Postpartum Depression

Sticks and Stones

I’ve heard so much lately, “I suffered from Postpartum.” “My girlfriend is really struggling, I think she might have Postpartum.” “I had Postpartum with my second child.” Postpartum is not something you have, it’s not something you can suffer from. Postpartum simply means that you just had a baby. That’s it. Postpartum is a stage in the childbearing year. It does not in any sense of the word mean that you are suffering from Postpartum Depression. And here’s why this matters:

All mamas need support postpartum. All mamas, all daddies, all partners, and often all older siblings. Postpartum is the time after the baby is born that things seem crazy, out of whack, completely different, new, and maybe kinda scary. These feelings are normal, expected, and none of them mean something is “wrong”. The postpartum period often includes the "baby blues," again totally normal, and again nothing is wrong. If we put too much weight into the word, "Postpartum" itself, it makes something totally normal and expected seem like something that needs to be treated or fixed.

Postpartum does not mean Postpartum Depression or Postpartum Anxiety. These two are perinatal mood disorders and are not simply the time after you’ve had the baby. Mamas who fall into this category may need more support than mamas not suffering. However, (and I’ll beat this point over the head until it’s unconscious) postpartum mamas - all postpartum mamas - need support.

That support comes in many forms, food for the new family, help with the laundry, holding the baby so mama can shower and get the baby poop breast milk smell off herself. It also means having people around who are supportive and loving so the mama can say, “This is hard.” “I’m exhausted, and I can’t even find my slippers much less that $70 nursing bra I was so excited to use. (Probably wouldn’t fit anyway, what with my boobs the size of cantalopes.)”

We need to connect so other mamas know that their partner isn’t the only idiot in the world who, for some reason, has recently lost the ability to recognize the trash is full and needs to go out and the dog hasn’t had an actual walk since the child was born, but somehow you’re the only one who’s aware of that? Not sleeping is frustrating, and being a milk machine is frustrating, and baby poop on everything is frustrating, and bottle washing is frustrating, and my haircut is frustrating, and the toddler’s loud breathing is frustrating, and whose idea was this anyway?! That, my friends is postpartum.

Partners and grandparents and well-meaning neighbors have all become stuck in thinking the word “postpartum” somehow means a mama is suffering from a mood disorder. No, she’s suffering from being in the fourth trimester of a pregnancy. She’s suffering from all the frustrations mentioned above. Ok, maybe not the haircut, but most of the other things. Support is necessary. So, if mama says she’s going to “Postpartum Support Group” don’t wig and call the therapist - be thankful she’s going - then she can get all her frustration out and come home feeling more human.

If, on the other hand, a mama is suffering from Postpartum Depression or Anxiety, it’s no big deal. She needs the same support, just a little extra. She may need a visit to a doctor on top of support group, she may need extra sleep, or more time to herself. But let’s make sure to stop - all new parents are in the postpartum phase, and that is in no way a heavy word - it’s just what it is. Help the new parents in your world by lending a hand or an ear or some arms to hold an infant. Let the new parents know they aren’t alone, and if they are suffering, they don’t have to suffer alone. And if the mama is your partner and she seems to need a little extra help, educate yourself and don’t make her feel broken. She’s not broken, she’s exhausted and that fourth trimester is a bitch.

The Helicopter Parent

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So, the Winter Olympics just wrapped up, and let me say, holy shitballs, people - those athletes are amazing. They train for their entire lives and sometimes go home champions and sometimes just go home with stories. However, if you want to see some everyday Olympic caliber amazingness, watch a parent change the sheets on a bunk bed, or wrestle a toddler into a pull-up - sorry, Shaun White - I’m just sayin’, I haven’t even had time to train for this shit, but here I am making magic happen.

A fascinating event that some parents tackle with Olympic level focus, training, and voracious dedication is Other Parent Judgment. Listening to some of these Olympians (aka parents), you’ll hear all kinds of technical terms like “Attachment Parent”, “Free-Range Parent”, “Tiger-Parent”, and my personal favorite, “Helicopter Parent” being thrown around. Our everyday Olympians are experts on these terms much as I heard Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski call out a “Triple Toe Loop” or “Double Sow Cow” (or whatever the hell it’s called) like it was nothing. Now Johnny and Tara earned their licks to be critiquing the figure skaters but the question I have for the parent-athletes is: Where does this desire to label come from? Is it ingrained in them much as the desire for a gold is etched into the being of Mikaela Shiffrin? Or does it come from somewhere else? Somewhere less admirable?

Here’s the thing - parenting is hard. It’s really hard and having other parents, or even better grandparents, or even better than that non-parents judging our every move is so not helpful.

I could go on and on about all of the parenting labels that parents put on themselves as well as are bestowed upon us by others whether deserving or not. But I won’t. I will however address the one that I have been guilty of throwing around like an insult until I came to understand it better: The Helicopter Parent.

You know what I’m talking about - the mom who follows little Jimmy all over the playground equipment making sure he’s safe. The dad who won’t let the kids ride anywhere with their grandparents because the carseats haven’t been checked by the fire station. The mama who makes sure you’ve triple washed your hands and then still asks you to use hand sanitizer one more time before holding the baby, even though it’s August and flu season was over months ago. We’ve taken comfort in labeling these parents helicopters - hovering about their little person constantly so as to protect them from every scrape, bruise, unkind word, and unpleasant smell.

However, when we take a step back, we need to realize what we’re actually witnessing is something deeper. It’s not just care and concern for the tiny person these parents are in charge of keeping alive, but it’s quite possibly, and most likely, a perinatal mood disorder called postpartum anxiety.

The mama’s too anxious to just relax and chat at the playground, not because she’s uptight, but because her brain actually won’t let her. Daddy can’t enjoy a day at the pool with the kiddos because his mind won’t stop racing to the terrible “what ifs”. Leaving the baby with a sitter can be the single most stressful moment for these parents not because they’re worried that the baby might not get a nutritious meal or to bed on time but because they're terrified the sitter might strap the baby in the carseat and leave town. They can’t help it. Their mind won’t stop and it’s not their choice, it’s also not their fault.

Parents get to come at this lifelong Olympic event any way they want. So here’s what I suggest: as fellow parents we take a step back. As with everything in life, we have no idea what’s happening in someone else’s world. If you see a daddy hovering over his daughter all around the zoo, it’s not your place to label him. Have compassion, show him kindness, and know this parenting thing is not the same for any of us. I take solace in the fact that when I was suffering from postpartum depression I didn’t have to wear an armband to show I was not doing great. On the other had, it would have been extremely helpful if I had worn one so then people would maybe have had more compassion for me or at least more patience.

Let’s do this for one another - as a parenting community - as a tribe. Respect our fellow little-person-keeper-alivers and save the commentary for Johnny and Tara. Your fellow Olympians may be gold medalist mac-n-cheese makers while you don’t make the podium in that event, but they can’t hold a candle to you in bedtime story telling. We’re all aspiring to be the best at something (read magical bandaid application). We all have dreams, people.

Now, can we talk about Johnny’s hair?