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Baby blues

Here's a great article from on a new book by Tracey Thompson on maternal depression, The Ghost in the House: Motherhood, Raising Children, and Struggling with Depression.
"We know that approximately 12 million of the 19 million Americans who are estimated to suffer from depression annually are female, and that its incidence peaks between the ages of 25 to 44, the years a woman is most likely to have kids. That is probably not a coincidence; a study published by the Journal of Health and Social Behavior in December 2005 found parents significantly more likely to report depression than their childless counterparts. However, firm numbers on depression in moms themselves are hard to come by. Thompson claims 4 million, but admits that is only a guess."

This is interesting considering so many anti-abortion activists seem to view motherhood as no big deal. Somehow the children get raised by some invisible hand. Motherhood is hard work on every level.

Some of the letters to the editor echoed this sentiment:

And, Jennifer, as to the suggestion that stay-at-home mothers quit whining and get jobs if they don't like the isolation of home, I believe you might not appreciate the difficulties of finding child care, especially for infants. And I do mean ANY child care, not just quality care.

Many stay-at-home mothers are actually employed, as I was during my stay-at-home phase. I telecommuted. But I couldn't even find any regular child care whatsoever until my kids were toddlers, so it was a challenge, to put it mildly. (In my particular case, I took only two weeks off work per child, but that's unusual.) The "get-a-job" advice, with all due respect, is not practical.

-- surprised

Here’s the truth: Motherhood (if mom is the primary caregiver, and sometimes even if she’s not) turns your entire life upside down, regardless of where you live, how much support you have, how good your insurance is, how closely your neighborhood resembles the village it supposedly takes to raise a child, and so forth. Most educated, 30-something, high-achieving first-time moms enter motherhood in total denial about this, as I did. I thought my life would stay much the same, plus there’d be a baby around. Maybe I’d go to the movies a little less often, but after the infant years passed, it would be status quo ante. That’s simply not the case, not just because a child is much more work that you can imagine (which is so) but also because becoming a mother changes you so profoundly. The very nature of time itself has changed for me – months used to fly by, and now days drag by. I feel much older all of a sudden, too. It’s strange and surreal. Being happy in these circumstances requires a lot of relearning of the basics.

For some (who I suspect already had depressive tendencies) all of this change can be traumatic. Look there, and at roiling hormones, to detect the causes of depression.

-- Noman

I think Thompson is right on the money when she notes that the solutions have to be more support for mothers and for all the things mothers do.

I think we're insane the way we handle birth in this culture. After six weeks of maternity leave, you've got to throw on pantyhose and schlep back downtown.

If we changed the societal expectations of and pressures on mothers, would be there be less maternal depression?

I think the culture we live in puts unrealistic expectations on mothers. Motherhood can seem like a competitive sport, like being a good housewife in the 1950s. If we had a more realistic idea of motherhood and more social support, like better-quality childcare, then I think the stress level overall would decrease and that in turn might contribute to less maternal depression.

What do you think in society could change to make this problem less common or severe?

Figuring out that motherhood is really hard work and it has occupational hazards and this is one of them. It's a job, and it's not always an easy job. Men have always known this, otherwise they'd be clamoring to stay home. We need to get people to take motherhood as a topic seriously and do more than just pay lip service to it as an institution. And then to get mothers to take themselves seriously. They can't take care of their kids if they're not taking care of themselves.

Read more at: Baby blues | Salon Life
Jacqueline Keeler
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margaret said...

Another book came out on depression during pregnancy: A Deeper Shade of Blue by Ruta Nonacs. So women get depressed when they’re pregnant. It’s not just being a stay at home mom that’s the problem.

Devra said...

I have read Tracy Thompson's book and it is hardly about just one type of mother. It is applicable to any mom, regardless of employment status. The book goes beyone pregnancy and discusses how depression can be dealt with during the entire course of a woman's parenting years. It is an excellent book. While there are many books that deal with depression as it relates to the many stages of pregnancy and soon after childbirth, Tracy's book is unique as it goes beyond pregnancy and infancy and expands into the later years as kids grow and mothers remain struggling with depression.

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