Since setting up Postpartum Matters and being active in the 'birth space' I’ve realised that I really struggle with all of the labels we assign people after they’ve given birth. You are no longer a person struggling with depression - you’re a Mother now, with Postnatal depression. Different. Separate.
Even discussing ‘Maternal’ mental health just feels like another way of making us separate. And whilst I know that for some people, this label will feel right and important, I know for others, it will be another thing that makes them feel isolated, other.
I know for me, personally, I do not feel like I struggle with Postnatal Depression. Postnatal Anxiety. Postpartum Rage.
There are many reasons I need to take 100mg of Sertraline a day. And none of them are solely because I’m a Mother. They’re because of the way, as a society, we view mothers, how we value mothers and how we care for them.
Anxiety - from not knowing if I’ll ever not be in pain again. If I’ll ever be able to jump. If my vulva and vagina will ever not feel like one, awful bruise. Anxiety from always trying to find an answer and from constantly questioning everything - in a system that thinks I should be better now, should have ‘bounced back’ by now.
Depression - from the 21 months (plus the 8 where I struggled with hyperemesis) of managing chronic pain. From wanting to move my body, to run and to play, from wanting to be intimate with my partner, from wanting to join in in all the ways I used to - only to be faced with pain and discomfort. Depression from being made to feel like this is normal - which then makes me feel like I’m the only one not coping.
Rage. So. Much. Rage. Rage at having to explain myself constantly - at living with a partner, a husband who has not been taught what to expect of a new mother, how to help with the hormone shifts, the sleepless nights. Rage at having to go back to work with stitches right next to my clitoris, because it took 11 months to receive medical attention. Rage at living in a world that does not accommodate these ‘negative’ feelings - and that brings shame on you when you can’t contain them within yourself.
At our Motherhood Sharing Circle we tried to reframe our skills as Mothers as Superpowers. What I wanted to be a light, uplifting exercise turned out to be quite hard - it turns out that living in a world that doesn’t value you makes it difficult to write nice things about yourself.
I realised just how much shame I hold for the rage - for the fire - inside of me. How much I’ve been conditioned to keep it inside (and how much I’ve been berated when it inevitably becomes a raging inferno, burning everyone nearby).
But fire isn’t always destructive. Yes, it can burn but, if controlled, if allowed to flourish, it can burn down the things you need to get rid of. It can also bring warmth, comfort and light. And it’s the same with rage. So I’m claiming rage as my Superpower. And with it, I will burn down the constructs and the systems that threaten to place my daughter in a box. That threaten to keep her small and quiet as they have tried to keep my small and quiet.
I don't have Postnatal Depression. I am not mentally ill. I simply live in a world that is impossible to live in.
I would love to know your thoughts on this. How do you view maternal mental health? And what has been your experience of it? Did you find the labels helpful? Or confining?
What are your Superpowers and how can you reclaim them?
Lots of love, Zoe x