The time is now to start taking better care of mothers in this country.
The mothering that children receive is of paramount importance. Marianne Williamson reminds us, “there is no single effort more radical in its potential for saving the world than a transformation of the way we raise our children.”
We are failing mothers. The United States has the highest rate of post-partum depression in the entire world, I repeat—the entire world. And while I believe that postpartum depression has to be taken seriously and treated, it is misguided to think that it is only moms that reach a particular clinical threshold that need support.
We must all begin to consider the conditions of extreme stress felt by new moms all over this country that are inherent to the childbearing process. Pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding are physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting for the vast majority of women. In addition, there are the never-ending demands of the new infant to attend to, perhaps along with the needs of other children in the household. Mental instability seems like a natural reaction to 40 extra hours of work a week, sleep deprivation, and a suffocating sense of responsibility with no end in sight. Add to that, social isolation, an irrevocably altered sense of self and the mental burden of having to appear joyful at all times without any extra care or support.
To focus exclusively on the biological and medical aspects of maternal mental illness without taking responsibility, as a nation, for the broader critical social issue here is a mistake. Doing so, we run the risk of making mothers the problem—pathologizing their psychological conditions and encouraging medication until the feelings go away. Mothers are not the problem. The problem is the lack of systemic support for mothers. Mental instability in mothers is a symptom of a society in which there are few solid social networks of support. We need to begin doing what every other developed country does—giving mothers concrete help. This support needs to be part of legislation.
The United States is the only developed nation that has no federally guaranteed paid-maternity leave. Also, most of the other developed nations offer monthly child benefits or family tax benefits. No other first world country expects a new mother to be alone with a baby around the clock. We need to follow the lead of the other developed nations—we need caregivers, doulas, or nurses to visit mothers during the postpartum period and do whatever it takes to support mother and child.
Bringing home a baby is an incomparable transition for most women and demands subsidized, routine, and thorough care. Let’s tend to all mothers well so that they may take great care of their babies. It not only takes the support of a village, it requires the support of a whole country.
Sophie is a mother, practicing psychotherapist, and co-creator of HonestMamas.com.
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