Thoughts on Ignorance as a Cause of Post-Partum Depression

I am not a psychiatrist, a medical specialist, or even a scientist, but I have a sneaking suspicion that post-partum depression, while obviously a complex condition, is rooted at least in part in one phenomenon: distorted expectations from lack of sufficient and accurate information.

Likely owing to society’s desire to increase the population of humans, and general squeamishness and avoidance of gross subjects, most women are exposed to only a very topical and rosy view of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood throughout their lives leading up to the decision to reproduce. Everyone’s heard of “pregnancy glow.” On the other hand, things like pregnancy constipation, pregnancy constant flatulence, pregnancy insomnia, pregnancy leaking of urine, and pregnancy leaking of amniotic fluid are less frequently mentioned, if at all. After labor, everyone knows about the “bundle of joy,” but probably not the bundle of shit on the delivery table.

Unless a woman happens to keep company with a horde of brutally honest women who don’t mind sharing things like a desire to literally die during childbirth because of the horrible pain (thanks mom!); how badly their vaginas tore, got infected, then tore again; among other horrifying stories not fit for dinner conversation, a woman may find herself pregnant and learning these very real possibilities for the first time. Society wants you to think of the glow, not the farting, leaking, pain, tearing, and shitting, because if women carefully considered all these downsides, some undoubtedly would have second thoughts. It is true the more women know and contemplate the implications of these realities, the more careful they are going to be about their decision to reproduce, but this should not be a bad thing.

Again, I’m not a medical professional, but I speculate jumping into pregnancy imagining the glow and the rewards of motherhood, then being subsequently ambushed by a slew of physical ailments, followed by serious physical compromise or injury during labor, topped off with the reality of becoming responsible for a squirming, screaming, crying, shitting bundle of mess all while suffering sleep deprivation and possible problems with breastfeeding, is an easy recipe for depression.

This is exactly why all women should seek out all the relevant information, both positive and negative before deciding to have children. Having worked in the field of healthcare law for many years, I know the detailed and precise description of risks and complications, both common and rare, discussed with women before they have so much as an appendix removal, brow lift, or boob job. For almost all surgeries, no matter how minor, physicians will review risks, benefits, and alternatives, providing an overview of common complications, expected outcomes, and even some remote risks, such as death. They are required to do this for every procedure, even life-saving surgeries most people in their right mind would never refuse. The basic rationale behind this practice is that people should know what they are getting into, and that includes not only common and expected risks and outcomes, but at least an idea of remote and unlikely complications as well.

Yet, as it relates to reproduction, a completely elective choice in this day and age, women hear merely about “pregnancy glow,” “bundle of joy,” and perhaps vague references to fatigue and morning sickness before committing to something of significant medical, physical, and emotional impact not only for the next 9 months, but indeed, possibly for the next 18 years. With this in mind, it’s actually amazing more women do not suffer post-partum depression.

Of course, while society has a tendency to give women inaccurate impressions, women need to take responsibility for their own decisions. I doubt many women look into the full panoply of risks, complications, and outcomes associated with pregnancy, labor, and the post-partum period in great detail before deciding to become pregnant; I know I didn’t, and I am actually someone who really took my sweet time deciding to have children at all. I had cataloged in the back of my mind a collection of horror stories from honest women over the years, and went into this with an understanding of a lot of worst case scenarios, because that’s my personality. I figured if I could accept the possibility of these worst case scenarios, then I would not have any regrets, but as far as being actually informed, this is totally not sufficient, and I met with plenty of surprises upon finding myself pregnant.

As with most things in life, preparation is key, and I surmise the more women know, the more they can do to prepare emotionally and physically, and the less shock and disappointment they will experience, which in turn would reduce the likelihood of post-partum depression.

How I Found Out I was Pregnant

This is a true story and it could happen to you. My brother was in town for the holidays, and I planned some brewery hopping for a Friday night. It was a really nice, sunny, warm day in December (23rd), even by San Diego standards. I ran stairs at the beach after work, went home and showered, and we were ready to head out the door early evening. Before we left, I decided to take a pregnancy test, because ever since going off birth control, I thought it was a good idea to take a test before decadent, booze-filled nights out. I was down to my last test and strangely, after peeing on it, I realized it was broken. Seriously. Instead of the little lines that show up on each window of the stick, both windows remained completely blank, even after about 15 minutes.

I had never heard of this happening before, and I felt vaguely ripped off by Target. These things are not that cheap, after all. I was not too concerned and decided I could always stop at a grocery store and grab another one on the way to the first brewery. We made a quick stop at Vons for this purpose and then were on our merry way.

The first scheduled stop was Burgeon Brewing, a new brewery nearby which I had not yet tried. Like so many breweries these days, Burgeon is a sort of warehouse facility located in an industrial park, with 30-foot ceilings and hipster lighting.

I ordered a flight of beers, which were served on a tree-trunk-shaped taster holder. Based on the picture of their menu, if I had to guess which beers I ordered, it was likely the Carlsbad Crop IPA, Thuja IPA, Mixed Greens Double IPA, and the Moo Moo Farm Milk Stout.

Halfway through the taster, I was able to pee again and snuck off to the bathroom to take the test, which turned out to be positive. Barely. The blue lines were faint, yet unmistakable. I cannot say I was shocked, because at this age, I’d have to be an imbecile to be unaware of how pregnancy comes about, but I was still a little surprised. I did not want to return to the group and announce this to a table full of people, so I tried to text my husband while in the bathroom stall, but the reception was exceptionally poor and I failed. Finding out you’re pregnant in the bathroom stall of a brewery and texting your husband while on the toilet has to be about the most romantic and classy way to break the news, if you ask me.

 

I had no choice but to emerge from the safety of the bathroom stall and return to the table. Once I was able to discreetly pull husband aside and share the somewhat surprising news, continued indulgence in beer was no longer an option, so I opted for the cold brew coffee on nitro. This cold brew was smooth and delicious; it was practically a dessert, even though it is not sweetened. Thus concluded my beer adventures for approximately 9 months, and began an adventure of different sorts.

Irvine

i was getting close

content rolling on the counter at the community pool

fleshy limbs on pleasant concrete sipping a milky mixer scrolling down my phone for people to call

boiling alive in the jacuzzi alongside people who might be my neighbors

i can smell the chlorine on my skin when i move and remember

i came home to pound out old furies

to attempt to chat incoherently with immortal lovers

she’s floating next to me, equally bored, suggesting names of acquaintances to rope into drinking with us

some boy who will undoubtedly grope us before the night is over

some old creep who has children our age

then my father calls and says

she is dead