Postpartum Depression and the Chaos of Moral Parenting

Rebecca Margaret Oxley, Ruth Fitzgerald


This paper explores the shared and personal experiences of postpartum depression (PPD) for five families in the lower east South Island, New Zealand. Despite the idealized accounts of recovery and community reintegration following depressive episodes which mark New Zealand’s mental health awareness public campaigns, these families, whilst officially ‘recovered’, continue to live with the effects of PPD and moral uncertainty over their ability to safely parent once more. They recount a fundamental ‘trigger’ of PPD as the inconsistency experienced between expectations of parenting as projected via the commoditised world of the ‘huggies family’ advertisements versus its reality of broken dreams encountered via its lived experience. These disjunctions lead families towards classical scenes of biographical disruption in which they experienced existential disturbances to identities, life histories, family dynamics and ideas of reproduction and from which they argue they have never fully recovered. The performance of moral parenting after such an experience requires a policing of the uncertainty over exactly what caused PPD and whether it will return once more; a somatic mode of attendance which remains arduous given the self ascribed ‘bizarre’, multi-aetiological character of PPD.


postpartum depression, phenomenology, biographical disruption, uncertainty, care

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