Postpartum Oppression

Via:The Wayback Web Archive

Postpartum Oppression

I have sat down to write this entry for Thordora’s new event several times this week. Each time I banged out a few sentences, felt uneasy about what I had written,got up to see what kinds of tea bags are left, fed the cat, checked the mail and “Oh look! It’s time to go pick up Max. ” I’m worried this post may hurt my husband, worried that my son may read this some day, and worried that someone reading will judge me to be a crazy, unfit parent. A Bad Mother. A really bad one–not the I’m-so-bad!-I-just-met- a-friend- for- momtinis- and- drank- two. kind of bad.

Here we go……

“Are my nail beds supposed to be grey?” I wondered as the arm supporting my newborn son’s nursing head began to go numb. Outside my hospital window the early morning sky was a blaze of orange and pinks, the hot August sun already beating down on the sleeping city of Cambridge. I felt pleasantly lightheaded and smugly congratulated myself that those helpful bonding and relaxing hormones were just kicking in. Then I blacked out.

I woke to find my son had slipped lower on my breast and a trickle of blood ran out of the corner of his mouth. Oh my god! I had hurt my baby. Just three days old and already I was a terrible mother. At that point, Max unlatched and gazed up at me with his big, blue innocent eyes. My nipple was shredded, and it’s friend to the east was already in bad shape. One midwife brought me a nipple shield. A few hours later, another midwife chastised me for using the shield.

I shuffled down the hall to refill my water pitcher, pushing Max in his plastic bassinet, trying hard to fight back tears at the joyful celebrations in the adjacent rooms. My hemoglobin at this time was hovering between 6-7 g/dl*, and most of the staff was astonished that I was up and walking. I had to walk. No one was there for me.

As I pushed my plastic bucket against the metal slot and waited for the wonderful, oval ice cubes to clink into my pitcher, a man came out of one of the nearby rooms beaming with a similar pitcher in hand. He caught my eye and announced that he too was a new parent, and explained that he was getting water for his wife because she just had a c-section a few days ago, and needed her rest. This time I could not hold back my tears, so I turned away and slowly shuffled back to my room. Alone with my son. Alone,exhausted, afraid and emotionally needy in a way that I was not accustomed to feeling. I was also extremely pissed off.

My husband was not well physically. At the time he weighed over 400 pounds, struggled with diabetes and was recovering from two recent back surgeries. He was too large to stay overnight on those fold-out chair beds that most hospitals supply. He was too sick himself to properly care for me and support me. I was the healthy spouse. I was supposed to be strong.

On the fourth morning, fearing I would die from boredom or botulism before I bled to death, I convinced the hospital to send me home. The ride back to our condo was like a roller-coaster ride from hell. I sat in the back of our Honda Element, so I could continue to foster attachment and because I just knew my son would stop breathing if I took my eyes off him for more than 10 seconds. Every crack in the road jolted my liver. Every pothole resulted in my crying out in pain and a fresh gush of blood seeping out of my underwear.

HOooooooOOOOooonk!! Hey you. Move it!!!! James threw the car into park and announced “I’m going to kill those motherfuckers! The car behind us was annoyed by the slow crawl as we crept down the streets of Cambridge trying to avoid jarring my newly zippered flesh. My goddamn hazard lights are on, and my wife just had surgery. Just go around us, you $#^%$#%$#@%$#*%$@&%!!!!. I began to sob, convinced that my husband was going to start something that would escalate into a gunfight and my son would be dead before he even made it home from the hospital.

Once home, I began to sweat profusely. The tops of my feet were swollen and I feared they would split like overripe fruit. My hands, wrists, knees, even my earlobes were swollen. Everything was swollen except my breasts. “But you just have to try harder.” James would implore. “You’re being selfish.” Then he would sigh, and pour small amounts of ready-to-feed formula into a shot-glass for Max to lap up.

Max lost almost two pounds in the first couple of days of his life. I pumped 12 times a day, every two hours. I would rinse the parts and sterilize the enormous plastic horns in Medela microwave bags, fix a bottle of formula and pump again. While I pumped Max would cry, I would cry.I would stick my jugs into the milking machine, log on to Babycenter and type out long-winded missives about how much I hated my husband. Sometimes 100 other women would reply and moan “Yeah, he never hears the baby cry at night. I hate my husband too!” There were threads for attachment parents, and other discussion threads for people who wanted to give their newborn peanut butter in a Mountain Dew bottle to help the kid sleep through the night so they could start trying to conceive #2.

By the end of most 20-minute pumping sessions I would have half an ounce. Total. From both breasts with a hospital-grade pump. Breastfeeding was not working for me. My body was battered, and not healing well. My son slept in short stretches, and then only when laying on my chest. Dr. Sears assured me that this was natural. I just needed to nurse on demand, relax and bond with my baby.

Instead I began to cheat on Dr. Sears with shiny cans of Enfamil. James and I fought bitterly about my inability to breastfeed. I stood my ground, knowing that while breast milk is nutritionally superior, I was slowly beginning to lose my mind. After 6 weeks of almost no sleep, I was still bleeding heavily and I knew I had to stop the insanity and care for myself, because no one else was going to. One afternoon shortly before James was due home, I carefully poured the drabs from each almost-empty milk bag into a 4 ounce Medela bottle. I had a precious 3 ounces of liquid gold in my hands. I was proud of my efforts, and wanted to prove to my husband that our son was at least getting some breast milk. My hands shook with stress and fatigue as I reached for a clean silicone nipple, and I watched in horror as the bottle of expressed milk toppled over, bluish-white droplets falling onto my kitchen floor. Something inside me snapped. I was done with trying to breastfeed. Done.

