthgoals are made of. A beautiful doula-attended, midwife-assisted birth with ambient lighting, my partner by my side, and a playlist cultivated just for the occasion. And yet, two weeks later, the tears that had begun to flow for no discernible reason about 24 hours after her birth had morphed into a rage that, one day, sent a dessert plate flying out of my hand and onto my kitchen wall.
My socioeconomic status, my education, my training as a therapist, my husband, my family; none of it protected me from the most common pregnancy complication in the world, postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. This complication looms tall in the face of the most commonly noted tendencies in Western Culture, which contributes to our ever-rising rates of mothers who report crippling levels of sadness, feeling overwhelmed, and disenchanted by motherhood: our individualistic society. The pressure to have it all, to do it all, to be it all. Ideas that run completely counter to the needs of postpartum parents and their families. The drive to be “Insta-perfect” and “Insta-ready” at all times. The myth that social media only perpetuates that it’s just you; everyone else is doing it beautifully, easily, flawlessly. Why aren’t you?
There are so many potential challenges in the postpartum period that parents face, under the best of circumstances. The need to heal, the need to sleep, the need to grieve. How could we expect a society to care for the mind of a postpartum parent when we don’t even value and respect the super human feat that they have just conquered with their body? How’s the weight loss going? Are you back to working out, cooking, cleaning? When’s the next one? Are you back at work yet?
The mind, raw with experience and hormones, shaped by every moment that has come before, delicate and open, often lays ignored. Depression. Anxiety. Rage. Tears. More tears. Thoughts which invade our peace and make us questions our own ability to function. Might I somehow accidentally throw the baby over the bridge if I get too close? If I take my eyes off the baby for one second, something horrible will happen. Is this a postpartum mood disorder? Do other people go through this? How could we look for the signs of struggle or postnatal decompensation in ourselves and the folks we love, when we aren’t taught anything about what to expect from birth and the postpartum period when we are stuck birthing, healing, and parenting in a culture that most often leaves us afraid to ask?
The answer to darkness is most always light. It’s education. It’s the bravery and honesty required to not participate in the “Insta-Culture” and the shame it represents that’s killing us all. It’s providers trained to care, to ask, to treat. It’s communities prepared to act, to love, to help. It’s systems that are aware of and care about the nuances of identity and the way they impact both illness and wellness. It’s parents empowered to speak up, to ask, to demand.
What started out as my dream to be a therapist and doula was shaped by my experiences as a mother of color who found that postpartum depression was meant to be a part of the journey that has been the wild and beautiful ride called motherhood. Whether it’s therapy, a birth, or a Sister Circle, I am striving without ceasing to be a voice, an ear, and a member of what I hope continues to be an ever-growing community. For you, for my girls, for myself.
I’ve still not replaced that dessert plate. I’ve thought about it, shopped around even. Nothing yet has felt quite right. I kind of appreciate how the shortage reminds me of where I’ve been, where I am, and where I hope to go.