This weekend, a popular writer lit up the internet after sharing her ‘unmotherly’ relationship with her son.In a long candid Facebook post,she opened up on how she doesnt love her son of seven years.This post isnt about her, or her son, but about the complex social issues raised by that post.
In one of her last novels- God Help the Child- Toni Morrison tells the story of a black woman called Sweetness who gives birth to a child she hates from the word go.
While Sweetness is lightskinned, with hair colour they call ‘high yellow’, the child’s skin is midnight black.Black than a Sudanese.The child- whose name is Bride- has curly hair like those naked tribes of Australia.Sweetness hates the child from the start.
Bride grows up without her mother’s love and affection.Sweetness wont even touch her daughter’s skin without a sponge or cloth.Her colour becomes the cross she had to always carry.
In the end, its Sweetness cruelty to her daughter that impacts on Bride’s life, rather than the colour of her skin. She ends up a fractured child- just like her mom. This is a recurring theme in Toni Morrison’s novels.
Many readers of the book say that Sweetness suffered from post partum depression.I have a problem with the increasing lay use of the word ‘depression’ , together with its prefixes like post partum, clinical,etc.This is because it leads to medicalization of phenomena that are social in nature.
Two,there’s the danger of lumping of complex social phenomena into a single medical condition.Which in turn leads to use of medical means to solve psycho- social problems.
So what is post partum depression?Does ithave biological roots- such as dramatic changes in hormones that occurs after birth?Or does it occur from social causes- such as lacl of support in the motherhood role? Or does it-like in the fictional example of the Sweetness above-originate from unmet expectations in the looks of the new-born baby?
We need to discuss post partum conditions in women. But while we do that, we need to avoid exploring it solely as a medical condition that requires to be solved by popping in anti- depressants. We also need to explore it as a culturally bound syndrome that originates in the mother’s pyscho- social environment.