Updated on Feb. 10 at 6 p.m. ET
Last week, Victoria Anzalone, 30, saw the latest ad for Frida Mom’s postpartum products while she was sitting in a Starbucks, scrolling through Facebook. As she started watching the 60-second video, she immediately teared up, she says.
The ad shows a mother in mesh underwear walking to the bathroom, changing her pad and using a perineal bottle (generally used to treat vaginal tears); all the while, her baby cries in the background. Anzalone herself had given birth for the first time three months before. She says she had never seen anything depict the postpartum period so realistically before.
“Even for someone like me, who didn’t go through a particularly traumatic experience or anything, the regular, routine recovery was so much pain and effort,” says Anzalone, a New Yorker who works in publishing. “That’s what really hit me about it — the effort. Like, going to the bathroom really is a 10-step process.”
Anzalone wasn’t alone in her reaction. Ever since Frida Mom posted on social media that its commercial had been rejected from airing during the Oscars on ABC — reportedly for violating the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ guidelines for being “too graphic with partial nudity and product demonstration” — women, including celebrities such as actress Busy Philipps, have been championing the ad and criticizing the decision to pull it. (Neither ABC nor the Academy has responded to requests for comment.)
For the women with whom the ad is resonating, the consensus is clear: People don’t regularly talk about the realities of postpartum. Many new mothers don’t know what to expect beforehand, they say, simply because it isn’t depicted often in the media — or even in conversations among friends.
“I was really preparing for labor and the delivery, and had no idea — I don’t even think my mom told me about tearing or how to do any after-care,” says 26-year-old Kayla Lucas, a mother of two living in the Chicago suburbs. “You are unprepared, and then you go into the hospital and they send you home with this bag. But it’s not necessarily a standard of care that every single hospital is going to give you those things,” she says, pointing out that the Frida Mom commercial showed mesh underwear, pads, witch hazel and a peri bottle, all of which she says she received from the hospital.
Christine Greves, an OB/GYN surgeon at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando, says that while the postpartum period depending on the person, she tells her patients that they can expect that their bodies won’t immediately return to the way they were before, and that postpartum depression is common. She points out that the woman in the ad looks exhausted, which is what she sees most often in new mothers.
Greves also recommends the type of peri bottles depicted in the Frida Mom ad for women who have experienced tearing during labor, but points out that not all women do. (According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, between 53 and 79 percent of vaginal deliveries include some type of tearing.)
The peri bottle was crucial for Lucas’s first birth two years ago, when she was 24. Lucas, a master’s student, experienced tears during labor. On her first day home from the hospital, her husband stepped out to pick something up from the store; Lucas stayed home with her newborn and her stepson.
When she went to the bathroom, she says, she didn’t have all the supplies ready there. “I’m freaking out, and my stepson’s like, ‘Kayla, the baby’s crying, I think he wants to eat.’ I’m literally staring at the toilet, looking at all this blood, and my stepson’s like, ‘You have to feed the baby,’” she recalls.
Lucas gave birth to her second son three months ago. She was extremely happy to see the Frida Mom ad — so much so that she decided to check out the company’s Instagram. But once there, she was disappointed by the lack of black mothers represented on the account. (Frida Mom has also not responded to an interview request.)
“We aren’t seen,” Lucas says of her experience being a black mother. In recent years, research has shown staggering discrepancies in the type of care white and black mothers receive: For the first time, the United states standardized its maternal mortality data across all 50 states and found that for black women, the rate of maternal deaths in 2018 was 2.5 times higher than that of white women.
Reports such as those made Lucas wary of giving birth in a hospital when she was weighing her options for her second child. “It doesn’t make sense that people of the same amount of money, and their two different skin colors can walk into the hospital and have a completely different experience,” she says.
Visibility has been the crux of the controversy surrounding the ad. Since Friday, when Frida Mom posted on Instagram, women have been decrying the lack of representation of these experiences. Several people complained that when they tried to share the video on certain platforms, their posts were flagged, too.
Bethany Neubarth, a 36-year-old psychiatric nurse practitioner living in Alaska. Neubarth, who gave birth six months ago, says she posted Frida Mom’s video to her personal Facebook account. Within two hours, she says, it was flagged for “nudity or sexual activity.” When she tried sending it directly to a friend, her account was suspended for 24 hours — and then she received another warning when she tried reposting it a day later, she says. (A Facebook spokesperson said the video is allowed to be posted on the platform.)
Neubarth says that she was “hurt” when her post kept getting rejected. She felt the video resonated with her experience. “Why is this not acceptable?” she wondered at the time. She says she felt as though the entire postpartum experience — and particularly women’s postpartum bodies — were being “censored.”
That’s also why, Neubarth says, she was so adamant about sharing the ad on social media. For the first time she felt like, “This is something that gets me.”
“I know I have friends and family, but I feel like in those moments — like in the ad, when she’s sitting on the toilet and changing her pad — those are moments when I felt very alone and isolated,” she says.
Feeling alone is common for many new mothers. Stefanie Castro, a mother of two who is a trained nurse and practices as a doula in Newport, Calif., says postpartum can be “very quiet and lonely.”
“That’s a shame,” Castro says. “I feel like women need to realize that in all honesty, it’s not all perfect, and it’s actually really hard to speak up for yourself.”