Have you noticed a number of recent articles encouraging new mothers to consider therapy? Some of the articles reassure pregnant women that various emotions after childbirth are normal and a therapist can help work through them. Others suggest that preventive therapy is a good idea. Line up someone to talk to so that when you have trouble coping you will have where to turn. The underlying message is that there is no shame in asking for help, a concept that is certainly true.
However, I have the same problem with these articles as I have with the terms, “terrible twos,” or “teenage rebellion.” They frame future occurrences in a negative light. We all know how often self-fulfilling-prophecies come to pass. That is entirely different from recognizing and educating oneself about upcoming physical, emotional and psychological developments and equipping oneself with tools to make these transitional times mostly positive and joyous.
Postpartum depression is a serious condition requiring medical and psychological intervention. Postpartum blues are a different matter altogether and are almost universal. Faced with massive hormonal changes, seriously impaired sleep, the disruption of routine and a new identity among other things, it’s no surprise that new mothers have trouble concentrating and find themselves weepy. This has been so for centuries. Why should women in our day need to pay a professional and fit extra appointments into their schedules, incidentally adding two additional sources of stress into a naturally stressful time?
I don’t have a politically correct answer. All I can suggest that we are structuring society in ways that set us up for difficulties when it comes to family life. We are causing many of our own problems and then providing solutions that may well be needed, but only because of our previous decisions and actions.
What do I mean? Ideally, new mothers should have support. Not only do their bodies need to recuperate from childbirth, but they often have little experience and confidence in their new role. Watching family members calmly handling the newborn and having someone available to answer questions allows women to adjust. Simply having someone to give a hug and a hot drink can go a long way. Mothers, aunts, sisters and neighbors used to fill that function. Today, geographical distances between close relatives are often huge and the women who would most naturally move into a caregiving mode are themselves busy earning money. It isn’t usually a question of choice anymore; taxation, the cost of living and a societal structure that presumes women working at an outside job rarely give women the option of helping out even if they yearn to.
Under these circumstances coping with a newborn does become more fraught with tension. It is completely understandable that a therapist might be helpful. Rather than seeing this as a welcome sign of progress, I see it as a sad consequence of years of devaluing the instincts and power of women and motherhood.