Angry yet? You should be…. but probably not for the reasons you think.
This article here, discusses a new condition being called Postnatal Depletion. Giving a name and a list of symptoms to the reality of motherhood; it’s challenges, it’s ability to drain, exhaust and completely suck dry the life and livelihood of a mother by changing her both on an emotional level as well as a literal, molecular level. These changes are not new. Motherhood has drained mothers since mothers were invented, but what IS fairly new, is how our culture responds to a mother’s needs.
The phenomenon of this growing trend in motherhood is it’s rapid and global increase. The symptoms of this condition called Postnatal Depletion and they ARE getting worse, effecting women far more often and far worse than ever before.
The people featured in the article have sought to understand why the condition seems to be on the rise with today’s mothers and have offered compassionate understanding and treatment to help mothers get back on their feet and back to a sense of holistic wellness.
It sounds fantastic, right? I mean, really… who HASN’T felt that depletion? I know I certainly have, in fact, I can check off every single symptom on that list of theirs. Some mothers feel it more intensely than others and that can be because of anything from birth trauma to postpartum depression/anxiety, to abuse, chemical imbalance, inability to breastfeed naturally, literally hundreds of reasons and each of those reasons deserve care, respect and time to heal. I am grateful for the support I have had, but I’ll be honest, the lack of support I’ve ALSO had has vastly contributed to each of the issues I suffered with and THAT is what I want to talk about. I am grateful for programs like this to help mothers who go through it, but I am also angry that they have to exist in the first place. I’m also angry they have an opportunity to educate people, not just mothers, about how our culture is trying to turn maternal instinct into a psychological disease.
Depletion is a real, biological thing. That fact is not in question. However, let’s get real with this for a second and be honest with ourselves.
It’s only when we reject ourselves that we struggle so much. We have a choice to accept or reject our position and our purpose as mother. I believe those who rail against that, those who try to pretend they can continue to be who they were pre-child… those are the people who struggle the most.
I believe that, because I went through it. I went from being “corporate career chick” working for a fast-paced retail company in LA to staying home, trapped in my house every day all day with an infant I had no clue how to care for. I missed my friends at work who were now 70+ miles away because we purchased a home far away from where I’d been living for over a decade and only two of my friends from work ever came to visit. I missed my job, I missed feeling strong and respected and sure of myself. I missed human interaction and felt small, forgotten and alone. I felt like someone who had been given a promotion before I was qualified; trapped, in over my head, and no one to talk to while trying to fake my way through it with a severe case of postpartum anxiety on top of it all.
I was miserable over the life I’d given up and guilty for feeling that way. I wanted to embrace myself as mother, but everything in my life and everyONE in my life pushed me to return to the life “before”.
Now, some women might feel these terrible feelings and think- Well, then obviously, being a stay at home mom isn’t for me. Obviously, I don’t work that way and I MUST return to work and I MUST be my own person, and I MUST have my separate life away from my child to prove I’m still capable of having a personal identity or I cannot be happy. I can’t JUST be “mom”.
But for me, that’s not what happened. I made the choice to embrace my new life. To take the opportunity I had to reinvent myself and to become something new. I chose to NOT listen to our culture of entitlement that wanted me back, giving it what it wanted and I decided to let go and find a new purpose, within motherhood and do what I knew was honoring my instincts and my new family.
What seemed natural for me, was to give my all to my baby. The way I saw it, was I’d had 33 years of MY TIME before I had kids. It’s not my turn anymore. It’s THEIR TURN and it seemed most reasonable to consider that it was now my job to give them their turn. I abandoned the societal way of thinking that “me time” had to be without my children or that I “NEEDED” girl’s night out with all my friends who didn’t have children or wanted to pretend they didn’t have children for a night. I didn’t need a girl’s night out, my friends did and my friends didn’t respect my new life, they just wanted the “old me” back.
It actually makes me really sad when people say, “hey, why can’t you just leave the kids with someone and come out and have fun?” My response is… Why can’t YOU come over and have fun with my family?? Is it REALLY that hard?! Is my family that difficult to have fun with? Does it really require alcohol and pretending our responsibilities don’t exist to have a good time? Or is that just cultural conditioning? That’s when it hit me – after a year of feeling miserable with guilt because friends and loved ones were all pushing me to “just leave baby” and do whatever THEY wanted.
