Postpartum disorders and the psychiatric subject
Dubriwny, Tasha Nicole
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The presence of psychiatric discourse in the public vocabulary about mental illness during the postpartum period indicates that psychiatry, a controversial field of medicine, has a significant role in shaping public understanding of women during this period. In this project, my concern with psychiatric discourse about the period immediately following childbirth focuses on a particular subject: the patient. I contend that because psychiatric discourse about postpartum illnesses is currently in a state of crisis—i.e., psychiatrists are being pushed to recognize a disease that they cannot clearly diagnose—the image or representation of women with these diseases is also in flux. Through a rhetorical analysis of both psychiatric rhetoric and print and television news, this dissertation analyzes the articulation and rearticulation of the three subject positions for women during the postpartum period that emerge from psychiatric rhetoric: the vulnerable female, the patient, and the mother. These subject positions configure women’s bodies, experiences, and relationships to others (particularly their children) in ways that are troubling, because they contain women within a biomedical paradigm—a paradigm solely focused on a biological understanding of human development—that limits broader social and cultural understandings of potential sources, implications, and solutions for postpartum disorders. The biomedical paradigm, however, becomes increasingly intertwined with a discourse of traditional motherhood in the rearticulation of the subject positions in print and television news. In this project I argue that it is precisely because distress during the postpartum period can be articulated as an antagonism that the position of mother becomes the space in which alternative visions of the postpartum subject can be articulated.