A cartoon about new motherhood
October 8, 2017 6:15 AM   Subscribe

A female French cartoonist writes about new motherhood, maternity leave, and postpartum depression. Cartoon is in English.
posted by colfax (14 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure whether she's arguing that with more resources for parents, we could help them deal with the the stress and difficulty of new parenthood, and stop focusing on diagnosing real postpartum clinical depression.

They are two different things, lady.
posted by CaseyB at 7:03 AM on October 8, 2017

I wonder if there's some translation error or loss of nuance there - there is definitely a hormone crash immediately post-partum that basically correlates exactly with the OMFG WHAT DO I DO I AM A FAILURE AT EVERYTHING feeling she describes (wooo and describes so well) and while not stricly speaking the PPD that we think of that can be treated, it is totally brushed off as "oh, that's normal" by the medical field, and widely varying ways of helping and supporting new mothers through that time. I don't know the extent to which helping to deal with that initial problem would affect long-term actual PPD diagnoses, but I can imagine it would make some difference; I'm sure she's not suggesting a cure-all.

I did not have PPD, but the first few days home from the hospital had me bursting into tears regularly and having breakdowns left and right. I had my daughter in Australia, which does boot you out of the hospital pretty quickly if everything went okay during labor and delivery, but they do provide midwife home visits for the first week or so at home that were a goddamn lifesaver for me, especially when my daughter was having breastfeeding issues and wasn't getting enough to eat (compounding the crying/sleeplessness that was already making things so difficult) - she brought me a hospital grade pump to borrow for a few days, set up lactation consultant appointments for me, helped me figure out how to supplement with formula without harming my supply build-up, and provide some emotional support when I further brokedown because now I was even MORE of a failure since I couldn't feed my kid on my own. I really don't know what I would have done without those visits.

It makes me wonder about the shift from keeping new mothers in the hospital for like a week after delivering to the "24-48 hours" stay - I remember when that shift became widespread in the US as a kid and not fully understanding what it would mean, thinking only about the physical part. Now that I have gone through it myself, I realize that week covers some of the most difficult part of the newborn experience - painful recovery from birth, milk coming in, the worst sleep deprivation of my life, massive hormonal fluctuations, etc - and how different it must have been to be able to have medical personnel helping you through all that, as opposed to being sent home just before all the worst of that sets in with no one to help but (if you're lucky) a partner who may or may not have any sort of parental leave, who's probably just as clueless about how all this works as you are.

I get the advent of "baby-friendliness" at hospitals, requiring rooming-in instead of nursery care, and not defaulting to supplementing breastfeeding with nurse-provided bottles of formula, and as much as I would have liked additional help that first week, I was glad to get back home to my own bed after two days in the maternity ward. But something really is lost when you're booted out of the hospital after just a day or two with no support followup and I'm on board with her in thinking more of that support would make a huge difference to parents everywhere.
posted by olinerd at 7:19 AM on October 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

Yeah, olinerd, I think her point is that a lot of new moms' struggles get blamed purely on hormones and they really shouldn't be. Or, in other words, there is definitely a hormone crash, but that should be considered as a part of the puzzle instead of the entire reason.
posted by colfax at 7:43 AM on October 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

My mum stayed in hospital a few days after I was born. I was in the NICU so she didn't have to care for me during the night but she did NOT find staying in the hospital supportive. The nurses were really judgemental because she bottle-fed me instead of nursing (I was born in the seventies, wasn't formula really common then?) and basically were mean to her (wouldn't let my dad be in the room when I was born although he had been for my older sibling).

I did the midwife/homebirth thing while living with my parents (and my sister lived a few minutes away) and it was awesome. I felt overwhelmed at times but no where near as much as many of my friends. I was on paid maternity leave and my boyfriend lived off his student loans so we weren't struggling for money (see also: no rent to the 'rents), got our monthly baby bonus cheques right away, and basically had a baby-friendly group of friends (we were the first to have kids so we were a novelty. I didn't get PPD, thank goodness, and the daily visit from the midwife gave me a non-judgemental ear to ask questions etc.

