Article by Kelley Allen and Andrea Paterson
Anger is probably one of the least discussed components of the motherhood experience and one of the least acknowledged facets of postpartum depression and anxiety. No one is prepared for the anger that is sometimes born alongside their infant, but it’s a completely normal reaction. Women might be angry at their babies for causing sleep deprivation or for making it impossible to engage in things they used to love. Women might be angry at their spouses because it seems like the partner’s life carries on as usual while the mother’s life has imploded. Anger might be leveled at a whole range of other people who are perceived to be unhelpful or who don’t understand or support the challenges of new motherhood.
Here Kelley shares her story of anger as an aspect of her PPD/A:
One of the hardest parts of my PPD/A was anger. I couldn’t really identify with it, yet it consumed me. I was angry with everything and everyone.
I was angry with doctors for not fully understanding the severity of how I felt, or the urgency to fix it. I was angry with my friends and family for not understanding and for continuing on with their lives as if nothing had changed. I was angry with my husband for still having his job to go to and for not going through all of the hormonal and emotional changes I was experiencing. And I was angry with myself for feeling angry at others and not being better prepared for motherhood.
I felt that I had been lied to–that motherhood didn’t meet my expectations and I felt so damned angry about it. It had changed me into this fragile, unhappy, anxious person that I didn’t recognize. I searched and searched for someone to blame, and eventually that person ended up being me. I never once regretted having my daughter or choosing to become a mother. She was perfection. How I created something so beautiful was beyond me. What I felt was anger with myself. “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I do this? How was I not better prepared? Why am I so weak?”
In the midst of my hardest days, I would hear someone say they were busy and I would get angry. For me, busy meant not getting even one minute alone all day. Not even having time to shower. Not having time to think. I would hear someone say they were tired and I would get angry. I hadn’t slept in months and couldn’t go anywhere to sleep as I was still nursing. I felt I could not get away. I would hear someone say they were feeling down and I would get angry. Did they lie awake at night wondering how they were going to get through the next day? Wondering how they would take care of their families, and if they couldn’t who would?
I have heard a lot of theories about anger as part of my PPD/A. Was it actually grief? A feeling of completely losing myself and my independence? Anger at motherhood? I don’t know. I continue to feel anger during my tough days. I am not sure this will ever go away. I was reading an article recently about emotions, and how dark emotions can be a good thing, an impetus for change. They make you realize that something in your life is not working, forcing you to change it. There was an entire section on anger, in which it explained that anger is a response to feeling undervalued. It resonated with me, and made me look a bit further into my feelings. I wonder if I feel anger at times because this parenting gig is so undervalued on a societal level. Because being at home with a child is incredibly hard work, the hardest work I have ever done, yet I don’t get paid for it. Because the days do seem to run together at times, and between the schedules and routines of eating, playing, and napping, things can start to feel mundane…wherever it comes from or whatever its cause, anger is part of my reality as a mother.
Kelley’s story represents a common experience of anger during the postpartum period. Other manifestations of anger are also possible. Kelley never experienced anger at her baby, but that sort of anger is normal too. The important thing is to accept that anger is a legitimate and normal part of new motherhood and to work towards healing the anger. It’s also important to note that anger is a very real component of PPD/A and it’s okay to ask for help if this is how your PPD/A manifests.
Buddhist monk and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh has a beautiful book called Anger that really helped me to reframe anger and my response to it. We tend to see anger as a “negative” emotion that should be repressed or rejected. Hanh maintains that all feelings serve a purpose. He writes that “both our negative and positive feelings are organic and belong to the same reality…You may think that you have to combat evil and chase it out of your heart and mind. But this is wrong. The practice is to transform yourself. If you don’t have garbage, you have nothing to use in order to make compost. And if you have no compost, you have nothing to nourish the flower in you. You need the suffering, the afflictions in you. Since they are organic, you know that you can transform them and make good use of them” (69).
And so it can be with anger. Our anger is organic and needs to be treated tenderly, just as we would treat a howling baby crying out for our attention. Hanh characterizes anger as a wounded child within begging for comfort and healing. He asks us to treat our anger as if it were an infant and treat it with love and caring. This seems like a particularly apt metaphor for women who are experiencing anger as a part of PPD/A. Hanh shows how mindfulness practice can work in relation to anger:
“We hold our baby of anger in mindfulness so that we get relief. We continue the practice of mindful breathing and mindful walking, as a lullaby for our anger. The energy of mindfulness penetrates into the energy of anger, exactly like the energy of the mother penetrates into the energy of the baby” (34).
Later Hanh extends the metaphor of mothering our anger. He says “We are mothers of our anger, and we have to help our baby, our anger, not fight and destroy it. our anger is us, and our compassion is also us” (165).
It’s a good lesson when it comes to the mixed emotions that come with PPD/A. Everything–our anger, our joy, our rage, our sorrow, our guilt, our amazement–everything is a part of the motherhood journey.
Resources for further reading:
Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh
A Buddhist meditation on anger and the mindful ways to heal it.
Forgiveness is a Choice by Robert D. Enright
A psychological perspective on healing anger that focuses on the process of forgiveness. This is a really excellent secular approach to forgiveness that may be useful if your anger is directed at a particular person due to a perceived injustice. The book guides readers through a detailed forgiveness methodology. The main goal is healing the self by letting go of angry responses.
The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner
This book addresses anger in the context of intimate relationships. Since many women experience anger at their spouse as part of the PPD/A process, this book might be very relevant.
A Pacific Post Partum Society Video about anger and Post Traumatic Stress after the birth of a child.