Ordinary Insanity: Fear and the Silent Crisis of Motherhood in America (Hardcover)
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A groundbreaking exposé and diagnosis of the silent epidemic of fear afflicting new mothers, and a candid, feminist deep dive into the culture, science, history, and psychology of contemporary motherhood
Anxiety among mothers is a growing but largely unrecognized crisis. In the transition to motherhood and the years that follow, countless women suffer from overwhelming feelings of fear, grief, and obsession that do not fit neatly within the outmoded category of “postpartum depression.” These women soon discover that there is precious little support or time for their care, even as expectations about what mothers should do and be continue to rise. Many struggle to distinguish normal worry from crippling madness in a culture in which their anxiety is often ignored, normalized, or, most dangerously, seen as taboo.
Drawing on extensive research, numerous interviews, and the raw particulars of her own experience with anxiety, writer and mother Sarah Menkedick gives us a comprehensive examination of the biology, psychology, history, and societal conditions surrounding the crushing and life-limiting fear that has become the norm for so many. Woven into the stories of women’s lives is an examination of the factors—such as the changing structure of the maternal brain, the ethically problematic ways risk is construed during pregnancy, and the marginalization of motherhood as an identity—that explore how motherhood came to be an experience so dominated by anxiety, and how mothers might reclaim it.
Writing with profound empathy, visceral honesty, and deep understanding, Menkedick makes clear how critically we need to expand our awareness of, compassion for, and care for women’s lives.
About the Author
SARAH MENKEDICK’s debut essay collection Homing Instincts was longlisted for the PEN/ Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. Her writing has appeared in, among other publications, Harper’s Magazine, Pacific Standard, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Kenyon Review, The Paris Review Daily, Buzzfeed, Aeon, and Longreads. She holds an MFA in nonfiction from the University of Pittsburgh, where she taught nonfiction writing. She lives in Pittsburgh with her family.
"Searing...Menkedick is a skilled storyteller and her accounts of women from varied socioeconomic and racial backgrounds drive home how little society has to offer mothers."
—Susannah Cahalan, New York Times Book Review
"Explosive, keenly observed.... Meticulously constructed, the book interweaves personal narrative and profiles of new mothers with historical research and medical reporting."
—Library Journal, *starred review*
"Sarah Menkedick’s new book... is about fear, of course, and anxiety, but it’s also about community.... Nuanced and subtle: part research, but also part intimacy through the act of bearing witness."
“Menkedick is a superb storyteller, and her writing is filled with remarkable scientific and literary references.”
“A bold and ambitious book about the magnificent, messy transformation that is motherhood, and about the resilience of women. Menkedick explores with intellect and empathy what is expected of ‘good’ mothers, what we expect of ourselves, and the complicated entanglement of the two.”
—Rachel Friedman, author of And Then We Grew Up: On Creativity, Potential, and the Imperfect Art of Adulthood
“A stunningly researched, vulnerable and urgent book about the tightrope of motherhood in our broken and prejudiced society. Menkedick reveals the unbearable burden of maternal expectations and how the healthcare system routinely strips women of their agency. You will read these stories of the way mothers are ‘cared’ for in this country with bewilderment, with compassion, with rage, but also with the true belief in the possibility of things becoming different.”
—Lauren Markham, author of The Far Away Brothers
“This is an essential book I didn’t even know I needed, that filled in blanks I didn’t even know I had. Its urgent message should be spread far and wide, by anyone who works with mothers, lives with mothers, or plans to be a mother. It will leave you with a greater understanding of Mother, yes, but it will also make you feel less alone in the world.”
—Rachel Louise Snyder, author of No Visible Bruises