This piece was originally published in MotherWoman Journal, September 2007.
These days, everyone has post-partum depression. I know more moms who do than don’t. And if you ask their mothers, they have about the same response: “I don’t understand it, it was the happiest time of my life.” So what are the differences between mothering then and now?
Becoming a mother today begins the moment you announce that you are pregnant. There are 300 pregnancy books and magazines you have to swear to live by For the Good of Your Child. Every relative, friend, and stranger in the grocery store begins to judge your every decision: “She’s drinking COFFEE while she’s pregnant!? Negligence!! Call social services!”
So for the duration of your pregnancy and however long you choose to breastfeed, you can’t touch alcohol, caffeine, medication, fish, refined sugar or flour, chocolate, sweets, or basically anything else you derive enjoyment from.
If you choose anesthetics for your labor instead of going the holistic, non-drug, underwater, at home, bouncing on a giant ball, midwife-only, yoga position method, you have again given your baby only half the chance of all the other kids (you know, the ones with the good mothers).
As soon as the baby is born, you get immediate training on how not to kill them by putting them to sleep. You can’t leave the hospital until a trained specialist checks the quality and installation of your baby car seat. Because if you drive with them in the car, you’ll probably kill them.
When you get the baby home, you must install at least 50 baby-proofing gadgets, lock up the cleaning products, remove all honey, vitamins, medicine, peanut butter, berries, and nuts, and create a whole-house space free of anything that can cause more than a scratch or bruise on a baby. And never, never let them lie down in your bed next to you because you will suffocate them. To death.
You’ve very quickly gone from having a fulfilling career and being considered a contributing member of society to being that slightly pathetic person who stays home changing the poopy diapers. But while you may not be very important to the rest of the world, remember that You Are the Center of Your Child’s World! Don’t do anything wrong, because they are watching!
That child must be nourished, not just loved. The developing brain must be fed a constant stream of quality educational material. Babies must never cry, nor should they see, hear, or be presented with anything less than total happiness, serenity, and contentedness.
So if you slip for a moment and your human temper shows through, you’ve once again failed to give that baby the best start you can. On top of that, you have probably abused and/or neglected your child. The people with the clipboards are coming.
Very few moms have grandparents that live close enough to just swing by and drop off the kids for a few hours here and there. So in the midst of your life that is now permanently connected to this baby (remember, you are responsible for their exact location, total safety, and mental well-being at every moment), don’t even dream of leaving them in the car while you run into the convenience store for a gallon of milk.
But when you do dare to take them shopping, you’ll notice the “Code Adam” sign on the door reminding you that if your child disappears while shopping, they can lock down the store until he’s found. This is supposed to comfort you.
There are no more neighborhoods. Kids can’t run around with the crew on the block, or even play alone in their own yard. The sex offenders database will let you know just how many there are in your town, and where they live (too close for comfort). If it’s not the sex offenders, it’s the kidnappers who troll the kids as they’re walking to school (this is not an exaggeration. There have been incidents in the last year at my son’s school. Their response was to lock the rear gate).
Both parents have to work to support a family, and let’s not even get into whether it’s better to stay home with your baby or put them in day care while you work. You will be condemned as a mother either way.
You might take a “news blackout,” as some psychologists are recommending. Try to live a little more contentedly and with a little less panic. Then one day you’ll get the letter from your child’s principal explaining that the teacher who was arrested for possession of child pornography only worked in the school for one year, and under the supervision of other teachers. And we should be reassured because the pictures they found didn’t contain any local children. Oh good, somebody else’s kids were exploited, not my own? Phew.
You may begin to have terrible nightmares, enough to wake you up and keep you up for hours, checking on your children in their beds every half hour. You will have to explain to your baffled husband that the fears of a mother can put any horror movie to shame. So once again I say to you, go ahead. Ask me why I’m depressed.