by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac.
"Before having kids, I had a lot of energy and felt very healthy. But now, with a 4-year-old and a baby, I'm run down, I get colds frequently, and my menstrual cycle has gotten more intense. My doctor's sympathetic but says I'm fine. What do you think?"
We think you are trying your hardest and that you feel the way you do for very concrete, physical reasons. Understanding them gives you clarity and sends guilt packing. Plus it points you toward effective ways to feel less stressed, stay energetic and healthy, and build teamwork and intimacy with your mate.
Think about it: motherhood is profoundly fulfilling. But it is also the most relentlessly stressful and demanding activity most women - or men! -- will ever do.
"The hardest job in the world" gets done day after day for twenty years or more. And it's all the more demanding the more kids you have, or if any of your children have special needs like a challenging temperament, disability, or health problem.
Some dads are great: they're engaged with the kids, do their fair share around the house, and are loving with their wife. But let's face it: many are not. The average mom works about twenty hours a week more than her partner, regardless of whether she's drawing a paycheck. And if you're rearing your children essentially alone, as do one in five mothers, you're getting little to no help from a partner at all.
Plus most mothers are living today in a world that is vastly different from the hunter-gatherer culture that humans are adapted to for raising a family. In a tribal or village setting, a mom's life moved at the pace of a walk with her children nearby. She was surrounded by other mothers or relatives who could lend a hand with her kids, her stresses were intermittent instead of chronic, and the delicate biological machinery of reproduction wasn't exposed daily to man-made chemicals. Sure, we're not proposing a return to the Stone Age, but there is no way around the harsh fact that today's frantic pace, lack of supportive community, scary culture, need to juggle work and home, toxic pollutants that even appear in breast milk, etc. all wear on a mother's body and mind.
It all adds up over time. You're pouring out more and handling more stresses, but taking less in. It's no wonder if you feel used up, emptied out - in a word, DEPLETED. Besides being a psychological experience, depletion occurs in the bodies of many, many mothers. Laboratory tests commonly show that mothers have dangerously low levels of key nutrients and that important bodily systems (e.g., hormonal, immune, gastrointestinal, nervous) have become disturbed.
As a result of all these factors, scientific studies have found that motherhood (and an increasing number of children) raises a woman's risks for:
• Thyroid disease
• Autoimmune conditions
• Type II diabetes
• Gallbladder and kidney disease
• Nutritional deficits
• Intensified PMS
• Some kinds of cancer
• A shortened lifespan
This is a sobering list of health problems! To be sure: Motherhood is NOT itself a medical issue. But its physical and psychological consequences often impact a woman's mental and physical health, and her marriage - leading to billions of dollars in health care expenses and lost productivity in the country as a whole. Even just everyday experiences of feeling frazzled, weary, irritable, overwhelmed, blue, or let down wear on a mother's well-being and cast a dark cloud over a time that should be so wonderful. If fatherhood exposed men to similar risks, there'd be a national outcry. But since these involve "just" women, they are taken for granted.