While switching completely to formula ended my relationship with Medela, my marriage floundered. Why can’t you just be a woman?** James once asked me in the heat of an argument about my failure to breastfeed, and lack of desire for physical intimacy.He would stay up late at night, and then sleep away entire weekends. I was miserable, lonely and isolated. None of my friends had children, and my pregnancy had scared most of them away. The few that remained were cautious, and visited or called occasionally. (Marc and David, special shout out to both of you for continuing to call and to invite me out to lunch or for walks. You were true friends at a time when I desperately needed friends.Thank you.)

I began to fill the long, lonely hours at home with books. Books written by mothers, that talked about the shock and isolation so many women feel when they become parents. Books like Mother Shock, The Mask of Motherhood, and The Price of Motherhood. I began to find voices that echoed my experience of isolation and rage. I was tired of people suggesting that I was depressed, when oppression described my emotional state more accurately.

Throughout the first year of Max’s life, James would frequently suggest that I was depressed. I fought this bitterly, though I often questioned my own mental health. I knew that I was anemic, exhausted and lacked support. I had began to realize that attachment parenting was not for me. If anything, I was making myself crazy trying to adopt a standard of parenting that I was simply unable to achieve. I realized that reading memoirs written by mothers who struggled was helpful, but I probably should stay away from magazines like Mothering, or even Parents.

If you’re reading this and gloating because you breastfeed your own reiki-loving free range chickens, give birth unassisted in a strawberry patch and spring up moments later to bake a pie, and then you gather wool to weave slings for orphans in Tibet and to clothe your 14 unschooled, indigo children well, then good for you. Maybe Dr. Sears will come join your drum circle and help you tarpaper your outhouse and can beets.Probably you’re a better mother than I am, but I’m just crazy enough not to care anymore.

Oh and if you’re struggling to lose those Last Five Pesky Post Partum pounds so you can look cute for your date at the Olive Garden with your chino-clad, childhood sweetheart, and you think I should just cheerfully eat less chocolate,think happy, positive thoughts and go love my man and everything will be ok, well fuck you too.

Neither of these pervasive media models for early motherhood are realistic for most of us, and neither really supports us when we most need support.

In between my moments of lucid rage and feminist book binging, I did have a lot of dark, intrusive thoughts. I would be enjoying a walk on a sunny day, and suddenly the image of my son’s brains splattering on the sidewalk because his stroller-buckle was not really fastened even though I had already checked 14 times, would flash across my eyes. When he was still a newborn, Max would be taking a rare nap in his swing, and instead of relaxing I would throw down my book in a panic, certain that one of his arms had slid into the garbage disposal. Of course I would get up and check to make sure he was ok, even though no newborn on earth could free himself from a swing, walk into the next room, climb onto our extended-height counter, flip the switch and jam his arm into The Pig. To say I worried about SIDS is an understatement.

Last summer, I picked up a copy of Tracy Thompson’s book The Ghost In The House: Motherhood, Raising Children and Struggling With Depression. When I came to page 64, I suddenly recognized my own state of mind:

Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder is a relatively rare subtype of PPD in which the mother is tormented by
intrusive thoughts about harming her baby. It is as if her maternal instincts have gone into overdrive:not only does
she see potential danger everywhere, she can all too vividly imagine it.

How had it taken me two years of obsessively scanning every book and article on the subject of motherhood to find any mention of postpartum OCD? I thought about sharing my thoughts with my doctor, with my son’s pediatrician, or admitting the intensity to my husband, yet was too afraid that to have those thoughts of my son being harmed meant that I wanted to inflict harm myself. Where was everyone who claimed to care about me? Why didn’t more people ask me if I was ok? Ask me if I needed anything? (Props here to my friend Kat. Kat, you helped so much to ease my isolation and help me forget my stress for a few hours when you invited me to join her for Mothers Days Out that fall.)

We need fewer magazine articles about how to wear our babies or put the magic back into our marriages, and more articles about how really support one another as mothers and women. We especially need to reach out to new mothers–even those who insist that everything is fine, because we all know that most likely things are far from fine.

*I cannot find the sheet with exact counts, so am going by memory. I was offered transfusions and declined.Foolishly. If this happens to you, take the damn blood.

**To be fair, I don’t think he really knew what he meant by asking this. Fathers get a raw deal too, especially when they absorb the same myths about motherhood that women do.

Filed under postpartum OCD
Plain Jane Mom
January 5th, 2007 at 4:37 pm
What a brave and wonderful post. I love you for it.

January 5th, 2007 at 4:39 pm
This was amazing. I had a very similar breastfeeding experience with my first son and when I had my second son, I didn’t touch the pump. I nursed him for three weeks and then stopped because my first experience had been so awful.

I’d never heard about postpartum OCD until you wrote this – wow.

January 5th, 2007 at 5:13 pm
Karrie — this is an amazing post. I can commiserate with much of it but I also know that while the joys of motherhood can be both unique and universal, so can the sorrows. So I am not going to do say “I feel your pain” but rather just thank you for sharing.

January 5th, 2007 at 5:17 pm
I hate that you went through this. I love how brave you are, in both getting through it and sharing it here.

January 5th, 2007 at 5:37 pm
Brav-fucking-O Karrie! A real account of motherhood, it’s refreshing to read. Why is it that we all feel so alone? We shouldn’t. Moreover, why is it that we all feel we have to put on our Mommy masks and make ourselves appear as though we have it all under control and that the sleepless nights are not effecting us, when we all KNOW they are?

January 5th, 2007 at 5:40 pm
I’ve encountered this phenomenon on Babycenter too – the husband whose “support” of breastfeeding crosses the line into pressure. I just don’t get it. I can see that it might not always be helpful if one’s husband is leaping out of the bushes with a jar of formula everytime something goes wrong, but once you’ve made the switch there’s just no excuse for ever bringing it up again.

Just one issue, I know, in a post full of them.

