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Postpartum depression (PPD) has drawn increased attention in recent years as people become more knowledgeable about the disorder. While it is a heartbreaking condition for families across the United States, and more discussion and research about it is beneficial, the rising rates of postpartum depression are not happening in a vacuum. Rather, they exist alongside a cultural devaluation of motherhood, which should be considered as a factor in the escalating cases.
Many women experience feelings of sadness after having a baby, which are typically called “baby blues,” and often dissipate during the first two weeks postpartum. However, postpartum depression is a lengthier and more serious mental health condition. According to postpartumdepression.org, around 10% of women will experience postpartum depression after delivering their babies. Additionally, a report from the CDC found that postpartum depressive symptoms occurred among 13.2% of respondents.
The cause of postpartum depression is unknown, but factors, such as one’s general lifestyle choices and social situation, could contribute to the disorder. According to the National Library of Medicine, postpartum depression can happen in women who experience anxiety and depression at any point in their pregnancy. “Risk factors” include a “[h]istory of depression and anxiety,” as well as having a “[n]egative attitude towards the baby.” Others include a difficult pregnancy, and “[l]ack of social support can cause postpartum depression.”
WebMD states that the initial signs of postpartum depression could be women “feel[ing] unhappy about being a parent.” Other symptoms include their sleep patterns shifting, worries that they won’t be a good mom, women struggling to make decisions, and losing interest in things that used to bring them enjoyment. If mothers experience thoughts of harming themselves or their babies, these are symptoms of worsened postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis that should be immediately addressed.
Postpartum depression appears to have similar characteristics to other forms of depression — some people are more likely to suffer from it than others, but it is also exacerbated by certain conditions. Some women who are particularly vulnerable might be more likely to develop symptoms of depression after their bodies experience major hormonal changes following delivery. While the public has grown increasingly aware of postpartum depression, the discussion of it focuses on low access to medical care for postpartum women instead of external factors, which are taken into consideration with other mental health struggles.
Depression and anxiety are often treated with medication, but the general population has an understanding that certain elements make a substantial impact on the likelihood that one will experience depression or anxiety. For example, over the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety and depression went up around the world by 25%, according to a brief published by the World Health Organization. The increase in isolation and stress impacted people on a worldwide level, but the external factors affecting postpartum women’s mental health are not as immediately taken into consideration.
Research shows that instances of PPD have been historically rising. A Blue Cross Blue Shield report found that postpartum depression diagnoses increased nearly 30% from 2014 to 2018. In 2016, there was a slight decrease followed by a jump. Early on in the pandemic, postpartum depression also went up. It also occurs throughout the world. In Western developed nations, a survey found that PPD prevalence was 7% to 40%, whereas Asian countries saw a prevalence of 3.5% to 63.3%. Globally, it is 10 to 15%.
As concern over postpartum depression grows, the medical community has answered with pharmaceuticals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first pill to treat postpartum depression earlier this month. However, while research on postpartum depression should continue, it should not be isolated as a mental health issue that is entirely unlike other depressive conditions that have no connection to societal shifts.
In the past several years, society has devalued motherhood to an extent that is likely impacting the feelings of desperation many women experience when confronted with the life-altering shift of becoming a mother. The recent cultural attitude towards motherhood has been a reduction in acknowledging its importance and benefits to society as a whole. It has made women feel as if the stresses and struggles of becoming a mother are abnormal and they would be better off forgoing childbearing completely.
A 2014 Washington Post article contained information taken from interviews of parents in Australia, most of whom said that they had “‘unrealistic’ expectations” about the characteristics of infants in early parenthood. It also noted how many Americans are having fewer babies than they did in the past, which results in fewer interactions with children, leaving new parents uneducated about how to take care of babies. The Post claimed that the media portrays an unrealistic and inaccurate picture of early motherhood bliss and perfection, which puts a strain on new parents. However, new mothers growing up in today’s society would likely say the opposite.
As others have pointed out, young women are no longer intentionally prepared for the job of raising a family. The internet instead has stepped in to provide a plethora of websites, blogs, courses, and social media accounts to help new moms create routines for their babies. The overload of online tips has replaced one-on-one advice that used to be passed down to the younger generation from older relatives. When moms fail to routinize their lives into a strict schedule, they feel inadequate.
Fifty years of legal abortion across the United States has been the most significant initiation of the devaluation of motherhood. The pop-culture celebration of abortion in particular has characterized pregnancy, birth, and motherhood as hindrances to other goals. It has established a one-for-one exchange, where young women are told they cannot achieve their dreams if they have children at an inconvenient time. Instead of providing ways to do both, it insists women must choose between the two, and when they choose motherhood, they feel as if they are missing out on something else. They have the perception that if they schedule motherhood into their lives, it will be easy, which is false. Consequently, when they do have children, their mental and physical well-being go through a state of shock, and their system is understandably overwhelmed.
Motherhood is no longer considered an achievement in itself. Society has instead conditioned young women to view it as a distraction that takes them away from other pursuits. Women should be given the support to achieve their goals outside of being a mother, but this can’t be done in a way that undermines motherhood, leaving new moms feeling alone.
Postpartum depression is a real and visceral disorder, and the increased recognition of its prevalence is helpful to struggling families. However, if society changes its attitude towards mothers, and sees their contribution of raising young people as a net positive for communities, it could help quell the rising cases of this tragic mental health condition. It will provide new moms with the feeling of accomplishment that should accompany the daily work of caring for children who will be the world leaders of tomorrow. Even when the days are long, mothers will feel valuable, and society will be better for it.