The problem with this is NOT mothers, it’s with society. It’s not because mothers are being selfish, it’s because our society has told us we MUST be selfish in order to be “whole”. Maybe moms wouldn’t feel so “emotionally depleted” and feel like they had to choose Self over or under children if the people in their lives and their culture in general would accept and respect their roles. Maybe, just maybe… if those mother’s loved ones would respect parenting and all that it requires and stop trying to hold onto the past, pull new moms back into the “pre-child” phase of their lives and impose feelings of guilt upon them for not going back to that lifestyle, we wouldn’t have as many of these issues.
If husbands and grandmothers and best friends and bosses would encourage breastfeeding to assist in chemical release that is designed to help ease a woman into her new position of motherhood gently and with joy, maybe new moms wouldn’t feel so torn. Maybe we wouldn’t have so many moms desperate to get back to work then wrestling with feelings of guilt, being drained, miserable and torn between two worlds. Maybe if our society would allow them the respect they deserved, it wouldn’t leave them without an identity because it’s not popular nor respected to be “just” a mom.
So, while I am thrilled such a place like this exists to help suffering mothers, I also think it’s dangerous to blame the occurrence of Postnatal Depletion on some sort of condition that a mother must deal with, when in reality, our society has created a culture where we cannot just accept that we are mothers and that is okay to just be mothers for a while.
Instead of being told “you need to get back to who you were before”, how about we start honoring motherhood. Honor them by not diminishing the value of the total body and spiritual change taking place. How about we stop pretending that isn’t happening, stop blaming mothers, calling it selfish to take care of baby instead of friend’s needs and start respecting mothers in their roles as parents? How about we support them instead of acting selfishly, supposedly on their behalf because they’re getting too “lost” in motherhood? How about we stop encouraging and supporting the idea that a mother has to be something separate from that, something MORE in order to be a “whole” human being and stop this judgmental notion that any mother who embraces motherhood fully is somehow failing at life and is probably secretly miserable because she’s “just not who she used to be” or that she MUST be some kind of insufferable, indulgent parent?
Mothers- Don’t let anyone, not even you- guilt you into feeling like accepting this role is somehow beneath you or that you’re missing out on life because of it. Motherhood is life. In fact, it’s literally CREATION and magic and divine and powerful and if you feel so beat down by it that you need to break away from it to be “the person you were before children”… you are denying that divine gift and shunning your new place of power. It’s like replacing a thrown in a marble temple with a metal folding chair in a rusty trailer. Who would do that on purpose?!
Now, look. Before you all get all crazy on me… I know we all know being a mom is not a part time gig that ends when you feel like going to bed or when you feel like reading quietly with a glass of wine. I know motherhood is hard. I’m doing it too, remember? I know you want to take a break sometimes. If anyone tells you they NEVER DO they’re lying. There are times when I wish I could take a break. There are times like, well, right now for instance, when I’ve had to stop writing this about 45 times to answer questions, nurse someone, feed someone, play a game and change a DVD and I’d really just like to finish a SINGLE THOUGHT without being interrupted… GRRR! But that’s not going to happen, so as I type this, I’ve got a nursing two year old on my lap and an impatient four year old calling out “mom… mom… mom…” every 20 seconds for absolutely no reason because he’s been fed, washed, played with and entertained for hours today and is now eating a cracker while watching Little Einsteins.
Sometimes I just want to write in the quiet. To pick up my computer, take it to some remote location at the drop of a hat and go get a mocha in a tiny coffee shop completely anonymously and not have a single person notice me because I’m trying to push a giant tandem stroller through a tiny door by myself with two toddlers who want to introduce themselves to everyone within a 10 foot radius.
Sometimes I want to not worry about money issues. I want to be able to not freak out every time I go grocery shopping because I’m not sure if I’ll have enough for a doctor co-pay if someone gets sick before Friday.