January 5th, 2007 at 5:44 pm
B&P–It was pretty rare on the boards I visit. Husbands pressuring wives to give up seemed to be more the norm. I’m sure James will chime in, but I do know that both of us just assumed I would breastfeed. It was the norm in our families and among the few people we knew with kids. Neither of us realized how difficult it can be.

January 5th, 2007 at 5:46 pm
Thanks, Karrie. This is a great post.

I’m sorry I wasn’t as supportive as you needed me to be. Honestly, I don’t think I understood or knew about all you were going through.

I won’t endorse your version of a lot of these events, but I’m sure that you’re remembering it all the way you saw it.

I only hope that anyone who wants to judge me sees what you wrote about me in the same light as anyone from Baby Center who reads about “discussion threads for people who wanted to give their newborn peanut butter in a Mountain Dew bottle to help the kid sleep through the night so they could start trying to conceive #2.”

Don’t read any further if breast feeding is still a sore subject with you.

My frustration with breast feeding was that you were simultaneously way too worried about it, but seeming not to try hard enough to succeed.

Despite that Max obtained latch in a half-second in the presence of a lactation nurse, he never did, according to you, when you tried.

I expected that you’d try every time he wanted to eat; you didn’t. Not even once a day, as far as I could tell. You say you pumped every 2 hours; you didn’t. You maybe pumped twice a day (once again, as far as I could tell.)

Again, though, I was frustrated because you refused to give up, but you also refused any help I offered, any help from professionals (except the one appointment), and in my mind, you weren’t stimulating your production enough that you would ever succeed.

Now, just like your account above presents your side, this presents mine. The truth probably lies somewhere inbetween, as usual. I just want you to be clear on what I was upset about. It wasn’t the lack of breastfeeding, it was the stress your concern over it was causing to both of us.

January 5th, 2007 at 5:48 pm
After all this time, I still do not know what to say to the claim that I pumped only twice a day. It’s so far from the truth–especially in the beginning–that I’m speechless. (Type-less? lol)

ETA: The issue I’m concerned with is the pervasive lack of support that many new mothers face. I tried to word this in a way that would prevent people from bashing you. It’s not really about you–it is as you put it, my account of my experience at the time.

January 5th, 2007 at 5:55 pm
And to be fair, I’ll go on record as saying that aside from the first couple of days, I hated breastfeeding. But it wasn’t as simple an issue as not trying hard enough or Do X and you will achieve Y.

January 5th, 2007 at 6:18 pm
I hated breastfeeding as well. With my first child, I gave it up the first day home from the hospital. With my second, I lasted a few months, but cheated on it way more times than I actually nursed. With my third, I said to the nurse on my last day in the hospital, “Fuck this, I’m done with this shit,” and never looked back. My breastfed child, incidentally, has been my sickly one that always has some bug or another.

January 5th, 2007 at 6:24 pm
I hated it too. I actually WISHED I’d have some problem that made me unable to BF so I’d have a reason to quit.

When my supply suddenly dried up when Kaylee was 4 months old I was secretly happy I had an excuse to quit. I pumped with Michael and could only get an ounce or two at a time. With Kaylee I didn’t even try, really I couldn’t because Michael (18 months old) wouldn’t stop trying to grab the pump and rip it off my nipple.

January 5th, 2007 at 6:34 pm
Forgot to mention, the nurse laughed and told me she heard that a lot!

January 5th, 2007 at 6:49 pm
I can imagine.

I didn’t quit immediately in part because I was convinced that formula was evil, and that failing to breastfeed meant I was not the kind of mother I thought I *should* be, which meant that by extension, I was a bad mother.

January 5th, 2007 at 6:59 pm
Oh Karrie – I am so sorry you went through all of that. No one should ever have to feel that way.

I have no words for you. Only tears.

January 5th, 2007 at 7:20 pm
I was thinking today about “motherhood models” as I walked from work-how the only “real” model seems to be the “hawt” mom, you know the one-wearing those ridiculous pants rolled up at the top of boots, looking 38 trying to be 15. And I just said “Nope. Not mine. That’s not the mother I want to be ever.”

I should have said that from the beginning, before anything got bad. But I had that image of the perfect mom perfectly breastfeeding her alpacas. And it sucked.

I’m lucky that my husband was very much “I want you to breastfeed, but I want you alive and normal more” He was very supportive.

And all of you commenting-I want YOUR entries. Even if it isn’t just post partum, but any moments after having children where the line between reality and fantasy blurred, where you realized that Parenting magazine was a bunch of hooey.

And Karrie-this sucks. It’s the hardest weeks of your life, and having any judgement then, warranted or not, is so terribly unfair. We judge ourselves enough-we don’t need others with no real idea of what we REALLY go through judging us.

January 5th, 2007 at 8:25 pm
I’m so sorry you had to go through that. This is such an honest account and I wish more mothers would be honest. I did not give birth to my daughter, but went through a lot of depression and anxiety after we adopted R. At about age 3, we realized we had a child who needed some serious help with attachment, and all we heard was, “Oh, but she seems to be such a sweet child.” (Read: you’re clearly overreacting). At age 7, we’re doing pretty well, but not without some reliance on parental gut instinct.

There are so many nuances to each motherhood experience and so many things that are difficult, even with the marvel of it.

I’ve gone cold turkey on parenting mags and have started to rely more on instinct and friends.

January 5th, 2007 at 8:59 pm
Oh, Karrie.

You astound me with your candor.

I do believe it is safe to say that I think you totally rock.

January 5th, 2007 at 9:16 pm
That was a very brave post I agree. It was very heartfelt and honest. I think you are a good mother for exactly that reason. Sometimes love makes you angry. When I was 19 I felt a sadness that came from fear that one life was really truly ending and another beginning that I was responsible for. That does alot to a person. Especially ontop of physical pain and raging hormones.

