Let's Take Back Postpartum

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Word associations are important. Let’s make a change.

Let's talk about the word "postpartum" for a moment. When they hear this word, many people would say they think of depression. A Google search using simply the term postpartum reveals only pages of references to postpartum depression. I've even heard some people using the word alone as a noun, standing in for the disease or--more casually--the baby blues. I've seen comments like, "I had postpartum after my second was born" many times, and they make me cringe. Here’s the thing:

Postpartum is an adjective, not a noun.  Allow me to explain.  (As a former high school English teacher, I can't avoid getting a little grammar-happy with you here. Sorry.)  The word "postpartum" simply means "following childbirth or the birth of young." It is a descriptor, a word naming an attribute, added to or related to a noun to modify or describe it. This powerful word should be used to describe a person, place, or thing, such as a mother, hospital wing, or bleeding. Simply the word "postpartum" itself is not synonymous with any one thing. Not even depression. And, in fact, I firmly believe that we need to stop using the word alone to refer to depression. 

As a perinatal depression and anxiety survivor, I know the darkness of what perinatal mental illness really is, and how alone and sad and scary it can be. I never ever want other parents to have to experience that treacherous place. But, I also know that my postpartum mental health issues did not, do not, and will not define me. My postpartum mental health certainly has influenced me in countless ways—even my choice to quit my previous career and start Better Beginnings—but my postpartum depression and anxiety did not and do not define who I am. I was more than postpartum depression even in the thick of the disease itself. "Postpartum" described the unique nature of my life, and our family life, after the birth of each of our four children. I don't want to identify those precious days and nights (yes, even the nights were precious in their own way) by cramming them into an ill-fitting, inappropriate use of what should be a lovely word.

The postpartum time (see what I did there? I used it as an adjective!) should be wondrous, slow, peaceful, and cosmically quiet. As we add each baby to our brood, our homes grow more full, messy, and loud. But, when we are able to rest, recover, and focus on baby, we should find that this adjective describes life “zoomed in” to our bubble of home. Our postpartum time is one where the world outside does not disturb us as we journey slowly forward, forever changed with this tiny new life among us.  Postpartum should conjure images of bare, soft skin, little baby snores, mother's hair spread across a pillow, hot tea, warm baths, and a "village" unobtrusively bringing meals to nourish and sustain the growing family.  It should not be used as a synonym for the terribleness that is depression. 

Let's take back the word “postpartum”.  Let's reclaim it for what it is: an adjective describing a very unique time in a woman's life, in a family's life. It helps define physical, mental, and emotional states, but it is not those states themselves. Postpartum is so much more than depression. It can, and should, be beautiful. Let's take back the word, and celebrate all it can describe. Let’s take back postpartum.

— Hallie Rogers, Better Beginnings Founder + CEO

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