I know there is obviously a chemical basis for PDD. If I wonder if having a lot of systemic supports in place can prevent some PDD, much like deliberately taking a day off to rest and eat healthy can stop a mild cold from turning into a really bad one.
posted by saucysault at 8:54 AM on October 8, 2017

There is a difference between the "baby blues" (attributable in large part to, yes, abruptly and profoundly shifting hormones but also massive exhaustion, physical trauma, and often enormous changes in personal identity and sense of self) and postpartum depression/anxiety (more severe & longer lasting conditions) although they share some symptoms. Both are exacerbated by lack of support. Appropriate screening measures and support are necessary to identify these and to differentiate baby blues from postpartum psychosis, which is rare but shares the same onset window (usually the first two weeks after giving birth).
While France does a good job on pelvic physiotherapy for postpartum people, their paid parental leave ain't shit. However, it is still better than what is on offer in the US.
posted by sutureselves at 9:14 AM on October 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

France isn't doing enough for new parents?


Hold my beer.
posted by Naberius at 9:18 AM on October 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I consider how the cartoonist's experience compared with mine, 19 years ago. (I am in the U.S.) I was in the hospital just under 24 hours, including the 13 or so hours of the labor itself, before we were discharged. I had six weeks off, covered by short-term-disability coverage, I believe because my employment situation/duration was less than a year, and during the six weeks, I had to pay COBRA insurance premiums. My husband at the time worked a 100% travel job and was only around on weekends. That was a rough time. Thankfully, I had insurance, a well-paying job, and a very uneventful labor and delivery. If any of those things weren't true, it would have been a considerably tougher time.
posted by webwench at 2:09 PM on October 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

So sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture... except the tortured are not expected to then get up to cook, clean, do laundry, deal with the insurance company or the credit card company or the gardener, buy all the Christmas gifts, remember to send a birthday card to their MIL, while simultaneously being loving, kind, and generous with their attention to their spouse who is feeling left out, AND ALSO nurse and nurture the baby.

I wasn't in the hospital long with my kiddos and I wanted to kill every nurse who came into my room (I mean, just doing their job yes, so maybe I wanted to kill the administrators who wrote the parameters of the nurse's jobs); what would be awesome would be like a mandatory (or, offered) two week stay at sort of a half-way house, where mothers get a quiet suite, all meals are prepared and you can either visit the dining room or have room service, a doctor or NP is on staff for questions, and you can call for help or be left the hell alone. I guess what I'm describing is vacation-like, while not exactly a vacation because the newborn is still there, but mom (and dad) are relieved of all of the additional chores.
posted by vignettist at 2:43 PM on October 8, 2017 [11 favorites]

They are two different things, lady.

I....think that was her point?

At the end she was talking about how more social support for new mothers would make a tremendous impact, but that instead of allowing for things like allowing the other parent to stay in the hospital with the new mother or giving co-parental leave or nurses letting the poor mothers alone through the night, everyone just writes off the effects of sleep deprivation as "post partum depression" so they don't have to take any other action.

I didn't get the sense that she was claiming postpartum depression was hooey, I was getting the sense that she was saying it was overdiagnosed.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:47 PM on October 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

The new mother has to search online for infant care info, but she didn’t know about Protection Maternelle et Infantile?
posted by Ideefixe at 5:04 PM on October 8, 2017

Postnatal wards here in the UK are typically shared, 3-6 beds to a room. My postnatal ward was not too bad, but by the time I was wheeled up there with a newborn I had already been in labour for two days and so barely slept for two nights. I was exhausted beyond exhausted. And my baby wanted to feed all night, which meant I had to sit up holding her all night, pinching myself to stay awake, terrified that I’d drop her off the bed. And then morning came and she fell asleep....

...and everything else woke up! Lights on, staff around, checks on babies, checks on mothers, everybody get up for breakfast. Then the partners arrived, including the loud, inconsiderate arse married to the woman in the bed next to me. Then the rest of the visitors arrived, lines of noisy, excited friends and families. And stayed. And stayed. All day it was like this. Until evening, when everyone went home and it got quiet again, and my baby of course wanted once again to feed all night. By the end of that night, I was staring out of the window hallucinating dancers outside on the grass.