I would like to write about this subject myself and maybe now I can get up the nerve. I wish I had been able to be there for you. I understand not being able to breastfeed. I really wanted to with Dylan and I didnt get any support at the hospital. Dylan even had trouble taking bottles for the first 2 months, I felt even worse when they told me he had colic. I thought it was my fault for giving him formula. I was mad at myself for having to go back to work and I was mad at my husband, and I couldnt understand why my baby would scream for hours when he was hungry but wouldnt eat. I was trying so hard to be perfect I had a very hard time accepting it. I still harbor some pretty deep and angry feelings toward the hospital, at myself and at my husband.

January 5th, 2007 at 10:03 pm
“If you’re reading this and gloating because you breastfeed your own reiki-loving free range chickens, give birth unassisted in a strawberry patch and spring up moments later to bake a pie, and then you gather wool to weave slings for orphans in Tibet and to clothe your 14 unschooled, indigo children”.

This was the best line I’ve read in a long time. So good! If you don’t mind I would love to link to this great post!

January 5th, 2007 at 10:06 pm
You know some of my story, so I won’t rehash it here for you, but I just wanted to say that this is a great post. I agree with you- women need REAL support- not the “don’t worry, when he hits 6 weeks he’ll latch- just you wait and see!” kind- but the “you know, I was sick and nervous and freaked out too. What can I do to lighten your load for you?” kind. The one thing I truly remember a friend doing was offering (several times) to go to the store for me. She’d call and get my order and bring by the Dreft or hand sanitizer or wipes or Tucks or whatever the hell I needed. And she didn’t want to come and monopolize my baby. She just wanted to come see ME and it was truly, truly helpful. (This reminds me that I need to thank her!) Another friend brought me a roast, a fruit salad, and homemade mac and cheese because she knew I would be too tired to cook and also did a grocery run and helped me (try to) breastfeed and told me he would live and be just fine when I couldn’t. That was the support I needed as well. When I felt like everything was working against me, it was good to know there were people who cared and were empathetic to my situation.

This was a great post and helped me realize that I am certainly not alone. And I realize that my friends who are expecting children will need that sort of help as well. The “real” support that you can’t find at kellymom and askdrsears.

January 5th, 2007 at 10:17 pm
LOVED your post.

I had similar “crazy thoughts” about my babies getting hurt. I didn’t want to hurt them, but I would imagine myself cooking and accidentally stabbing them (even though they were across the room, but I would worry they would somehow be right under me!). It seems so absurd now, but I saw some Discovery Channel program about it at the time and felt tremendously better after realizing I wasn’t nutso.

I think you would make a wonderful midwife/doula or just a speaker on this topic. Motherhood is wonderful, but also traumatic. Thanks for sharing your story!

PS – The line about the chinos and the Olive Garden – priceless.

Mamma Loves
January 5th, 2007 at 11:59 pm
You are amazing!!

No truer words can be spoken those claiming that we (women) DO need to be there for each other.

I am so sorry you were alone at the hospital. That is NO WAY to begin what is arguably the worst month of motherhood.

You do the best you can. By everything that you write on this wonderful blog it is obvious that you do more than your best.

I hope that writing this has given you the ability to let go of some of the feelings. I know writing helps me do that. I just don’t know that I would ever be brave enough to write about the stuff I really need to let go–and still have readers.

Wonderful stuff Karrie! Your bravery, honesty and sense of humor make you the best mom Max could every have!! Talk about a role model!

A Few Good Memes :: After Birth
January 6th, 2007 at 12:35 am
[…] That was Anna’s strength and I really miss having it to rely on. I just read Karrie’s post about post-partum depression (prompted by thordora’s latest contest) and all I can say is […]

January 6th, 2007 at 10:43 am
Beautiful, Karrie, in its honesty. I suffered a nasty bout of PPD and was saved–literally–by a lactation consultant, as ironic as that may be in this context. My mom lived with me for the first three or so months of my daughter’s life and still, to this day, acts shocked to remember how much pain I was in. Apparently, all the mornings where I just sat on the couch and cried and cried seemed normal to her …..

I agree about the models of motherhood and how ridiculous they are, but I don’t know what the answer is. There seems to be a trend, among the mommybloggers, I suppose, to complain about the tedium of motherhood and the frustration of it, and yet all of that doesn’t seem real, either. I’m not saying those women are liars, just that there’s still this enormous gap between what’s being said and what’s being lived, if that makes sense. Because the same women crying about their lives are, you know, crying about their *hair.* And how helpful is that to the desperate new mother?

I guess that’s one of the things I really appreciate about your blog–the veil is gone; it’s not about pretending to be real while maintaining your cool, reminding us that you wear Uggs or apply Burt’s Bees. It’s just the unvarnished and ragged truth.

Also? I love the new picture of you, in the rain. So lovely!!

January 6th, 2007 at 11:08 am
Wow..utterly speechless. I’m waiting for your book. I’m already hooked.

I too have shunned American Baby, Parenting, Parents, Mothering, all the rest of those magazines that make you feel inferior because you’re doing things differently. In Jae’s 1st year, I probably paid their bills with all the magazines I bought. Then I realized “I’M NOT LIKE THEM!!” and I’m fine with that now. Although in the beginning I too felt like a bad mom.

For what it’s worth, I think you are a great mom, and I’m sure Max would agree.

January 6th, 2007 at 3:05 pm
What a great post. I really understand the bit about PP OCD–I was always so scared by my utter irrationality in the first two or three weeks after giving birth that I could not stand to be alone. It’s freaky, and especially terrifying for those of us who are used to being in control of our lives and ourselves.

On the Dr Sears front–don’t be so hard on old Dr Sears!! Most of what he says is based on the premise that the mother is being cosseted and pampered by those around her. IMHO, a new dad is not capable of this. When our first was born, I was having a major freak-out, and dh’s solution was to clean the basement….like that helped anything!

I think these experiences highlight the isolation of our society–the new parents should not be going through this alone, and there needs to be a calm voice of reason for BOTH parents. Most grandmothers are not suitable for this b/c family brings its own baggage to the table, and not just the Samsonite kind.

