Thursday, July 16, 2009

More than suburban neurosis

There seems to be something of an epidemic of postnatal anxiety or depression. I have counted eleven of my mummy friends have been on medication of some kind for these conditions. Eleven that I know of ... of course there are probably even more.

So what is going on? It seems that the acceptable solution to life with young children, to the hormonal madness, the physical exhaustion, the emotional toll ... is firstly to medicate the pain away and then, so very often, to put the children in daycare so the mothers can have a break. And, somehow, this is acceptable???? This is coping ???? Rather than look at real solutions we just pop a pill, write a cheque and get on with life.

In the circle of women that I know, it seems that the second child is when women are more likely to suffer, and that was certainly the case for me. Having a second child was huge ... I have never experienced such deep exhaustion. And yet, there is just never a break, as soon as Gidget was born I was 'needed' back at home, I had to carry on. Husbands and grandmothers have to work, the house doesn't run itself, someone has to look after the toddler.

When did it become a badge of honour for a new mother to 'bounce back' immediately after birth? Why do we say to each other 'gosh you are doing well' when we see mothers of newborn babies out in public?

In the Waldorf approach, the first six weeks of a babys life are seen as a particularly sacred time. In these first forty days, the child's connection to the spirit world is still wide open. Ideally the mother and baby would be left largely alone for this time, and the newborn wouldn't be exposed to any bright lights, extremes of temperature or loud noises. Steiner isn't the only person to suggest this, its the norm in many tribal cultures and has been that way historically. This first six weeks isn't just critically important for the baby either, its vital for the mothers healing and for her ability to cope with the challenging times ahead.

So I wonder ... if the first six weeks were honoured and protected as a time for mother and baby to be nurtured and protected, would mothers be less likely to suffer these mental and emotional problems?

Mothering young children is very very very hard work. Mothering a newborn baby is all-consuming, and mothers and young babies need and deserve more support. By support, I mean more practical support, not more encouragment to visit the GP for a prescription.

What support looks like will depend on you .. but it might be longer stays at decent birthcare places. It might look like paid paternity leave for six weeks for fathers, to allow them to be at home. Having someone come to clean the house, ideally a couple of times a week. Grandparents and aunties taking over the laundry. Friends setting up a meal roster. Even doing online grocery shopping makes a massive difference

But most of all, the support we need is encouragement, and in fact expectation that new mothers and their babies will spend the first 40 days resting at home. The real badge of honour should be 'I wore pyjamas for six weeks'.


Anonymous said...

So nice to hear from you again!

We are really missing out on the support networks people had long ago. Multigenerational households provided that kind of care. Of course, families were often much larger (I just read a statistic recently that the average fertility rate of US women in the early 1800s was 7-8 children!) and so the older children helped quite a bit as well. I see this with many of my Mormon friends today.

I feel a lot of sympathy for your friends, having been there myself with a baby and a toddler to look after as well as a house and husband to care for. I never suffered from anxiety or depression, but there was certainly exhaustion and high emotions. Maybe this kind of medication is really the only solution for some, sadly.

Anonymous said...

When hospitals kick new mothers out after as little as two hours it's no wonder that new mummies feel the burden of being expected to handle it all immediately. 30 years ago when my mother had me she was in hospital for TEN days. Her mother helped her out, baby food was homemade etc. Nobody has time to pass that on anymore and people lose out on that knowledge and care as a result.

Dawn said...

You're so right! I did everything wrong in this regard, and I really wish I could have a "do over". My daughter was born while I was in college, during spring break. I never missed a day of school. My son was born in the middle of a big move. I was unpacking boxes right after I came home from the hospital. Why did I do that to myself and my babies? I can't really blame my family either, since I never asked for help.

sarah haliwell said...

I love that you are back :-)

I so agree with you on this one. I stayed at home with my baby for six weeks, didn't even take her for a walk down the road. But I often see people with tiny newborns in the crowded mall! It's bizarre.

Dawn, if you come back and read here, please know that you did the best you could with the information available to you at the time. And look at how wonderful your children are :-) Every single day is a do-over.

Dawn said...

Thank you Sarah. :)

Stripey Kitty said...

I can't believe I took my little babe to Playcentre when she was 2 days old! Stupid stupid stupid.

Twinkle said...

I am very excited to find your blog I agree with that whole thing of admiration for mothers bouncing back.
It took me three babies to learn and even then I did not get it straight away. I live rurally and am proud to say I did not go to town for at least a month after she was born. Did a bit too much in the playcentre role though. will have to have a fourth child to get it right