Postpartum’s Pithos

Is postpartum a misnomer?

When does the depression start? Is it the instant the partum becomes post? When the final product is pushed from its incubator?

My writers’ group got into a discussion of postpartum depression last night based on the arrival of a box of books on a doorstep. The doorstep belonged to a fellow writer; the box was full of copies of the book she’d just finished writing. She said she was saddened by its arrival. When asked why, she said she wasn’t sure; she’d have to think about that. She said it was almost like postpartum depression. But she couldn’t say why. And she said she didn’t really know all that much about postpartum; that she’d never had it, though she’d birthed several children.

Someone asked, was she sad because she’d have to say goodbye?

This question assumes that she enjoyed her time building and birthing this book. That it had grown inside her and expanded her heart and mind to the point of exploding with love and pride. That would make a good case for depression upon its release. This symbiotic element of herself was now separate. There most definitely would be a feeling of loss upon the shearing off.

But what if the division and multiplication of cells riots against the verisimilitude of a woman’s life? Against her will. Her expectations. Her idea of time lines and schedules. In that case, depression would come post haste.

The birth does not usher in a sadness at goodbye. It is the greeting – most often with a big wet smack in the face – of responsibility, duty, expectation. The idea that she’ll be instantly in love with this mewling little being in front of her.

When really it has nothing to do with that child at all.

When it comes right down to it, while it’s enacted by the burgeoning and birth of that little being, postpartum depression is all about the mother. Her reaction to it. The way her hormones wreak havoc on her systems and sanity. The total upending of her reality and orientation of existence.

I didn’t want to say goodbye to the little lovely who sits by me now four years older and bigger. I don’t associate her with the things to which I want(ed) to say goodbye. I would’ve loved to say goodbye to the shit that came with her preparation for and entry into this world. I still would. The sadness started way before the postpartum period. And unfortunately, it still doesn’t fit in any sort of tidy box.

Addie May Hirschten

Addie May Hirschten

*** A HUGE addendum to this post: It is NOT selfish to see postpartum as all about you. I think many women don’t receive the help they need because they think it’s wrong to think about something other than their baby.  However, I don’t want my post to be construed as a devaluing of the utter miracle of and attendant caring for a newborn.  We must get the help we need as women so we can go on to be healthy mothers and healthy individuals.

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