I wonder if postpartum doulas are the answer–a calm, reassuring presence to help the mother AND to help the father help the mother. Guys like to “fix” and often have no grasp on the emotional and physical aspects of new motherhood….eg, when I was having horrible back labor with #1 (the Lamaze instructor had never said it felt like a vise clamp squeezing your spine past the point of agony), my otherwise supportive dh said “You’re just not focusing hard enough.” (I believe I dropped the f-bomb on him at that point).

With babies #2 and 3, we went the labor doula route, and it was SO helpful to have someone show dh how to help me constructively. It would have been even better to have a postpartum doula doing the same at home!

It’s hard, it really is. IMHO there is no greater strain on a relationship than parenthood, and for every parenting area in which spouses don’t see eye to eye, the problems mount exponentially higher.

And in your case I couldn’t imagine having another child until you and your dh are on the same page as far as childbirth, bfing, and parenting and your dh learns to support you constructively–not the way he might think is constructive, but the way that actually helps YOU.

January 6th, 2007 at 3:09 pm
P.S. I find it helpful not to spend too much time on parenting issues anymore. I never read parenting mags or books anymore. I often don’t even think of myself as existing primarily in relationship to my kids, even though I *am* a SAHM….IOW, I am *not* “so and so’s Mom.” I am the same person I always was.

Crank Mama » Blog Archive » Call Me Attachment Parent & Die
January 6th, 2007 at 3:11 pm
[…] deep and constant, even though I let them eat at McDonald’s. ** Karrie says it so beautifully here: We need fewer magazine articles about how to wear our babies or put the magic back into our […]

January 6th, 2007 at 3:19 pm
Karrie–I am, as always, in awe of you.

I read what you wrote and cry because I just can’t even imagine having a child and breastfeeding without the support of my husband–and by support, I mean 24/7 attention for the first couple of weeks so that establishing the nursing relationship was the only thing I had to worry about.

January 6th, 2007 at 3:43 pm
I can definitely relate to the lack of BabyDaddy support. I honestly can say that I wished he (BabyDaddy not the baby) would die. I would imagine a bus running right over him, and then I would imagine trying to appear sad about it. I had a c-section. I lost a lot of blood, but not as much as you. I had a sprained back that hurt like a motherfucker for six months; it’s still not right. BabyDaddy would tell me that I was lazy and selfish.

Breast feeding worked out really well for me. I felt like if I didn’t have that, I would just be unnecessary. Charles told me that I was a bad mother (because I held the baby too much or something stupid like that), and he would say that he would fight me for custody, if we broke up, and that I would only have baby Charles every other weekend. I understand that he was scared too, but I still don’t forgive him. Breast feeding baby Charles helped me feel loved and needed.

When baby Charles was an infant, I would imagine horrible things happening to him. I didn’t want anything to happen to him, and these daymares were overwhelming. I would carry him through a door. We would get through the door fine, but I would see his little head hitting the door frame and splitting open in graphic detail. I would have dreams where he was drowning and I couldn’t save him. I would have to stand there and watch. I had to hold him close and tight all of the time to keep him safe. He is so important to me, and I felt so out of control about the situation.

As far as Charles and I are concerned, I told him that I was leaving him. I put in a shift change request at work. Ten hour days Thursday through Sunday, and I told Charles that I would keep baby Charles Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and drop baby Charles off on Thursday afternoon. He could keep him through Sunday. I don’t know if my schedule has been changed, and Charles convinced me to give him three more months. I don’t know what will happen. His assholish behavior during my pregnancy and postpartum really made me lose a lot of love and respect for him. I don’t know if we can really work this out.

Anyway, sorry to ramble so long. Your post hit a cord with me.

Oh, The Joys
January 6th, 2007 at 4:03 pm
Thank you for writing this. So much of it resonated with me and was also true for me. I struggled like crazy with breastfeeding and was so pissed off…

You are an amazing, AMAZING writer.

…and you are not alone in your thoughts on motherhood.

January 6th, 2007 at 5:34 pm
I think postpartum doulas for everyone who wanted one would be a great start LTR. The few people I know who had the option cannot say enough good about having someone else there to cook, clean, etc. and not make them feel guilty or like a bad hostess.

I agree that some of what Dr. Sears has to say can work–cosleeping worked for us, out of desperation–but I still wonder if his wife is really a robot or coked out of her mind.

January 6th, 2007 at 5:36 pm

January 6th, 2007 at 5:44 pm
What a great post. I had a really terrible – well, horrific – birth experience. Three days of labor. My daughter was born with the cord around her neck, bruised, and wouldn’t latch. She never latched, got jaundiced, and I don’t even want to tell you how much time I spent with my own private lactation consultant. I remember being woken up every two hours to try to feed my screaming daughter, failing, pumping, producing 0.000001 oz. of breast milk, feeding her with the tiny cup and tube/syringe apparatus. I finally consented to supplementing with Enfamil when she ended up in the special care nursery, jaundiced and failing to thrive, having lost too much of her birthweight.

I went home, pumped every two hours for a month, drank the special teas, took the fenugreek, and still managed to produce less than an ounce each time. And still my husband pressured me to keep trying. And was “disappointed” in me when I quit.

I have so much more to say but I don’t want to hijack your comments.

January 6th, 2007 at 5:47 pm
Hey, if you read one of the Sears books–can’t recall which one–Martha admits to having a major postpartum meltdown after one of her kids was born.

Also, AFAIK, she didn’t have delivery complications either.

We don’t know what kind of PP support she had, but in reading a lot of Sears (including “Becoming a Father” and “25 Things Every New Mother Should Know”–among their better books imo) I conclude that HER well-being was elevated to primary importance. I think that gets lost in a lot of Sears discussions, even by his devotees–the ***mom is not supposed to martyr herself; she’s supposed to be cared for FIRST.***

Maybe Sears assumes moms have more support than they actually do, who knows? I’m sure he’s totally forgotten what it’s like to be a first-timer, for sure.