Six months later when I was in hospital for gallbladder surgery, they kept the ward quiet and peaceful and limited visiting hours. Because you need to rest after an operation, don’t you know! But when that operation involves birth, tough, you take second/third/fifteenth place now behind a procession of visitors with helium balloons. Sleep? Rest? Get over yourself, princess, you’re a mother now.
posted by Catseye at 11:40 PM on October 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

also, this setup is why I really would not want partners staying overnight in the hospital, which is one of the improvements she suggests. I don't care how lovely your Nigel is, I don't want to spend two days and nights sharing a room with him while dealing with lochia and catheters and getting breastfeeding established. Nigel can help by advocating for single-occupancy rooms and better funding.

Other than that I absolutely agree with her. It used to drive me barking mad how any upset or anger at all during pregnancy or postpartum is put down to "your hormones are all over the place!" like they're imbalanced medieval humours. Yes, there are hormone shifts, but also there are massive physical and psychological and lifestyle changes happening, often exacerbated by pain, recovery, illness, lack of sleep, please don't pin all those on mysterious woman-chemicals.
posted by Catseye at 12:45 AM on October 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm a perioperative nurse and one of my many responsibilities is reviewing discharge instructions with patients. Many of these patients have had laparoscopic abdominal surgery - hernia repair, gallbladder, etc. I advise them not to lift anything heavy, strain, run, etc. - it's more detailed, obviously, but I'm generally advising them to take it easy for a couple weeks.

After 36 hours of labor I had open - not laparoscopic - abdominal surgery to deliver my baby. I went home two days later and then had to care for an infant. There was no taking it easy for a couple of weeks. Many moms do this AND go home to older - but still relatively helpless - children at home who also need their care.

The things women routinely go through never stop astounding me.
posted by pecanpies at 5:11 AM on October 9, 2017 [10 favorites]

I was grateful to be sent out of the hospital. I don't think grateful is a strong enough word. The baby was a bit jaundiced and it was borderline if they would release me on time. I felt imprisoned. When I came home I cried-- at the real bed, at the real chair, at the real shower. I only felt like a human being again when I left the hospital, until that point I was an object, living in a cell, with no privacy, no autonomy, nothing.

In the hospital you don't have a room to yourself (and my roommate was dreadful), your partner is not allowed to sleep over so you have no support during the night, there was a loudspeaker in each room that made announcements, including very trivial ones, loudly so that I could never sleep. At one point the cleaning staff woke me from the sleep I had finally, finally, finally, finally managed to achieve in order to ask if it was ok to clean the room. Your privacy is your curtain, but none of the staff will ever bother to close it themselves when leaving, so you are constantly getting up to close it again so that the roommate's many male visitors don't get an eyeful of your breasts.

Because the baby was a bit jaundiced and hence extra sleepy, I needed to wake her every two hours round the clock to feed her. I would wake her up by stripping her, as the nurse told me to do, and bring her towards my breast. Every time, she would be comforted by the smell of milk and promptly fall back asleep without latching. Over and over I would do this. It could easily take half an hour, followed by the actual nursing, which was slow. By the way the every two hours was measured by the start of nursing, not the end. Because they were worried she was dehydrated, I was expected to also pump to increase supply and supplement the nursing. By hand, into a little cup. So every two hours nurse her, and at least an hour between pumping and nursing to let supply recover, means every single hour, round the clock, I needed to be pumping or nursing, each of which took at least half an hour.

If she's possibly dehydrated, I asked, maybe we could give her formula? I understand breastfeeding is important but I am OK with giving her formula.

Absolutely not, the nurse said. I, a first time mother, didn't argue. What did I know?(Later, another nurse would ask me why I didn't care that my baby was starving, what is with these mothers who refuse to give formula, how egotistical)

At 2 in the morning I walked into the nursery with the baby, her pants still off from my attempt to get her to eat.

"Why are your baby's pants off?" The nurse screamed at me. "She's cold! Do you not care about your child?"

I burst into tears. I hadn't slept for more than forty minutes in three days (From the start of labor).

"Why are you crying?" the nurse said.


I completely understand her point. Of course there is PPD. But there is also the completely normal sadness and despair that comes from being overwhelmed, horribly sleep deprived, constantly judged, desperately scared for the tiny little life you are responsible for, and the utterly shit support systems we have in place to help with all of that. And that gets bundled under PPD or "hormones" and dismissed. It's not "hormones" to feel like you're going insane after three days and 4 total hours cumulative of sleep.
posted by Cozybee at 9:50 AM on October 9, 2017 [8 favorites]

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