By Gina Tang
According to current reports, more than 20% of women in the modern Western world suffer from postpartum depression. The American Academy of Pediatrics claims that postpartum depression is the number-one most under-diagnosed obstetric complication in America, making actual rates of depression (often accompanied by anxiety, OCD, and psychosis) even higher. Many women don't know whether their "baby blues" qualify as actual funk, and for those that do, many don't reach out for help because social conditioning makes mothers feel guilty for being anything less than glowing.
Research from renowned social scientist and physician Dr. Gabor Mate links maternal stress to depression and dis-ease in humans. Life is designed to thrive. We seem to have gone sideways.
Postpartum is not merely a period, at all. It is a portal. A gateway to transformation. And since transformed people transform people, restoring the potency of the postpartum portal may very well save the world.
Let’s raise awareness around the potential of postpartum, in hopes that we might more efficiently harness its power. Let’s look at postpartum with open eyes and ask, “What is happening here? How goes it, really?”
Please note: every pregnancy has its own postpartum thumbprint (and, every pregnancy has its own postpartum). There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to being human, or bearing humanity. May these generalizations serve as a point of departure in your own personal journey.
Seven Features of the Original Postpartum Design
1. We are meant to listen in.
If there is one thing a new mother is wired for, that’s intuitive wisdom. Her body essentially streams with raw intelligence. It holds the basic blueprint for how it is to be here now. With this most fundamental sensitivity level turned all the way up to maximum, we feel more clearly than ever what is working, and what is not. Followed, of course, by choice: Will you be open to feedback from your body-mind? Will you let it guide you?
2. We are meant to be supported.
To be held as we learn to hold. To rest, and to restore. It’s a different mode of operation, a perspective and paradigm for experience: to be held, versus holding. Held is passive, Hold is active. Yin, Yang. In cultures with high rates of social success and well-being, new mothers routinely spend their first 40 days being totally cared for in every way. You’re as fresh as the baby, and probably as wrinkled. You get low lights, soft voices, gentle touch, and much, much more.
3. We are meant to be nourished.
After releasing an entire human baby from one’s abdomen, eating a lot of cold cereal and crackers is, quick frankly, tough sh*t. Unfortunately, this—along with pizza, sandwich crusts, and a variety of food-like nuggets form the foundation of many women’s diets in early motherhood. We do not receive the highest-possible-octane fuel on earth, even though we are doing the most essential job on the planet. (Tip: there are entire branches of study dedicated to holistic postpartum nutrition.)
4. We are meant to move freely.
The body desires fluency. Learning to walk with new wings means finding balance from scratch, and it’s difficult to dance that dance when we’re rigid. We must spread out, seek resonance, make contact. Drop into our hips, smack lips, do all the things bodies do when coming to their senses. Trauma tightens us down and promotes rigidity, stifling the flow that nourishes our growth.
5. We are meant to fall apart.
Whoever you were before giving birth is dead and gone. Expect to mourn her loss in some way, shape, and form. There is shedding skin, slippery ground, burning ash, cracking crust. We need space, place, time, and trust to let the process change us. Blocking its progress creates kinks in our power lines. Suppressing, denying, avoiding, or escaping our discomfort only makes it more destructive.
6. We are meant to be together.
Women regulate each other’s nervous systems and balance each other’s hormones. Newly conjoined to an infant, we need mirrors that reflect a reality in which we are not the only one of our kind. The witnessing presence of others who share the same sensations generates connection at a cellular level. We feel seen, heard, met--and not for a single moment isolated.
7. We are meant to build new systems.
The ability to arrange our structures to better support the evolving profile of our lives is a basic human freedom. We reserve the right to opt-out of outdated subscriptions. If a given institution no longer serves the best interests of our selves, our children, and the earth, we are compelled to re-imagine and re-design according to the real needs of our whole beings.
A Simple Call to Action
Postpartum depression is now so common that many people conflate the words, assuming “postpartum” refers to depression itself, as in, “She has really bad postpartum.” If we simply nod and politely move on to another topic, assuming the doctors (and their medications) have it covered, then we abandon all hope.
The normalization of dis-ease is the most immediate threat to our species. We cannot afford another generation of humans who are conditioned for denial, disconnection, and co-dependence; whose basic attachments have been tampered with because our mothers struggled to be present with us.
Healing starts with the mental, social, emotional, physical, spiritual, and environmental health of mothers.
Please, keep the conversation going.