Being a mother is wonderful – but it’s also unbelievably hard.
There are days when you’re loving it; and then there are days when you feel like life is being squeezed out of you drop by drop. Days when you want to hide because you’re not sure you can face it. Days when the defeat is soul-crushing.
I used to wonder why that was. The questions were playing on the loop in my head: “Is everyone else finding it this hard? Or is it because I’m doing it wrong? Is it my fault?” I know many of you out there are wondering the same.
I stopped wondering when I realised most of us are finding it this hard. Most mums I knew were struggling. But even though I knew that, it was still shocking to see the statistic in the Maternal Mental Health – Women’s Voices report. It reveals that 81% of women experience at least one perinatal mental health condition during or after their pregnancy, with low mood, anxiety, and depression being the most common culprits.
As much as this is a staggering figure, there is one positive thing about it: is it makes you realise that you’re not alone. If you’re one of those struggling mamas reading this right now, rest assured: it’s not just you.
But the question needs to be asked: why are mothers suffering on such a large scale?
Enter postpartum anxiety or depression
Postpartum used to be a time when new mums were cared for and supported by a group of women. It was understood that they needed nurturing and nourishment. Becoming a mother was a huge milestone that was honoured and celebrated. A mum who was well looked after slipped into this new role easily. Provide for the mother so she can provide for the baby – this was the rule. And it worked.
Well, that’s pretty much gone now. Women give birth and they’re sent home from hospital after a day or two (or an hour or two) and from then on they’re on their own. And it’s all about the baby. No one is looking out for the needs of the mother. It is little wonder that the rates of postpartum depression are soaring – and that doesn’t mean that the problem is with the mums.
Shouldering the huge responsibility of looking after your baby alone is not normal. Humans have not evolved to look after their offspring on their own – this used to be the job of a whole group of adults. Feeling overwhelmed and anxious on your own is almost inevitable.
It’s not your fault
When this many women are struggling, it cannot be coincidence. This quote by Alexander den Heijer comes to mind:
“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”
And when 81% of your garden doesn’t bloom, there must a serious problem with it. It’s time to look at our environment and ask: can that be the reason?
The problem with our modern times is that mothers are all alone.
There isn’t enough help and support. Gone are the days when the extended family was there to support a new mum. Postpartum care is almost non-existent, and the little help there is focuses on the baby. And on top of it all most mothers also have to hold down a job.
There’s no time to fit everything in. Looking after the baby and earning money take priority, and self-care becomes one more thing on the to-do list. One more thing to feel guilty about; because all we hear is that we have to practice self-care. It almost feels like it’s our fault if we’re not happy – because we didn’t practice self-care. But nobody mentions that no amount of self-care can replace the loving care received from other people. Humans are social beings; we didn’t evolve to survive on our own. There are situations when self-care just won’t cut it.
There isn’t enough honesty about what to expect. Mums are often not prepared for the reality, and it comes as a shock just how hard everything is. Our life changes overnight, our body is unrecognisable, breastfeeding is difficult; we have no clue until we’re in the thick of it.
There’s way too much to do, way too much to shoulder – and mothers are pretty much left to it. It’s not their fault that they’re struggling.
The struggle is real
A study mentioned in The Independent confirms that the burden of round-the-clock responsibilities of being a mother and the emotional responsibilities of raising children are damaging women’s mental health.
The invisible labour of caring for one’s families, such as managing the household, making sure everyone’s needs are met, coordinating schedules etc, necessitate mental and emotional effort. This invisible labour falls disproportionately on the shoulders of the mother; and this mental burden can take a toll.
The findings are not surprising to any of us – we all agree. Mums are overwhelmed and exhausted. This might be the new norm; but it doesn’t mean it’s normal. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we should accept it.
We need to find a new way
It takes a village to raise a child – and it takes a village to raise a mother. Only there are no more villages; and it is mothers who suffer the consequences the most.
It’s not that there’s a problem with mothers. It’s that there’s a problem with the conditions.
The modern conditions of parenting are unnatural. And we do what we can, because we’re told we can do it all. Well I’ve had enough of this super-mum narrative. We can’t do it all – and we shouldn’t have to. Things need to change, because it’s not okay that so many of us are struggling.
It’s time to stop thinking that the problem is with us. It’s time we speak up and say this is not working. It’s time we ask for help. It’s time we figure out a new way.