Colleen Ballinger's objectively horrible alter-ego, Miranda Sings, is best known for her purposefully over-drawn red lipstick, endless complaining, and shameless narcissism. Created in 2008, it's Miranda's unwarranted belief in her non-existent talent, and cringeworthy yet surprisingly endearing egotistical demeanor, that drew in YouTube audiences by the millions. Ballinger is as soft-spoken as Miranda Sings is loud, but both are willing to talk about life's uncomfortable moments, like that first postpartum period.
"It was really bizarre the first time it came back for me, because I didn’t know what was happening. It’s like I had forgotten what a period was," she tells Romper.
The crimson tide had just returned after Ballinger's first baby when Always, the period protection manufacturer, came calling. She has partnered with them on an initiative to promote their latest period protection product, Always Infinity with FlexFoam, and normalize periods in the process.
"I’ve always felt that girls shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about their periods," she says. "I feel like it’s something that we’ve kind of been conditioned to be embarrassed of and ashamed of, and I think that’s crazy. Almost every woman out there gets a period, and it’s the reason I have my son."
It's something she wants to unshroud from its cursed roots: "Comedy has always been my way of coping things," Ballinger says. "I’ve always been the one to laugh in uncomfortable, sad situations. So I try my hardest to put a lighthearted spin on things, because otherwise I would probably drown in sadness."
If Ballinger's character, Miranda, revels in "leaning into" life's more awkward moments or, in most cases, creating them via conversations about "chesticles" and dancing like a car dealership's inflatable balloon display, then Ballinger is a more watered down, but equally fearless, version. While she is a far cry from her character — (I apologized for my child crying in the background during our interview, and Ballinger quickly replied, "OMG girl, please don't apologize. You're going to hear my kid cry in probably five minutes. It's totally OK.") — like Miranda, Ballinger is not afraid to discuss, in detail, what that first postpartum period is like.
"It almost seemed like I was getting my period again for the first time. Because I remember the first time I ever got my period, and I was scared and confused as to what was going on — I didn’t know it was a period, obviously, because I had never had one before. And I felt the same feelings when it came back after having my son. You know, what’s going on. Why is there blood? Did something happen?"
Indeed, parenthood can feel like a jump cut. In the video where Miranda "introduces" Flynn to her fans, Ballinger is sitting in the middle of the screen, her infant son's feet in the corner, eating cookies and looking at this tiny human like, "Um, who are you, what are you doing here, and what in the hell am I supposed to do with you tiny human you are encroaching on my space go away."
You’re scared to say you're sad because you think people will look at you as a bad parent, when that’s not true at all!
Ballinger says it was meant to be just something silly, but tells me that "in that moment, when I was filming, I was like, 'You know what? This is kind of how I felt when I came home from the hospital. What do I do? They just let me go home with a baby? I don’t know how to do this!"
Ballinger didn't know what to do six months later, either, when she started experiencing symptoms of postpartum anxiety. "I didn’t struggle with postpartum depression right after [I had Flynn]," she says. "I thought I skipped that. But six months after I had him, I started dealing with postpartum anxiety and all these new feelings I didn’t have the first six months." Ballinger says she started feeling anxious, stressed, and really intense emotions that completely caught her off-guard — out of nowhere she felt extremely emotional and sensitive.
"I’m still kind of struggling with that," she says, "and I didn’t even understand that postpartum issues could happen this late in the game. I thought it was right after [birth], and if you didn’t deal with it then you wouldn’t deal with it at all."
This innate sense of cluelessness that arguably every new parent feels is exactly why Ballinger is passionate about speaking out about the often unsaid parts of parenthood and postpartum life, whether it be through comedy, through Miranda, or through herself via her vlogs.
"I wish I had heard more about this stuff prior to having a child," she says. "Because I feel like a big reason a lot of parents feel like they’re in the dark when they start parenthood is because people are scared to talk about the hard stuff, out of fear people will call them bad parents. You’re scared to say you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re scared to say you're sad because you think people will look at you as a bad parent, when that’s not true at all! It’s just how that goes; it’s part of parenthood to feel all those feelings. I wish more people would talk about it, so the guilt wouldn’t come with all those new, horrible feelings."
While Ballinger was outspoken about a lot of issues, particularly those having to do with empowering young women, long before she became a mother, she says Flynn coming into the world has made her drive to speak out about things that matter to her all the more intense. "Now that I have a son I want to do it even more, because I feel like that’s part of the issue: no one is talking to kids while they’re young."
Ballinger says she didn't hear anything about "being proud of your body" or "being proud of who you are" when she was growing up, and especially when it came to bodily functions, like periods. And that lack of knowledge drives her to be more open, honest, and forthright with the internet, her fans, and her son.
Because this world is so dark and scary and there is so much horrible evilness in this world, that I just hope whatever happens, whoever he is, however he turns out, somewhere within my parenting he has learned to be a nice person.
"I am very proud to talk about this for my son, so that he can grow up learning not to make fun of girls when they’re on their periods, and can grow up to learn what it is, it’s not a big deal, and he can run out and go buy pads or tampons for his significant other... if he’s a straight guy." She hopes she will empower her son to be who he is and speak out on issues that will, one day, matter to him, but she also hopes that he will be proud and supportive of women and the issues that matter to his mom, too.
"I just hope whatever happens, whoever he is, however he turns out, somewhere within my parenting he has learned to be a nice person," Ballinger says.
By playing "an awful human being" who is far more interested in herself than anything or anyone else, Ballinger has found a way, a drive, and a determination to publicly, and unapologetically, raise a nice one.
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or in the postpartum period, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.