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'Ordinary Insanity': Sarah Menkedick Examines Motherhood And The Anxiety Epidemic

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Sarah Menkedick is the author of "Ordinary Insanity."
Sarah Menkedick is the author of "Ordinary Insanity."

When Sarah Menkedick was a new mother, she openly shared the expected details of her life about sleepless nights or day-care waiting lists. The only taboo topic was the fear that consumed her waking life.

Highlights from the Interview with Sarah Menkedick

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On the first moment that the author recalls that anxiety was a problem

It’s funny because it seems like such a ridiculous thing. I think that's what I was trying to highlight is that, you know, mouse poop, like it's kind of gross, but it seems innocuous, like it's everywhere, right? I mean, most people have encountered it at some point. And so the thought that it could become this horrible sinister a thing that would eventually sort of take over my life is absurd. And yet, part of what I'm getting at in the book is that that's ordinary insanity, right? The idea is that it is absurd and it is sort of outrageous, and yet it's so common and it's so normal and it's just becomes normal. It was very early in my pregnancy at that time. I turned to Google and then of course, it's possible to find anywhere within four seconds on Google,  the worst case scenario and infinitesimal chance that the mouse could be infected with a rare virus that you could somehow get through the mouse poop by touching your mouth or whatnot. And then you wouldn't feel anything, but the baby would have these horrible complications. You wouldn't know about it until delivery and just on and on. And so that moment sort of like launched what would become the next two years of my life.

On the difficulty in naming and discussing anxiety in motherhood

It’s wild that the only way that we still have for describing anxiety is as postpartum depression, and so much of what I get out in the book is just how outdated that is and how sort of erroneous that category is and the way that it's conceived of both medically, but also culturally and socially… What's most striking is that for many women, not only is this anxiety incredibly common, but they might not have these symptoms of like melancholia or apathy or the kinds of things that we would traditionally associate with depression.

I think the way that we think about postpartum depression is just limited, that it's really hard for a woman who's in the throes of an anxiety that might be totally consuming her life to see it as problematic in a way that you might see a woman who was classically depressed as problematic.

On the expectation and pressure on mothers to recover immediately  from “baby blues”
I think what's really tragic about that is that like a lot of women do become really expert at doing that. And it's tragic that we ask them as a society to do that. This is a period when a woman's life and her body and her brain change dramatically. There should be a lot of support during that time to help women through that transition.  

Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.

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