Anyway, a lot of my friends IRL have become first-time parents, and their happiness is directly proportional to the amount of helpful support they get from their dhs. I know at least one couple I’d lay odds on divorcing within the year because he is such a disconnected father who thinks his wife ought to do everything with and for the kid (of course, this is the same woman who can’t stop raving about what a prince my dh is for running some very minor errand for me when she was visiting–eeek—clearly her expectations are at rock-bottom).

January 6th, 2007 at 5:48 pm
Hijack away Erin!

I wanted to make it clear that some women do overcome breastfeeding difficulties similar to what I wrote about and it is not my intent to denigrate their experience. I know a mom personally who went to great lengths even after LCs told her to give up. She had Domperidone shipped in from another country and was just damn persistent and eventually made a go of it. She’s really honest about how difficult and frustrating it all was though.

January 6th, 2007 at 5:50 pm
LTR–I do remember something about one of their children being “spirited.” I’ll have to look for her account–I would be interested in reading it.

January 6th, 2007 at 5:52 pm
Oh, and also, I distinctly remember being afraid to take my daughter for walks because I’d sit in my living room and envision us getting hit by a car trying to cross the street at the bottom of our hill. I also envisioned myself falling down our stairs and thus spent way more time upstairs this summer than I care to admit.

January 6th, 2007 at 9:39 pm
Karrie, this is so powerfully written…thank you for your candor about your experience. I had some of the same experiences as you, many different, but that feeling of somehow being excluded from the mothering mold…that’s about the worst thing, isn’t it? It’s the whole fight between motherhood as concept and motherhood as practice that always falls through the cracks and leaves so many of us feeling wrong or crazy or inferior and it just sucks.

January 6th, 2007 at 10:02 pm
Great post. Thank you so much for writing it. I still don’t feel ready to write on my blog about my PPD. With my first son I had visions of hurting him. I lived in an apartment two floors up and pictured myself dropping him down the stairs. I envisioned myself throwing him up against the wall. Terrible, terrible things. I was afraid to be alone with him, yet I was always alone with him when I wasn’t at work because my husband was trying to finish his degree and taking night classes. And when he wasn’t taking night classes he was out with his friends. I was alone with my son every night and I was terrified and cried myself and him to sleep.

As far as breast feeding is concerned, it was very difficult the first time. I got mastitis and a fever of 104 during the first week. I hated pumping with a passion. I got cracked and bleeding nipples. I had to supplement because I had to go back to work after six weeks. I gave up after four months. Easier the second time, but still only lasted six months. Probably because of work. With the 3rd, 4th and 5th kids it was very easy. I guess your body gets used to it. Also, working just kills it. If you can afford to be a SAHM, it’s not as bad I think. But I also think everyone has a very rough time of it with their first.

Also, I didn’t have PPD with my other kids. Just the first one. Poor guy. I love him to death. I don’t want him to ever know any of this. It hurts too much.

I make no apologies for pretending to be perfect. I’m not. But there it is.

January 6th, 2007 at 11:21 pm
You are very brave for sharing this. There is little pain, and the guilt that accompanies it, worse than postpartum. I had a debilatating case when my daughter was born. It was so difficult on me and my marriage. I felt so alone, and so horrible for being anything less than the “cookie cutter” mom. I truly believe that the guilt is almost worse than the depression. I respect your bravery! I also know what you are talking about! I made sure to discuss it with my doctor when I found out I was pregnant with my son. I can not even put into words the difference medicine made in my life at that time. I know there is an epidemic of over-prescription these days, but I could not have made it without it. I agree with you on the support thing. Nothing is worse than feeling all alone! Thank you for sharing!

Maria P.
January 7th, 2007 at 12:55 am
“We need fewer magazine articles about how to wear our babies or put the magic back into our marriages, and more articles about how really support one another as mothers and women. We especially need to reach out to new mothers–even those who insist that everything is fine, because we all know that most likely things are far from fine.”

I agree whole heartedly.

Thank you for sharing Karrie. Maybe one day I’ll be able to talk about my depression since having kids too.

January 7th, 2007 at 1:37 pm
As many have said, this is so totally brave. And amazing. One of my favorite lines from “Heartburn” is something about how having children throws a bomb into the middle of your marriage. I think, even in those stupid “how to please you husband” articles, they really, really don’t address that enough.

But anyway, thank you.

January 7th, 2007 at 1:37 pm
Thank you. You always have a way of saying it right and helping me to deal with my own feelings of inadequacy as a mother and a wife after my son was born. It is nice to know that I am not alone and that there are more out there then I thought who may have the same types of misconceptions.

January 7th, 2007 at 5:50 pm
This was an amazing post, just written amazingly and fearlessly and wonderfully. I got hit with PPD while trying to cope with my daughter’s acid reflux (let’s just say no one had ever screamed bloody murder at my breasts before, so I was glad to move on to formula and bottles). I battled through it with a small group of friends and family, and I am grateful for them. But in the process, I parted ways with a friend who turned her back on me when I needed her most.

This is why I love the blogosphere and not parenting mags. We can find out that we’re not so alone after all. Perhaps we’d all be better served to write about our experiences as honestly as you have.

crunchy carpets
January 7th, 2007 at 7:12 pm
James..thanks for you posting too.
I think for all couples new babies and dealing sides of their spouses that they have never seen is a terrifying and horrifying ordeal.

I know my dh was shocked at my apparent weakness with it all. That I WAS so miserable.

But he was more than happy to step up with the formula. Thank goodness.

Karrie….my first born experiences were pretty much the same.

I lost a wack of blood. They never told me how sick I was..only that I could have a transfusion if I felt like it! Felt like it???