Sometimes it would be nice to wake up without the stress and anxiety of needing to care for two, tiny humans who look to my every word and step and breath for theirs.
Does that make me miss my “pre-child life”? Nope. Not even for a second and never so much that it makes me miserable, entitled to my own time, space or activities or makes me want to send my kid to daycare and go get a career to validate my personal power. Would it be nice to get away occasionally? Sure. Heck, I think it’s even necessary sometimes, but I’m not going to demand it like it’s my RIGHT as a human being to push away my children and take a break. THAT is not okay. THAT is not why we have children.
You don’t get a dog unless you want to be a dog owner, right? You agree to the late night yapping, the puppy pads and potty training, walking, grooming, dog park days and socialization… toys, food, vet bills, you agree to all of that when you bring a new pet into the home. You don’t buy a house unless you understand the responsibility and commitment of being a homeowner, right? Bills, lawn care, holes in the roof, cracks in the foundation, broken appliances and HOA fees and angry neighbors demanding you water your lawn… it’s all part of the process and you know that going in. If you don’t want all that crap, you don’t do it. You get a cat and you stay in an apartment and you do whatever you want whenever you feel like it. So then, why do so many people think it’s okay to become a parent and then just go back to life as it was pre-child then when they realize that isn’t the way it works- they flip out and go into some kind of psychosis? The reason why is because society doesn’t care about your children and our culture doesn’t care about your needs as a mother. We have been brought up in a culture of entitlement that demands that we give it what it wants and if someone else, even a helpless child, asks for more attention than “the world”, we condemn the parent, we belittle the mother, we make her feel she has sold out, lost her edge, given up on life and will create wretched spoiled children who think they can have whatever they want.
I AM depleted. I’ve been nursing for 4 1/2 years. Literally- as in, as of yesterday- it’s been 4 years and 6 months since Liam was born and I’ve been nursing on demand ever since, tandem nursing for two years and 8 months.
I WAS in a depressive coma where I couldn’t manage my life and I didn’t know who I was because until I stopped rejecting the process of motherhood the way our culture wants us to.
Yes, I’ve got the brain fog and the fatigue and the lack of libido because, well, tandem nursing 2 toddlers doesn’t encourage a desire to be groped by anyone. (Read my previous article for more on that) Yes, I’ve got baby radar. Yes, I know when my babies are upset, tired, hungry or sad. Yes, it bothers me to be away from them for too long and it makes me angry when people try to convince me it’s “the right thing to do” to be alone or to leave the kids with someone else and do my own thing. I am tired. I am so tired sometimes that I walk into a room and have no clue why I’m there. I put my coffee down and turn around to pick it up and it isn’t there and then I forget to look for it and find it again 6 hours later in a room I didn’t even remember going into. I AM sore and probably vitamin deficient and running on empty 80% of my life and what would help me MOST, is not to have some condition coined to justify my dis-ease and have society tell me that it’s MY FAULT for wanting to be a good mother.
Have you ever been told, “well if you have to do things the hard way, you can do it yourself. It’s no one’s fault but yours that you make this so hard on yourself”? I have. So when I hear people say things or support ideas that it’s the MOTHER who is at fault, it’s the MOTHER who has the problem… It infuriates me.
If people see that I’m depleted and want to help, what would help is to have the full support of the community around me as I struggle to find my place as a mother. What would help me, is to not know that if I want to do the right thing by my child and myself, I have to go against practically everyone else in the world and do it ALL on my own (creating even MORE depletion) because I don’t want to do it THEIR way that rejects my instinct and my baby’s needs. What would help me, is to have the friends and loved ones surrounding me to help me fully immerse myself within this new experience, this new life, this new being- this MOTHER I have become instead of telling me I’m working too hard, I’m doing things the wrong way, I’m giving my baby “too much” or that they deserve my time and I’m being too selfish by taking care of my child all the time instead of catering to THEIR needs.
“In traditional Chinese culture they observe the sitting month “Zuo Yue Zi” where the mother would not leave the house for 30 days, would not receive any visitors, and would have no duties apart from breastfeeding the baby. Special “rebuilding” warm foods would be supplied and the mother would not be allowed to get cold or even shower in that time.
