The Blog.


10 Nov 2006 | Uncategorized

So, they are talking about redefining post-natal depression to include mothers who experience ‘high-anxiety levels’:

I must admit my first reaction was err… wouldn’t that apply to most mothers?

OK so the example in the article isn’t a common situation, and while I understand the need to acknowledge some mothers who are anxious but wouldn’t necessarily describe themselves as depressed, who could benefit from professional help. But feeling anxious, worried, angry, stressed, guilty, is something I have seen in myself and virtually all new (and some not so new) mothers I have met. So does that mean we all need professional help?

My problem with the whole area of post-natal depression and anxiety is that the diagnosis itself is medical. Being diagnosed with PND indicates that there is something wrong with you which needs to be fixed. And if this applies to such a majority of mothers I find it difficult to accept that the problem really lies with them.

This was highlighted for me recently when my father in law described the pressures affecting different family members: he was stressed with his business, others were stressed with work, but I was apparently ‘having problems coping with being a mom’. Issues with father in law aside, the term ‘coping with being a mom’ is so negative. Highly successful CEOs experience stress, while coping is a term more often used for illness.

Yes, for about 6 months of the last year or so I would say that I needed help. But I would argue that rather than medical intervention (which I refused), ordinary support would have been much more effective. Yes my moods were all over the place and I would burst into tears almost on a daily basis, but what seemed to be overlooked was why.

Yes I was anxious about getting things right, this is the most important thing I’ve ever had to do, why should it be such a surprise that I worry?

Yes I was pissed off quite often when my son was ill all the time and went through difficult phases of not sleeping/eating/being consolable. Again, is it really out of order to feel completely fed up?

And yes I was gutted when I missed one of my closest friends’ wedding, miserable that hubby and I never had the time or energy to actually have a relationship and that it had been so long since I’ve been to the cinema/read a book/got my hair cut, dejected when almost all my Christmas presents were generic toiletries (the customary choice for complete strangers) or just completely unsuitable (just when am I going to use a portable mp3 player when I’m looking after a baby 24/7?). Wouldn’t you?

Would it really be better if I didn’t show emotion? What’s so good about being a Mary Poppins with a martyrdom complex: Sigh, oh you know, once the housework is done and the baby’s needs are tended to, there’s just no time left for little old me? Cue saintly smile.

And then there’s the absurd quest for perfection in motherhood. Nothing’s ever good enough and there’s always room for improvement. Yes that might work in the business world but a business doesn’t have a fixed lifespan. People do. And every year that goes by, children get older, and you start feeling like you’re running out of time.

Interestingly enough, here’s an example of when ‘good enough’ really would be best:

Incidentally if I ever get like this, shoot me!

Ok I digress. My point is, well done for identifying that many mothers experience high anxiety levels, but please don’t just stick another medical label on it and refer them to ‘the professionals’. Most of it is a perfectly natural response to events in their lives and rather than dismissing as hysteria, how about some empathy, praise, understanding and recognition instead.


  1. roadkillgerbil

    Anxiety is a disorder in its own right, in much the same way as depression or phobias or OCD. I can look up the diagnostic criteria for you but they have the same relationship to feeling axious that feeling down has to depression. That said, it’s often hard for people to know precisely what counts as depression either as many doctors will diagnose it without most of the diagnostic criteria being fullfilled.

  2. Grace

    I’m curious, what is the technical definition of Anxiety?

  3. Grace

    I presume that would also apply for stress?

    I think that’s why I get so wound up. There is no clarity or consistency in when it is considered a disorder. Sometimes it seems almost convenient to slap the label on rather than acknowledge or tackle where the problem really lies (e.g. oh she’s just depressed), or that it’s perfectly normal to be upset/stressed/anxious in upsetting/stressful/anxious situations. And incidentally that’s when guilt comes in (angry/upset/stressed mummy = bad mummy).

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About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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