I too did not produce near enough milk……and the same happened with no. 2 despite pumping and feeding as much as I could.

So despite all the people who said I didn’t try enough or wait long enough…I know that I was not making enough…and probably never would withou medication or something.

When I ‘gave in’ and did straight formula…I could finally start parenting and focus on my child in a healthy way.

It was much easier for me to go this path with the second one …I was at peace with my own concience. The guilt was no more.

I think that it is great the moms don’t experience depression or problems…or the one’s who manage to FINALLY breastfeed and stick with it….but they don’t know.
They weren’t there. They weren’t YOU.

I hate and despise the smugness and uncharitablility I have experienced and read on parenting boards.

January 7th, 2007 at 11:07 pm
what a terrific post. if only we all knew of each other in those moments, i am convinced that i would have felt so much less alone. and so goddamn much more human.

January 8th, 2007 at 12:46 am
Ditto to most of the commenters above. This is an excellent post. I know from experience how difficult it can be sometimes to get those feelings all out on paper (or um…on computer). So props to you for doing it, and doing it so well.

January 8th, 2007 at 7:08 am
Wow. What a brave and beautiful post!!

And many of the comments touched me just a much.

When my daughter was new, and I was fighting the good fight to breastfeed, I went through a similar hell.

And what was I thinking?

My doctor had wanted to schedule a C-section. I wanted to try labor, but after 2 days I still ended up with a C-section.

I knew friends who had had difficulty with breastfeeding, but, again, I arrogantly thought that wouldn’t happen to me. My daughter latched, but she didn’t get much milk. I thought she wasn’t latching correctly. I pumped. I had similar results to you. Formula saved her life. And this is the first time I’ve admitted it, but going back to work saved my sanity.

Thank you for your candor. You’ve touched all who have read it.

January 8th, 2007 at 10:00 am

what a wonderful post. I would like to link your post to my website, devoted to mothers just like you and I. Mothers who want to give their utmost best to their babies, whether it be formula or breastmilk.

Thank you

January 8th, 2007 at 1:08 pm
Aye Karrie.

I had those thoughts with Emma. With Davis I think I was too damn tired to care.

Breastfeeding is hard. It just is. On top of everything else.

I think LTR hit the nail on the head here. Guys like to fix it. They are less emotional about it and want to fix things. I am not sure what the answer is to that.

I also agree with LTR that until you and James can be on the same page, no more kids. The respect has to go both ways, KWIM? You can respect his desire for another child but he has to respect your need for more support. Or your desire to NOT breastfeed. Does that make sense?

I am sorry it was so rough for you. But Max sure is adorable….. (:

January 8th, 2007 at 5:28 pm
Your post and the subsequent comments brought tears to my eyes as it reminded me of the problems I had with breastfeeding and then with post-natal depression. I’m sorry you had such a rough time. Thanks for talking about it.

January 8th, 2007 at 10:32 pm
To anyone faced with PPD, I’ll give a huge plug for Zoloft. It saved my sanity the third time around. My middle child, now 6, was a horrible sleeper and I hated breastfeeding, though I tried half-heartedly to feed her. My mother had sent me a good pair of sewing scissors before I had her because I would have time to stay home and sew. I had horrible visions of stabbing her with them, and in fact, I hid them from me to keep them away. All it took was a mention to my ob about all of this when I was 8 mos pg (I left out the stabbing part, just said I had horrible thoughts) and she said I could start the meds in the hospital after having him.

Nirvana. I took them for 3 months and had no problems and no PPD. I also put no pressure on myself to breastfeed. When he wouldn’t latch in the hospital without help, I said done. Husband was wonderful about all of it, I do have to say. He didn’t give a damn what I did, and in fact, he liked getting up at night to feed the kids, it was his time with them, all alone. It kills me when I hear stories of others who aren’t. I’m lucky in that regard, I guess.

January 9th, 2007 at 9:44 am
I can’t recount breastfeeding Gavin anymore. I can’t… and besides, you know my story and this isn’t about me. It’s about you.

And I, my dear, LOVE YOU

mad muthas
January 12th, 2007 at 6:37 am
brilliant post. i think the most astounding thing in all this is that not more women are affected by ppd – in fact, i’d amend that because i’m perfectly certain that far more do than are ever diagnosed. and why wouldn’t we have it? giving birth and becoming a parent is a life-changing and frequently traumatic experience that we are absolutely not prepared for. and the pressure not to express any negative feelings about the process is utterly oppressive.

January 12th, 2007 at 12:53 pm
mad – It does seem really common, and I’m surprised that it exists, from an evolutionary perspective. You’d think that PPD would have made it that much harder for our species to survive. Maybe we’re just not done evolving yet.

January 13th, 2007 at 11:59 am
Jason do you want the biological anthropologist’s thoughts, or the conflict feminist perspective?

From an evolutionary standpoint, success depended on our ability to crank out babies, not so much to ensure they all survived. I don’t think our circumstances as mothers suffering from PPD related issues are as simple as mother apes who ignore their young and allow them to die, but I suppose there could be some kind of connection. Perhaps if you found yourself mothering in isolation from the rest of your tribe, depression would act as natural selection. (Yikes.)

January 17th, 2007 at 9:20 pm
There were threads for attachment parents, and other discussion threads for people who wanted to give their newborn peanut butter in a Mountain Dew bottle to help the kid sleep through the night so they could start trying to conceive #2.

Okay, this made me snort. What a vivid and honest post. Thank you for sharing. Up until I read this, I had no idea about post partum OCD, and I had fit the bill to a T.

January 18th, 2007 at 12:46 am
Evolutionary theory explains that the mechanisms behind PPD and POCD are designed to promote survival and reproduction, but there is a mismatch between our current environment and the environment for which we are adapted.

Please see the website linked to my name – it’s not a blog, more like a manifesto on POCD.

