Sensemaking Through the Storm: How Postpartum Depression Shapes Personal Work–Family Narratives

Allison S. Gabriel, Jamie J. Ladge, Laura M. Little, Rebecca L. MacGowan, Elizabeth E. Stillwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Many women experience psychological and emotional challenges during their transition to becoming a working mother. Postpartum depression (PPD) is one common, salient aspect of motherhood that can serve as a work–life shock event and profoundly shape women’s work and nonwork lives yet has evaded discussion in the organizational sciences. Taking a grounded theory approach, we interviewed 41 women who experienced PPD as well as key informants who provided additional insights about PPD (e.g., an obstetrician, women working for organizations that support postpartum health). Our analysis highlights how being diagnosed with PPD activates a complex sensemaking process in which women process an imposing identity—a concept we introduce to the identity and work–family literatures reflecting an unexpected, undesirable identity that imposes upon existing (e.g., work) and/or provisional identities that may or may not be fully elaborated (e.g., motherhood), ultimately shifting how women think about the intersection of work and family. We also delineate how supports and antisupports (i.e., overt acts dismissive of women’s PPD) shape the aforementioned processes. Combined, our research aims to advance the discussion of PPD within organizational scholarship, rendering significant implications for both theory and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1903-1923
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • identity
  • maternal health
  • postpartum depression
  • sensemaking
  • work–family

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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