Postnatal depression. The holy grail of new mother guilt.
It affects 15% of us (probably more), yet it’s so poorly understood. It’s so ‘improper’ to say we’re not coping, and admissions of finding this mothering thing so much harder than we expected are often met with ‘well, did you think it would be easy?’ When we’re told it’s ‘normal’ to feel overwhelmed and that ‘if we told you how it really is, no one would ever have children’, how are we supposed to know the difference between the ‘three-day blues’ and actual postnatal depression or anxiety? For so many mothers, there’s a fear that if we admit it, it will be real, and if it’s real, then we’re truly a bad mother.
Actually, I don’t think so.
I don’t think I can count the number of times I’ve heard that the first three years are critical, and that a mother can make or break a child in this time, setting the scene for the rest of that baby’s life. Or the number of times I’ve heard that babies of depressed mothers can have lower IQs, behavioural difficulties, are less sociable, and have growth problems. Or that depressed mothers have children with ‘broken’ attachment.
And let’s not forget the way we expect new mothers, whose bodies have just grown an entire human for 9 months (or so) and then allowed that child to somehow magically emerge from their bodies alive, just get back to it. Can we hold the fort for a second? The sheer incredibility of that fact should stun us into such awe that we care for mothers the way we do our most precious babies.
But instead, these new mothers, who are now continuing to keep that child alive, who have enormous changes going on both inside and out, who now have this entire new person to accommodate into almost every facet of their life.
And, in general, they’re essentially expected to do this alone.
It’s a crazy combination, where a mother and the role of a mother are unsupported by society but blamed for the outcome of any children.
And, it turns out, a new study from the University of Utah* showed that it wasn’t depression that affects the babies most. It’s being detached, or ignoring your baby. For some of us, this might be concerning or upsetting, but it doesn’t need to be.
It doesn’t need to be upsetting because it means that depression is not the final say in how our kids turn out. It doesn’t have to lay foundations that extend into adulthood. It doesn’t have to mean our kids will struggle the way we imagine they will (spoiler: kids will struggle, they need to struggle, but there’s struggle and there’s STRUGGLE, and it’s the latter we can help them with).
Sure, ask her if she’s ok. But she might not be able to answer truthfully. If you think that between the lines she’s not ok, offer some practical help. Fold her laundry with her. Do her dishes. Drop her around a meal. Go for a walk with her. Listen. Encourage. Meet her feelings with empathy, and help her get help.
But sometimes, we need help to get through. Don’t give up.
You’re worth so much more than that.
© Anna Siebert and Anna Siebert Blog, 2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Anna Siebert and Anna Siebert Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
*Read the whole article here: University of Utah. “Mommy and me: Study shows how affectionate mothering can combat the effects of maternal depression.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 February 2016.