Postpartum depression and the single mom.

When I was pregnant I once “confessed” to a (childless) friend about how stressed out I was (if you have been reading for a while you know I was forced out of my job and into homelessness during my pregnancy) and how terrified I was of the possibility of not being a good mother who could properly provide for her child. I say “confessed” because…wow, there was so much pressure to be the round, happy, 24/7 celebratory pregnant lady and I had a feeling my truth was not welcome. I was right. My friend cringed and said I needed therapy and medication. I was even more distraught after that. I took a huge risk and talked to another non-mother friend and, this time, the response was: “what do you mean therapy and medication? You just need a hug!” She got it. I just needed a hug. And a few other things (a job and a place to live), but the hug was so crucial. Pregnancy and impending motherhood can come with a lot of worries and anxiety for women even in the best of situations. On top of that – my economic security had been unfairly messed with. It’s not pretty to get by in the U.S. without family and/or economic security and I was batting zero on those. Fortunately I found a really great job a month and a half before the baby was born. And a place to live which I moved into the day before I went into labor. Just in time. Counting my lucky stars on that one. One beautiful homebirth later…

I had the baby – and the real hard part started. It was beautiful and blissful to meet my baby. But the isolation and borderline cruelty of being expected to function well under such isolation? It feels so wrong. And to me, this is part of what makes single mother hood so much harder – not only do you not have a partner there with you to help in some degree, but as a single mom you sometimes also get a taste of “you made your bed/you chose this/you should have thought about that before” from the world around you. Just because you chose this doesn’t mean it’s an easy job. Or that you deserve it to be a hard job – or to do the hard job alone in such isolation.

When I hear the words “postpartum depression,” I think: it’s not postpartum depression – it’s just postpartum. The postpartum period seems to be a very misunderstood and forgotten time. Like it’s impolite or ungrateful to even mention it or something. Postpartum is very challenging and I am convinced it is not meant to be done alone. No, I’m not saying every child should be born into a two parent household. I’m saying every child should be born into a village. I’m talking two dozen people. Not one, or even two. But where is this village? Honestly, for me, many of my longtime friends disappeared from the village. Fortunately I have been meeting a few people here and there since then. A work in progress!

Fast forward to today when this NY Times article “Thinking of Ways to Harm Her” popped up. The whole time I was reading it I was thinking where is the village for these women, and why isn’t this reporter talking about the missing village? I know there is postpartum depression and psychosis that would occur even with a fully intact village. But more often than not I think this is a symptom of our culture of isolation along with unsupportive governmental regulations¬† and workplace demands about what type of “productivity”¬† is expected of a new parent in the first year of a child’s life. Turns out some other people were thinking the same thoughts in the comments section:

SJ in Washington, D.C.
As someone who has at one time been a stay-at-home dad, I can someone relate. I would echo what some others have commented here–this situation is perhaps a symptom of a society within which there are few solid social networks of support. In a more tribal or group setting, I could imagine groups of children being cared for in some kind of team manner from day-1. Nowadays, it is not unusual for a primary caregiver to be a team of “1”, alone, and unsupported except for in the case of infrequent visits by relatives (which could be more stressful than helpful). We are social animals, and I suspect that raising a child (or children) is evolutionarily a group task–not one designed to be taken on by 1 or 2 people at a time. I fully would agree that there may be many individual and even bio-chemical processes at work as well, but I am convinced that the social aspect is one that cannot be ignored.

All this research data comes from the U.S. The U.S. is the only developed nation that has no federally guaranteed paid-maternity leave. By contrast, Canadian women are guaranteed up to 52 weeks of job-secured, paid-leave. In France, families can place infants into registered nurseries starting at two months and costs are very reasonable. Children can enroll in free pre-school starting at the age of two. Most families are given significant tax breaks and other incentives when they have children. I wonder if the results of depression and mental illness are similar in countries that offer far more support to working mothers and families. Caring for an infant is challenging especially when you don’t have any support. When you couple this with the pressure of returning back to work and ensuring a steady income for your family, it is little wonder that the rates of mental illness are so high. I find it frustrating that this article made no mention of how leave policies might exacerbate the stress of having a new child.


This is a very important topic and the stories referred to a much more common than generally realized. As a mother and a therapist I feel there is another extremely important factor which needs to be taken into consideration. The stress of having a child in our culture is greatly increased by the social isolation many new mothers experience. There are very few support systems in place to enable new mothers to acquire the help that is so needed. Most new mother’s do not have family members immediately available and the only way they can get help is by hiring others. This involves money which may not be available, as well as the time and wherewithal that goes into interviewing and choosing someone for childcare.

In my experience, those new mothers who are fortunate enough to have extended family for support suffer much less from the symptoms described in this article. Perhaps, as a culture, we need to consider taking the route of providing better and more extensive support systems for mothers.

ML in Princeton, N.J.

Yet another side effect of our isolated “nuclear family” society. New mothers are not meant to spend their days alone and purposeless. They are meant to be in the company of many other women, mothers sisters and friends. The care they give to their children is meant to be honored and supported, not devalued and hurried. I would assume that mothers in a more natural social environment still experience the hormonal shifts and related mental effects, but given the loving support of their family and community don’t need medical intervention and paid “group therapy.”

Pregnancy, Childbirth and Breastfeeding are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. One’s sense of self is irrevocably altered, there is a suffocating sense of responsibility with no end in sight. Sleepless nights, the unending demands of babies and toddlers, the lack of social and mental stimulation are overwhelming. Screening and treatment are the modern equivalents, and poor substitutes for familial love and support.

