So many of us moms are depressed. This is one of several sad discoveries I’ve made since entering the post-Pill era – so much infertility, far too many miscarriages, and such a shocking number of depressed mothers. Brooke Shields. ("Facing her Post-Partum Fears!" a People headline trumpeted recently.) My next door neighbour. The woman at church yesterday with whom I had such a delightful meeting of the minds on the evils of Baby Wise (not evils for the baby – evils for the mother whose head gets filled with critical, condemning words). So many of the "shoulds" mothers are bombarded with contribute, directly or indirectly, to our guilt and depression:
- You should breastfeed for as long as possible.
- You should stay home with your children.
- You should respond immediately to every cry.
- You should treat your post-partum depression with vitamins and exercise. (Thank you, Dad2TomKitten!)
With the exception of that final item, none of those words of advice is intended to mire women in depression, but certainly there are many women for whom breastfeeding triggers a cocktail of hormones spiked with despair, women for whom the house feels like a prison, women for whom sleep deprivation translates into a constant, teeth-on-edge, simmering rage.
An article in today’s newspaper began by announcing, "Parenting author Ann Douglas is sounding the wake-up alarm about sleep deprivation." Yes, the mother of all mommy-bloggers is going on the record to say that there is a point beyond which sleep deprivation is no longer okay. She proposes a variety of solutions, including – gasp! – letting dad get up with the baby at night (though she acknowledges that this tactic may involve the mom shaking him awake, a process that may be more time-consuming and disruptive to sleep than just feeding the baby and having done with it). But she warns that prolonged sleep-deprivation can be dangerous, and urges mothers to get the help they need before they reach the breaking point.
It’s a refreshing message to hear – but then the columnist, Kathy Rumleski, ends the article by profiling a second book, Sleepless in America by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, and pulls out the following quotation: "You want to sleep, but you can’t." Since this statement is taken out of context, it's not entirely clear whether Kurcinka means "You want to sleep, but you can't ... unless you try my foolproof no-cry sleep solutions" OR "You want to sleep, but you can't, you selfish bitch." Anyway. She goes on: " When [a child] is unable to calm himself and you are inclined to let him cry, consider how you would feel if your partner ignored your distress."
There you go – a nice shot of guilt to go with your tonic of sleep-deprivation if you’re hard-hearted enough to let your baby cry. What bothers me most about the CIO debate is not the arguments used against it, but the arguments one is forced to use for it: My baby has been so much happier since he learned to sleep on his own. I’m a much better mother now that I’m rested and alert. If the sleep-deprivation went on much longer, I might have harmed the baby.
It’s not enough to say: The lack of sleep is making me miserable. I’m on the verge of tears all day long. I blow up at little things that shouldn’t even bother me. Every time I look at my partner I want to hit him because he’s asleep/he’s smiling/he’s getting ready to leave the house. Even I don’t think those arguments are convincing, not by themselves – the mother’s welfare enters the equation only insofar as we can link it to the baby’s. We can forgive ourselves for doing what we need to do only insofar as we can say that even if a stay-at-home, co-sleeping, breastfeeding mom would be best for the baby, the best thing for my baby is a mom who’s okay, who’s keeping her head above water, whatever that requires.
While we’re on the topic of guilt, let me just say that I’ve been nursing a bit of low-level self-reproach while writing this post because I’m not paying enough attention to the Bub, who’s busy steering Thomas the Tank Engine around the track. So I took a break a moment ago when I heard him muttering something about a mouse. A remembered snatch of Green Eggs and Ham? I turned around, saying, "I would not eat them in a house, I would not eat them with a mouse!" Bub looked at me sternly. "No," he said. Then he turned my swiveling desk chair back around so I was facing the computer, and returned to his trains.
Should that make me feel better or worse?