Ancient cultures have made the realization that Western society unfortunately has not: For society to be well and prosper, the mothers must be fully supported and healthy—in every sense of the word.”
—That sounds like heaven and I wish we all had the opportunity to have that experience. As mothers (parents in general, dads too!), we NEED to know they are allowed to take on this new identity and embrace it- that there is NOTHING WRONG with us for doing that, in fact, it’s far healthier for everyone involved to do so instead of railing against it or quickly picking back up and “getting back to normal life” after a baby is born, rejecting the deep, biological and spiritual bond to take back a life that no longer exists.
The thing about this article is, EVERY SINGLE THING they said makes sense and is great advice, but the words they used are dangerous.
Saying things like “Where should women start in terms of starting to feel like themselves again?” As though the Self is something left behind after childbirth that must be found again by “remembering” who you were pre-child. Here was a great opportunity to answer to this by saying – “No- your’e thinking about it the wrong way- a mother doesn’t have to find themselves again- they must embrace themselves for the first time”. By not addressing the core issue that Motherhood IS THE SELF NOW, it leaves out the most important factor in all of this; that mothers must learn to embrace their new reality. This is a huge problem for me and a major flaw in their process, as far as I’m concerned because they want to give validation to mothers who have denied themselves as mothers rather than ask them to stop glorifying the idea that a mother doesn’t have to be a mother, she can stay a maiden forever even when she has children.
Then, at the end, when asked “is this a new phenomenon” where they have a great opportunity to share the reality that the condition is not new, but the reaction to the issue is and is only such because our culture doesn’t respect mothers and because of that, women are more comfortable rejecting parenthood. There are entire social groups who justify one another’s selfishness and perpetuate this idea that anything that causes a child to be inconvenient or interfere with YOUR life is unacceptable. They ignore the reality that our culture forces a woman to choose and if she chooses parenthood, if she chooses her “Mother” over her inner “Maiden”, she will be laughed at by her peers and even pitied by them because she sold out.
I’m glad programs like this exist and I am happy to see they work on taking on parenthood as part of the “realization” part of their 3 step process, but where EVERY OTHER STEP got several paragraphs, the profound importance of acceptance and integration of the Mother with the Self, got a single sentence in this entire article.
Someone could read their article and easily think it says, “I need more sleep, I need ME time and to put the baby down and do what makes me happy so I feel like myself again – Society is right – I am wrong – Instinct is wrong – I must go back to the world and be the ME I was before baby” because they didn’t really explore or focus equally on that “realization” part in this article.
The reality is, society does not respect the role of mothers. We MUST respect ourselves and accept our roles and honor ourselves AND our children, even if that means we go against the tide of what “society” says we aught to do. If we cannot do this, nothing will ever change. If we can’t accept who we are as mothers, we will never be able to live in harmony with our lives once we have children. It’s the entitlement era we live in today that selfishly craves “ME TIME” with the “it makes me feel bad so I don’t wanna do it” attitude that perpetuates the idea that a mother has to literally deny motherhood in order to regain her sense of worth, her strength and her value as a human being.
The person a mother was before she became a mother no longer exists. When our society is willing to accept this and accept who we have become, we will be able to more easily accept who we are and move through this transition from maiden to mother more smoothly. It’s a difficult thing to accept that our life is now and forevermore engaged in the act of service to another human being until such time that human is capable of caring for themselves. It is a far more comfortable thing when you have the support of those around you to make that happen, when those around you and culture as a whole appreciates that transition and does what it can to support it, not make us feel like terrible, selfish people for wanting to do it.
Postnatal depletion exists, but it is a natural part of motherhood – not some terrible disease. It is a part of the process can either get worse or better and which one happens is largely dependent upon the amount of support a mother receives from her tribe. The depletion is real and can be terrible, but that can be healed by time, connection with your child, deep appreciation for who you have become as a mother and the support of a community that values motherhood to lift you, validate you and to HELP you. Change culture by accepting motherhood, embracing instinct and say NO to the entitlement era’s need to pull us away from our babies.