Friday, July 18, 2008

Our mothering life

"What, exactly, are the circumstances of our lives as mothers? Studies of both "normally" and "abnormally" depressed women indicate three broad areas of concern. The first is the fact that mothering young children is carried out in isolation from what most of us have come to consider "the real world." This isolation is physical--entailing a virtual entrapment in one's own home--as well as emotional and intellectual. Its result is to render motherhood a socially invisible enterprise. The second condition of contemporary mothering is closely related to the first. The majority of women who mother young children, regardless of their marital status, function primarily as sole parents, assuming full charge of the demanding, continuous physical tasks associated with childcare and domestic duties. Several decades of feminist rhetoric notwithstanding, in most families the "help" that fathers provide remains exactly that: occasional assistance provided on request and often under sufferance. This is particularly so in the early years of a child's life, when its physical demands are most insistent. Third, because few women in our society have the opportunity for practical, hands-on preparation for motherhood, our knowledge base tends to be hopelessly abstract and theoretical. As a consequence, new mothers face a steep learning curve as they struggle to reconcile expectations with practical realities. For many women, the result is a lethal cocktail of loneliness, chronic fatigue and panic. Under the circumstances, it would be amazing if we didn't freak out."

From "The Mask of Motherhood" by Susan Maushart

Postpartum Depression?

"Public recognition of Postpartum depression--indeed, the very existence of the diagnostic label--has proven to be a two-edged sword for women. At the same time as this has bestowed legitimacy on the more acute forms of suffering, it has tended to pathologize the full range of baby-shock experiences. By elevating such experiences into a bona fide "disorder," we take them out of the realm of the everyday, encouraging the misguided belief that baby-shock is something other women have (and therefore, given our drive to get it right, something every woman fears). To this extent, the very existence of the diagnostic label has tended to drive the normal abnormalcy of early motherhood even farther underground. So that we cling ever more tightly to the mask, insisting to each other--and even to ourselves--that we've got it all under control, and that this awesome developmental drama, this tumultuous rite of passage toward female adulthood that we call early motherhood, is for us (though possibly not some "depressed" other) a mere hiccup in the smooth progression "from here to maternity."

"I can remember only too well wanting to throw my first baby out of the window," confessed one woman to researcher Carol Dix. Research suggests that such destructive impulses are probably as universal among new mothers as shapeless days and sleepless nights. Yet to admit as much publicly remains a deeply subversive social actively. Indeed, even admitting to such feelings privately is more than many us can manage.

We have seen that, in our society at the present moment, the transition to motherhood is for most women a demanding developmental stage, punctuated by disturbing episodes of "normal abnormal" impulses and behaviors. The sooner we accept this truth, and the more willing we are to share honestly what we experience, the less vulnerable we will be. Our only protection, in other words, is to stop trying to maintain our invincibility. At the same time, however, it is necessary to examine the issue of what is normal and what is not from a wider perspective. We can say with certitude that there is nothing "wrong" with women who find the transition to motherhood a frustrating and difficult experience. We can absolve ourselves absolutely of individual guilt. But what of our collective responsibilities? Can it be "right" or " normal" that, as a society, we have constructed the mothering role in a way that quite literally makes women sick?

From this point of view, the enormous stress suffered by women in the transition to motherhood, while it may be statistically "normal," is in fact a form of acute cultural deviance. The lack of fit between expectations and realities of mothering may be experienced as a personal crisis, but it is ultimately a social tragedy."

From "The Mask of Motherhood" by Susan Maushart

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Welcome to Motherhood

"When she becomes a mother, it is as if a woman must go deep in the bowels of the earth, back to the elemental emotions and the power which makes life possible, losing herself in the darkness. She is like Eurydice in the Underworld. She is pulled away from a world of choices, plans and schedules, where time is kept, spaces cleared, commitments made, and goals attained , to the warm chaos of love, confusion, longing, anger, self-surrender and intense pleasure that motherhood entails."

--Sheila Kitzinger