Ordinary Insanity: Fear and the Silent Crisis of Motherhood in America

Pantheon. Apr. 2020. 432p. ISBN 9781524747770. $28.95. SOC SCI
Untold numbers of new mothers suffer from postpartum anxiety, a debilitating condition that is not only undiagnosed, but unrecognized by medical authorities, according to this explosive, keenly observed book by essayist Menkedick (Homing Instincts). Meticulously constructed, the book interweaves personal narrative and profiles of new mothers with historical research and medical reporting. Each of its seven sections pairs the experience of an individual mother and an aspect of society’s and medicine’s oppressive, restrictive treatment of women, particularly mothers. The topics are weighty; among them: the racialized stigmatization of midwifery; the role of white supremacy in the history of the women’s rights movement; and expert-guided mothering, which controls women’s behavior by imposing scientifically or quasiscientifically determined norms (this paired with the horrifying narrative of one new mother’s involuntary confinement to inpatient psychiatric care). It’s difficult content, lightened by Menkedick’s empathy and her affirmation of a wide range of heretofore stigmatized behaviors, from rage to cosleeping.
VERDICT Menkedick uses her platform to seek justice in raising awareness of the complexity and depth of motherhood along with perinatal mental health disorders, and reclaiming motherhood as a powerful state. Her compelling book deserves a wide audience, from cheering mothers to chastened experts.

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