It has a number of Links about the evolutionary theory of PPD and OCD.

January 23rd, 2007 at 12:50 am
Elizabeth – thanks for the links. I found Hagen and Barrett’s study fascinating, especially the following:

The association of PPD with lack of social support has been replicated in over
60 studies (O’Hara and Swain 1996; Beck 2001), yet, under the mainstream illness model, the
commonsense idea that many PPD sufferers really need more social support is rarely considered.

I guess it should come as no suprise to any of us, but the authors conclude that PPD is not so much an endocrine problem in need of a bit of help from Lilly and Pfizer as it is a symptom of women not having enough of a support system. I think us dads need to be more focused on being parents and spouses and less on whatever else shit we tend to be distracted by. It’s an evolutionary imperative, guys!

March 9th, 2007 at 1:54 pm

I just found your blog completely at random and read this post. I have to tell you – you’re amazing. I’m so sorry you went through what you did.

I don’t know if you know this, but I also had some PPD after Eleanor was born. It wasn’t as bad as you describe, but the lack of sleep hit me like a ton of bricks. And we didn’t have physical problems with breastfeeding, but as I got more and more tired and more and more depressed, the emotional burden of it started to get to be too much for me. I really wish there was more support out there for mothers who want to breastfeed without going whole-hog attachment parenting – I wanted to breastfeed, but I knew I did NOT want a family bed, a baby who ate all night, to wear a sling 24 hours a day, yadda yadda. There’s just not that much information out there for people like me.

Anyway – I realized I needed help when I lay in bed one night, unable to sleep, and planned out in great detail how I was going to sneak out of the house, buy a plane ticket to Chicago (why Chicago? I have no idea) and start a new life where Andy and Eleanor could never, ever find me. After that, I saw the doctor and went on Prozac, and it made a huge difference.

Anyway – this isn’t about me. I’m glad you realized about the PP OCD, and I’m glad you found this outlet in your blog. You’re an amazing writer and I plan to keep up with the blog from now on! Oh, and we miss you guys. Any chance James will be down here on business soon, and you and Max could come?

March 9th, 2007 at 1:57 pm
I meant to add – because of all that, we switched to formula when Eleanor was about four months old, and I don’t feel bad about it at all. In fact, I feel a thousand times better. Don’t beat yourself up.

March 21st, 2007 at 2:03 pm
This post made me sad (what you had to go through) and angry (that you didn’t get enough help). I think postpartum doulas are the way to ensure that mothers get the help they need. On the first night home with my first child, my DH, who was sick, knocked himself out with flu medicine and slept “like a baby” (how I grew to hate that simile) while I spent 12 hours in the inner circle of hell trying and failing to get my tiny hungry baby to latch and eat. A doula would have been wonderful.

I have since read research that indicates that babies whose mothers have had epidurals or C-sections tend not to latch as well as those babies whose mothers have full-on natural births with no drugs. My next labour experiences (two home births, no drugs – no reiki or goats either!) backed this up.

Many of my friends have commented that there’s a conspiracy of silence around birth and how bloody awful and painful it is. I think there’s a conspiracy of silence around the early days of mothering – especially with the first baby – and how spectacularly lonely, depressing and alienating it can be.

Bring on the PP doulas – women need them!

March 24th, 2007 at 9:19 pm
Wow. I remember all of this when you were going through it and reading your posts on Babycenter were heartwrenching. Sometimes you wrote the most hilarious posts but every once in a while, you ripped into the cold hard reality that motherhood dips into.

I appreciate this story. Sadly, I was one of those “I just don’t understand why that mom isn’t breastfeeding!” type of mothers with my first child.

Reading your posts back then and those of others made me realize what an incredible shmuck I was to ever think I knew better.

March 27th, 2007 at 9:42 pm
Wow. I also appreciate this post. I am nursing a 6 week old (my first) right now. The nursing has gone really well but I too experienced a lot of real anxiety and fear the first few weeks (still am but less and less now). I had a fear of her drowning in a lake after reading of a two year old son of a friend of a friend who had drowned, of her swallowing a quarter my husband let fall out of his pocket, of her getting burned because my mother left a pot on the stove. I realize now how really lucky I was with support. My best friend from college who lives 3000 miles away is the mother of 3 children and she called/emailed almost daily and when I left a long crazy voice mail about my fears of the baby dying she called me back and told me it was normal and it was the hormones and it would get better, she told me to turn off the TV when a story of a hurt child came on and to go ahead and voice my fears because it was okay. Another friend (no children) made me 4 homemade lasagnes, black bean and chicken enchiladas, thai stir fry. She also came to visit me or called every day. Still, with all this support I still feel a daily combination of excitement one moment and trepidation the next. Sometimes when my husband is watching the baby I’ll have this moment of panic like I am forgetting to take care of her. Thanks for the post. It is helpful.

post partum post annum « momomax
April 9th, 2007 at 12:19 am
[…] a while. I jumped to three places, the last one being One Weird Mother’s post about “Postpartum oppresion“. She writes really well, and she wrote a lot of things that made me remember how bad it was […]

O(cd) no she didn’t… « bianca bean
April 26th, 2007 at 9:48 am
[…] no she didn’t… I talk about my OCD (or OC-the D) in this post, and now here is an incredibly candid post from a woman who went through a similar thing (thanks for the […]


5 responses to “Postpartum Oppression

  1. You are an amazing writer, and a very brave, wonderful mother. I won’t pretend to be able to relate to what you went through – yes, breastfeeding went fine for me, first time anyways, second child he started losing weight, I finally had to give in to my resistance to formula – but I so agree that there are too many shiny, happy magazine articles out there, not enough REAL stories. I will continue to follow your blog, glad I discovered it today. Thank you for sharing.

  2. forgot to put my website in the comment….Once again, thanks for your post (I know, I’m a couple years in finding it!).

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