Of Course Modern Mothers Are Depressed
I have been attempting to write this for months and have just now mustered the courage to share it.
“It takes a village,” they say. Where is the village for new mothers in the modern world? I’m luckier than most to live in a town with numerous new-mamas groups, breastfeeding support meetings, baby wearing groups, new dad groups, and the like. These aspects definitely make Athens better than other places to become a parent. A village is not just a bunch of moms with tiny babies, though. It is a community including people in all stages of life. The way babies learn to be toddlers should be by watching toddlers. The way small children learn to be big kids should be by watching the big kids. The way women should learn to be mothers should be by communing with other mothers and grandmothers. If we remain isolated in our nuclear family homes, we do not have consistent opportunities to do so. People are generally happier when they are living life together. The playgroups are a good start, but cooking, gardening, and doing laundry together might be even more fulfilling. I spend most of my days alone with my baby who is almost one year old, and I have suffered fairly severe post partum depression and anxiety. There are many contributing factors to my illness, but the main is a feeling of isolation that I know many new moms share because it doesn’t make sense to spend all day playing with an infant. Playing with babies is definitely part of it, but it should not become a chore. What does make sense is strapping the infant to oneself and going about the day, hopefully in fellowship with other humans, while the baby nurses, sleeps, and watches his mother be human. In this way, the baby gets to be part of the daily activities instead of laying in a cot or swing watching the ceiling while moms scramble to make a sandwich or wash a dish before the next shrill cry from her new addition. The irony is that modern parenting gives permission to exclude babies from normal human activity and when the baby becomes a child and does not behave the way the parent desires, the child takes the blame.
I am fairly consistently questioned (I won’t use the word criticized) for using a sling instead of a stroller, for sharing a bed with my baby, for responding to her cries, for nursing through the night, for driving as little as possible because my baby screams and vomits on car rides, for trying not to let her eat sugar. There are individual reasons for all of these, but on the whole, it is because I am on a journey to wholeness and I want to give that opportunity to my daughter as well. I do not want her to grow up fearing my reaction to her actions. I want to let her learn and grow at her own pace and in her own way. I try not to interfere with her exploration and not do anything for her that she is able to do on her own – this is definitely not easy and I am not extremely proficient in it yet. I do not want to force her to be “tough” by ignoring her cries, the only mode of communication she has in this stage of life. In my experience with other children, I’ve noticed that non-responsiveness actually prolongs the crying for years instead of it gradually slowing down as babies mature. There is always a sense of unsettled-ness between the parents and children whose cries went unanswered in infancy; the trust was never built so now there is a foundation of anxiety, fear, and hunger for approval.
I’ve seen villages in Uganda, Malawi, and Nicaragua where the parents and children lived in harmony. There was no squabbling over who gets the first turn on the xbox. There was a soccer ball made of plastic bags that kept the kids busy while the mothers shucked corn, some with babies on their backs or in the crook of an arm to nurse. The children who wanted to help were given jobs to do, and there was no complaining. Compassion, trust, and respect were communicated in each word exchanged. I truly believe the scene I’ve described exists due greatly to how the Ugandan children were treated as infants. I’ve seen first hand what Jean Liedloff describes in The Continuum Concept. How to create that atmosphere in The United States is somewhat mysterious to me, though I am brainstorming, as are other like-minded families.
More to come soon…