Google the term “postpartum,” says Chaya Kasse Valier, and you’ll find it linked to depression.
The 24 stories in Kasse Valier’s “Second Labor: Mothers Share Post-Birth Stories,” a short but honest collection of personal accounts devoted to what happens postpartum, touch upon depression, but not exclusively and not necessarily intensely.
Even if she doesn’t descend into postpartum blues, the period after a woman gives birth brings what Kasse Valier calls “enormous changes” — cognitively, emotionally and physically. Having been focused for so long on bringing a healthy baby into the world and getting past the trials and tribulations of the birth process, women are now faced with the often-lonely feeling of what does she do with a baby.
Kasse Valier, who grew up in Northern Virginia and made aliyah in 1998, said in a phone interview that the idea of compiling postpartum stories solidified during the harrowing first night after the birth of her fourth child.
“That night I was already hysterically crying from the baby’s colic and my sleeplessness during the first 24 hours after giving birth,” she said. “I dreaded the upcoming few weeks or months. As much as I felt blessed, awed and elated, each time we had a new baby, I was mired in the hardship of the fourth semester.’”
She looked for respondents on Mommy Facebook pages, sending those who replied open-ended questions, with a gentle hint that they address certain subjects.
“Those who wrote back,” she said, “wrote from the heart.”
The stories will probably make new mothers nod their heads with recognition. There is the woman who, after a second unplanned Cesarean birth, wrote that “It is so hard to talk about these things even to people you are close with, yet it’s so important to process, even years later.”
Another spent most of her first pregnancy reading all about pregnancy, and all about birth. “But the new baby — the real, live little human who would emerge from me into my and my husband’s arms — remained theoretical,” she wrote. “Once I was faced with a baby who was screaming her head off, I had no idea what to do.”
Kasse Valier said she did as little editing as possible to enhance authenticity and allow the authors’ voices to come through.
Overall, she said, “you learn more out of stories than statistics.”
Probably the two most important lessons that emerge from the book — though Kasse Valier allows the stories to speak for themselves, without commentary outside the preface — are that there’s no single approach to postpartum life or any aspect of parenthood. “Everyone finds her own balance,” Kasse Valier said.
The other lesson, even more significant, is that every woman needs support in going through the postpartum experience — from family, friends and community.
In addition to her writing career, Kasse Valier is a doula and masseuse. As a working mother, she said it took her three years, working piecemeal, to complete “Second Labor.”
She said she continues to be struck by a statement of one of the contributors: Women are “pregnant for nine months, but postpartum the rest of our lives.”
Barbara Trainin Blank is a Washington-area writer.