When we think about postpartum depression, we often focus on hormones and brain chemistry. The thinking goes like this: "Well, there are a lot of mind-body changes that take place during pregnancy, and sometimes those changes can lead to postpartum depression." And, yes, it’s absolutely true that hormonal changes play a role in many women’s postpartum depression.
But the full truth is also more complicated.
For some women, their postpartum depression results from their environment. Let’s consider some examples:
If you’ve absorbed a definition of “good mothering” that requires complete self-sacrifice and is literally impossible to meet, that is a risk factor.
If you know what would help you feel more grounded, but you can’t take the time to do it regularly, that’s a risk factor.
If your need to sleep is considered less important than your partner’s, that is a risk factor.
If you practically need an executive order just to get time to take a shower or go on a run, that is a risk factor.
If our partner expects us to take on 100% of night feedings, that’s not just “a bummer.” It’s also risky for our mental and emotional well-being.
When moms aren’t allowed to truly take care of themselves, they are at greater risk for postpartum depression and anxiety.
It’s as simple (and as complicated) as that.
In other words, we need to look closely at how much a woman’s parenting responsibilities are shared with others; whether she feels listened to and supported; how much time she has for rest and play; and whether she feels entitled to fulfill her own wants and needs.
All of these are important contributing factors. So why are we stuck with that old, one-dimensional story about hormones? In short, our patriarchal culture.
It is so much easier to perpetuate this story than to consider that the majority of women who have postpartum mood disorders are on the butt end of people expecting unrealistic things from them.