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'.
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