This week Bianca and Meg are talking about one of the most harmful, almost comical lies we tell new parents: the idea that they will be able to “bounce” or “snap” back into their pre-pregnancy life. This devastating myth has us focusing on all the wrong things: shrink your body, hide any signs of discomfort, ignore your mental health, prioritize your child while also taking care of everyone else and yourself, and do it all alone. This unattainable, cruel picture is the reason why so many new parents are suffering from Postpartum Mood Disorders (PMADs). Bianca and Meg take a deep dive at the complicated realities of Postpartum Snapback and help us re-prioritize the things that bring us joy.
Click here for the transcript
This week featuring:
Bianca Sprague feels especially passionate about creating access to quality pre & postnatal care for marginalized communities. She is an advocate for mental wellness for the entire family, and especially for the birthing parent, after suffering from PPD in silence and losing her father to suicide in 2012. She recognizes the barriers put in place for female entrepreneurs and believes that understanding the evolving online space can even the playing field for women in business.
Meg Kant has been providing support to families in Sudbury since 2015. A summary of Meg’s education and credentials include: Certified Doula through bebo mia, Honours Degree in Psychology, Certified Infant Sleep Educator through bebo mia, professional contributor to www.PregnancyAfterLossSupport.com, and professional collaborator with The Northern Ontario School of Medicine.
Hot + Brave
Expectations around Postpartum are Harming Us
This week on the Hot + Brave Podcast two of our bebo babes took on the myth of the postpartum snapback. A myth is something that becomes widely held despite being false. The postpartum snapback definitely falls into this category. It is the belief that after giving birth, a person will just “snapback” and return to life exactly as it was before having a baby, or even crazier – that life will be easier and better. This is not a reality for most people in their postpartum journeys and sets unrealistic expectations on people who are already overwhelmed, busy, and treading new water. Having a new baby is already hard enough. It is bonkers that, on top of this, people are expected to learn how to parent simultaneous to things like an intensive workout schedule, or additional tasks that are unnecessary.
Bianca and Meg tackle this myth (for example, that you will return to pre-baby body and life after birth) to show that there is no blueprint or pre-determined way to do things in your postpartum period. Some things that worked great for one mom, might be terrible or even feel tortuous for another. The Postpartum snapback, like all myths, guides people with fears and ‘what ifs’ all while not being a real, tangible thing that provides any solace or stability. Meg describes this myth saying, “essentially just be like, we need you to have the baby, but then pretend that you didn’t have the baby, and continue on with your life as though you don’t have to parent them”. This does not mean that new parents cannot take time for themselves and to take control to ensure the best for their baby, quite the opposite. Mothers need to be protected and rested and fed and watered and loved and listened to. Having unreasonable expectations in this period makes all of this necessary self-care nearly impossible. Instead, they are stuck trying to uphold expectations and external pressures to live up to some TV sitcom standard of living.
The postpartum snapback narrative sets an arbitrary goal that if, or more likely when it is not achieved sets women up for failure. And lets be honest, we really do not need a failure under our belts when we just had a baby and are figuring out how to take care of it. Even if its not first baby, learning about the needs of the specific tiny human in front of you is a lot of work. Every baby is different and will have different needs in terms of care. Some might sleep easily and some may need much more attention. Following an arbitrary goal, for example related to sleep, can make parents feel like they are failing rather than just accepting that a different approach may be all that is required. Check out episode 7 of this season of the Hot + Brave Podcast to hear Bianca and Dr. Greer talk all about infant sleep!
Back to this idea of the “snapback”, there are so many people putting extra pressure on themselves by anticipating the postpartum period as a time of hyper-productivity. They plan to lose weight, learn a new language, start knitting – whatever it may be. Yet, after having a baby is really not the time to expect that you can add anything, new tasks to your life. In reality you can barely sleep or eat or go to the bathroom, so why pre-determine that you will have time for all these other things before you actually have your baby, get to know their schedule and then possibly assess additional tasks that may spark your interest.
The pressure on the postpartum body
There are a couple pillars of the postpartum snapback discussed in this week’s episode. The first is weight loss and the idea that your body will “snap back” after giving birth. If someone quickly goes back to their pre-pregnancy weight its seen as part of a successful postpartum period. However, if we have been listening to Hot + Brave all season we know that weight is not always a good indicator of health. Actually, malnourishment and being too thin is really bad for a new mom. But, because thin is associated with “being healthy” many thin women are not assessed or even considered to be jeopardizing their health. Bianca shared that in her postpartum journey, stress, domestic abuse, and postpartum depression made her the skinniest she had ever been. And, because she was thin people would look at her and say “wow you look great” instead of thinking that rapid weight loss could be the sign of something being terribly wrong.
Further, it is also important to ask, “What does losing weight have to do with how well you are coping asd a new parent, how healthy you are being; how ready you are to return to your old life?” There is no correlation. It makes no sense to look at a person’s size and then jump to the idea that they are doing great and are facing no challenges in their journey as a new parent. Before weight, what should be prioritized is the connection you make with your baby, not whether or not you fit into an old pair of jeans. The assumption that if you “look great” you must be doing well is very harmful and is the foundation of the snapback myth. A more important indicator or question we should be addressing is what a person’s mood is, how they feel, what their stress level is.
Another point missed when we are narrowly focused on the postpartum snapback is the evidence that, in terms of caring for the baby, body feeding requires the mother to be healthy, eating and to be consuming calories. Being malnourished to live up to some myth of body snap back is not conducive to this. The body is not supposed to “snap back” after birth in the way that society dictates – it actually is counter to what is necessary for caring for a baby and body feeding. Our body needs to protect itself and it protects itself by having fat stores because that is what keeps our brain and our systems functioning.
The Postpartum Snapback, In the shadow of the perfect mother
In addition, another pillar of the postpartum snapback myth relates to Identity. We put so much emphasis on the identity of motherhood. This includes narratives that tell us we will be in a state of perpetual bliss, that the work is all worth it and that nothing else matters because now you are a parent with a healthy baby. That is the expectation, and for anyone who does not experience parenthood in this way, it can be very isolating. The expectation versus reality around the identity of motherhood is where we can see a lot of depression, making it difficult to separate the work of motherhood and the relationship of motherhood.
Dealing with this depression can be difficult to manage in relation to the baby blues. Baby blues is typically the first two weeks after a baby is born and is really common and normal for folks to experience as emotional ups and downs. However, when it extends past those first two weeks, that’s when we start looking at having a perinatal mood disorder because, it is expected that after those two weeks that the blue will level out. If you are reading this and have had this experience, remember that it is not intentional, it’s not your fault, you’re not failing as a mother. Unfortunately this happens too often and we tend to blame ourselves. The myth of the snap back makes us try to believe that postpartum mood disorders are not there and as a result they can go untreated, which is really dangerous.
Finding community and being clear what your needs are is key to a realistic recovery. We should not be focused on just doing something because it is what you believe is expected of you. Striving to lose weight to meet some standard of the snap back myth is way different from committing to things that bring you joy or goals that do not compromise your life and happiness. Remember that nobody has all the right answers. We are all just trying to navigate through the complexities of life, so let’s drop the unrealistic standards of the postpartum snapback and seek out whatever brings joy.
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