Let’s Talk About ‘Postpartum’ and What it Actually Means

Did you see the first episode of Working Moms? The new CBC comedy series about four women teetering to balance motherhood with everything else premiered last week and it’s a breath of soiled diapers and sour milk – unapologetic, honest and in-your-face funny. When I watched it, what struck me most about the opening scene wasn’t the trio of bare-breasted women contemplating their mom boobs. (Been there!) What stuck with me was character Frankie’s circle-time confession that she might have a “teensy bit of postpartum.”   

Postpartum what, exactly?

I’ve noticed this common usage more and more over the past few years and it irks me: When we hear the word ‘postpartum,’ we associate it with depression. (Or maybe Frankie was hinting at something else. Postpartum hemorrhoids? Hair loss? Acne? The joys of new motherhood are plentiful!)   

The thing is, ‘postpartum’ isn’t a noun. 

From Merriam-Webster:

adjective | post-par-tum | \ˌpōs(t)-ˈpär-təm\

occurring in or being in the period following childbirth

(Well, I’ll be darned. Even M.-W.’s example is: <postpartum depression>)

I don’t mean to nitpick, folks, but every woman who gives birth has ‘postpartum.’ I can’t speak for every woman on this second point, but I think it’s safe to say that most postpartum women will, at times, feel overwhelmed, exhausted and frustrated beyond anything previously imaginable before motherhood.

And that’s completely normal.

I’d even say it’s to be expected. Being a new mom is a seriously fucking hard gig. It is wild and intense. Immediate and constant. It is demanding beyond measure when you feel like you have nothing left to give. Giving birth and becoming a mother involves the deepest transformation of the body, mind and, dare I say, soul. Physical, scientific, miraculous transformation.  

So it’s no wonder, then, that new moms thrive best when we are surrounded by unconditional love, non-judgmental support and a community that lifts us up. And yet again and again and again mothers say that they feel alone and isolated – that motherhood is lonely. 

Motherhood was never meant to be a solo act, sisters. It’s critical for us to rally around and advocate for those of us who find themselves struggling with postpartum depression – approximately 20 per cent or more of new mothers – and it’s equally important to create safe spaces where women and all parents can freely express what’s really going on. Spaces where we can talk about the darker, sometimes uncomfortable places we find ourselves. Places where we have all been at some point.

“Motherhood was never meant to be a solo act, sisters.”

But where do we find these safe spaces where can we share our experiences without fear of stigma? Mommy groups and drop-in centres aren’t necessarily welcoming to these conversations. To wit: I recently heard the story of new mom at a mommy group who was brave enough to express that she was struggling, who was then told that cloth diapering was on the agenda for that day and maybe they could talk about it another time. (Seriously?)

Thankfully, for parents in Toronto and the GTA, there is a new nonprofit organization called Postpartum Support Toronto (PPSTO) that aims to fill the gap in support and services for new parents. (Full disclosure: I sit on the board of directors for this amazing organization.)

PPSTO exists to give immediate support to new parents struggling with their mood. Its focus is peer to peer support, both online and in-person. The even bigger mission is to put an end to impossible parenting standards and speak the truth about how hard parenting is and why parents’ mental health should be a family and community priority.

Support for parents should be immediate and easy to access. Currently most of the options for postpartum mood support are to:

a.) Get a mood disorder diagnosis and wait for a referral to a hospital program. (Many parents are afraid to tell their doctor what they are feeling and hospitals can have lengthy wait times.)


b.) Pay for private care, but many parents don’t know where to start looking for a counsellor, or can’t afford one.

PPSTO offers access to peers going through similar circumstances and helps parents put together a support plan, or link them to the services they need. All for free. It’s fast, shame-free, nurturing support for parents who aren’t sure where to get help. Drop-in sessions run out of Oaks ‘n Acorns in The Junction on Mondays at 1 p.m.

Where most mommy groups focus on information sharing, activities, or play, PPSTO drop-ins focus on mood, including talks about the ups and downs of the week and sharing strategies for getting through tough times. People can bring their babies and older children and PPSTO is an all-gender group: moms, dads and gender-queer parents all welcome.

If you know a new parent who is struggling, reach out and listen to what they have to say. Let’s be mindful of the way we use the word ‘postpartum,’ as depression is only one aspect of this complex experience that all mamas share. And surely the way we use the word influences our understanding of life after baby.

Having a show like Workin’ Moms spotlighting leaky boobs, mommy-guilt and postpartum mood on prime time cable television is a huge win for mothers. I can’t wait to see what they tackle in episode 2.

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About the Author

Lindsay Forsey

Lindsay is the founder of Tenth Moon Mother Care, a mom of two and a postpartum wellness activist. When she's not busy bundling up Tenth Moon care packages for new mamas, you might spot her on TV talking about the fourth trimester, blogging about maternal health or perfecting her "padsicle" recipe.

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