EW123 in St. Louis

Other posters are correct that there is very little pre-emptive support for mothers in this country. You are treated in the hospital for two to four days, usually without any significant mention of how to take care of yourself emotionally. If your partner gets any time off, it’s a few days. If you are lucky enough to get time off from your job, it’s “disability” for six weeks at a fraction of your pay. I know women who have been forced to pump in bathrooms at work, or who are scared to get any help because they can’t afford it. The other thing that is not mentioned here is that the way a woman is treated by her healthcare provider during the prenatal and perinatal periods (the time of labor, birth and immediate postpartum in the hospital) can make a difference to her mental health during pregnancy. I was treated terribly by a stand-in doctor who performed intrusive procedures without even seeking my permission. I felt powerless and violated. It absolutely contributed to my postpartum mental state, and I ended up being diagnosed with postnatal PTSD. My story is not an anomaly. According the “Childbirth Connection” survey in 2013, a considerable percentage of American women felt they lacked control or respectful care during the perinatal period. We must start supporting women from the get-go in prenatal and perinatal care if we want to make a dent in improving our nation’s postpartum mental health.


It’s a start, but where to go from here? I’ve been consciously trying to rebuild my village for the past year. I don’t have a quick fix answer but I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way which I will be sharing here soon.


8 thoughts on “Postpartum depression and the single mom.

  1. Yes. And that article. Yes.

    Ugh. Postpartum. I hate the incredible lack of information about life after the baby’s born. It actually makes me angry. It’s like when you’re pregnant and you’re supposed to be happy and fulfilled now that you have this perfect, wondrous little person in your arms. You know what gets me? When you become a mother you cease being yourself. That’s hard. Really fucking hard.

    I love this post, lady. It’s super important. You’re right, you need a village. You need to be loved, supported and encouraged. Parts of my village ran after me with pitchforks when my son was born because they didn’t agree with a few things I’d decided to do. That was hard. Really fucking hard. I’m still trying to pick up the pieces, almost a year later.


    • And when I say “you cease being yourself,” I mean in terms of what society thinks. When you become a mother, you become Mom. You stop being Kim, or Beck, or whoever you are. At least that’s what I feel. It’s as though this new aspect of your life should becoming all encompassing, and that’s not fair. I’m still me. I still like to write, have a glass of wine, go out for coffee by myself, watch terrible ’80s horror movies, blahblahblah. I’m not JUST a mother.

      (The Little Man started squawking, so I cut what I was writing earlier too short and missed explaining that.)


      • And I totally knew what you meant! It began to amaze me when I was pregnant and my belly started popping out how suddenly people treated me like I was invisible. No longer important. And the trend continues. People I could talk for hours with before are suddenly bored with me even if I make no mention of the baby. I feel like the same Beck I ever was but to many people I’m now a non-person. I’ve heard this from so many moms…how can it continue? I don’t get it. Our culture is deeply, deeply misogynistic. With even women coming off as misogynistic these days – I’d say we have a big problem.


      • Misogyny from women scares me, and makes me really, really sad. It’s incredible, and goes really far to explain exactly why women are where women are, still, in society.

        And yes, you are absolutely treated differently, aren’t you? When you’re pregnant, you’re treated one way. When you’re in labour, you’re treated another way. When you’ve birthed the babe, yet another. But you don’t get to be the person you were before you started growing a person. Not anymore. It’s important to me that my dude knows that I am important, too. Because it is important to me that he knows that he is important and should never compromise himself.

        Crazy learning curve. I love it, though. It’s brought some really neat things to light. Hah – I’m also more vehement in my feminism now than ever before. (Good job I’m married to a feminist!)


    • When I was pregnant, some people did tell me how painful labor would be and how hard it was going to be to take care of a newborn. But 99.9% of the time people told me that – it wasn’t out of wanting to help – they were literally laughing at me and seemingly enjoying the difficulty in my near future. What exactly is up with that?

      I find myself wanting to be really honest with people about how hard it is. But I will admit it is scary to be honest. Not the amount of honest I was in the post above but the detailed, explicit honest. It’s scary to tell women who don’t have kids yet because I know they won’t get it. There is only one way to get it. So I think my game-plan now is to make sure I’m available to them after they have their first babies – so we can talk about the realness.

      So many pitchforks so little time. Now that I have my child I feel like life is only about ten minutes long. No time for pitchforks.


      • That’s the difference between honesty and horror stories. Horror stories, the gleeful telling of how awful and difficult everything is with a cackle, are there for fear mongering and are complete bullshit. Horror stories are not productive and make me angry. Honesty, even if it’s not all unicorns and lollipops is good. I feel like no one expects it to be smooth sailing all the way, and it is nice to hear that it’s real life and that someone (you) have been there before them and that you will be there if they need help, or advice, or just a hug.

        I like the way you think: no time for pitchforks. You’re right. There’s no time for that. Or energy. It eats at me, terribly, and I have to stop allowing that. It’s awful for my functioning relationships to focus on this negative bullshit.

        I am not a villain. Ugh.


  2. Yes. Having support around you is crucial. Friends, other moms and yes, the village. That is so hard to not feel like you have that!!!!!!!
    I feel like I want to help you find that and give you ideas of where to find it…. email me if you are up for it.


  3. Yes please! I’m so open to ideas! I feel like I have turned over every stone but my fingers are so crossed that you have some new ideas. Emailing you right…NOW!


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