I didn't fall madly in love with my children the minute they were born. There, I said it. Now the mommy police, with their badges of hearts and flowers, can take me away.
You know them – all the women who rave about the birth experience and how they fell deeply, instantly in love when they looked for the first time at their baby's mewing, gray, pruny, cone-shaped head, covered in blood, mucus and that cheese-like substance called vernix.
The truth is you become a parent in a single moment, but the actual mom part – the never-ending, ball-in-your-stomach throb of fear, love, pride, anxiety and, yes, anger –evolves over a long period of time and is oh-so-more complicated than a Hallmark card moment.
It's supposed to be the most exciting time of your life. Everyone tells you how lucky you are, how in love you're going to be. The expectations are so high. How can you not feel just slightly disappointed when the moment has come and all you feel is … exhaustion, fright, numbness, even sadness? What's wrong with you?
Truth be told, you're not strange. You're just like the rest of us.
A study out this month finds that mothers are vulnerable to developing depression soon after giving birth more than any other period in their lives. The research, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, finds that depression is fairly common among parents of children younger than 12, with the risk being greatest in their children's first year of life.
Postpartum depression isn't new. (Remember Brooke Shields and Tom Cruise going at it five years ago?) What is new is that while most research has focused on hormonal changes as the culprit for mothers' depression, some recent studies have suggested that psychosocial factors – stress, work demands, feeling a lack of support and adjusting to changes in lifestyles and relationships – may be key contributors. And they aren't just affecting moms. This month's study, which followed 87,000 couples in the United Kingdom, found that new fathers face a higher-than-normal depression risk as well.
So, we're all in this together. And nothing sucks more than being told you should be happy when all you feel is a dull ache. Journalist Tracy Thompson begins her book on maternal depression, The Ghost in the House, with two insightful lines: "Motherhood and depression are two countries with a long common border. The terrain is chilly and inhospitable, and when mothers speak of it at all, it is usually in guarded terms, or in euphemisms."
Why the silence? I'm sure there are women who were overcome with bliss at childbirth, but I'm also sure there are just as many women who were overcome with the kind of feelings that don't get discussed at baby showers. I'm not naïve enough to suggest that clinical depression can be combated with just blunt talk. But if motherhood is truly a bond among women then it's time to speak up, get real -- and get rid of those Hallmark cards.