I seem to have come across a lot of new Moms recently, of a relatively new breed, which has made me think of a new element in motherhood today. There have always been ‘older’ Mothers, either people having a last child of several, or some who had tried to have a baby for years, had given up and got a late surprise. Very few people used to actually set out to have a first child in their 40’s by choice. But in recent years, that phenomenon has become much more common. For the past many years, women are more and more determined to pursue their careers, often choosing to focus mostly on that, more and more people choose not to marry. And I think in recent years, women who chose not to have children in favor of their careers, have made a last minute decision to have a baby after all, before it’s too late. Others were waiting to find the right man, and when he hasn’t turned up by the time they’re 40, or older, they pursue other options. The result is that I think there are a lot more first time mothers in their 40’s these days, many of them single mothers, particularly in big cities where there are women seriously pursuing careers. And what I find I am hearing a lot more about is women having ‘postpartum depression’. There is nothing new about that either, and one always heard about women suffering from that, but they were few and far between. Now I hear about it all the time, and I have questioned if it is really that, or actually the shock of motherhood after a lifetime of freedom suddenly curtailed. Talking to a brand new 44 year old single Mom recently, she said that many of her friends had recently had babies, and ALL of them had experienced postpartum depression, which set me thinking. There is no question, postpartum depression is a very serious problem, and must be taken seriously, but I really wonder if these brand new mid-forties mothers really have it, or are just in shock over what they’ve gotten themselves into, particularly if they’re on their own. And a recent conversation with two other women in that age group, single moms with new babies, made me wonder about it even more.
I married in my late teens, and had my first baby at 19, and continued having more children later. It was a shock to have a baby at that age too, and daunting at times, but I grew up having children, and had to make big adjustments to my life, at an age when I had really never had freedom, and went straight from my father’s home to my husband’s, with no time in between to have a grown up life of my own. I never really questioned what I was giving up when I had kids, and didn’t have time to figure out or experience what my life would have been like without kids around. By the time I was ‘grown up’, I’d had kids around forever. But for women in their forties having first time babies, it is a HUGE adjustment.
For those single career moms, they did what they wanted to for 20 years as an adult, spent weekends away with friends, took naps when they were tired, went to spas, had facials and manicures, spent their money on themselves, could sleep late when they chose to (uninterrupted sleep), entertain how and when they wanted to, went out to dinner anytime they wanted to at the last minute, went to the gym every day for as long as they wanted to at the time they wanted, and took vacations where they wanted and could afford to go. No one messed up their houses, they didn’t have to find help, figure out if a child was screaming from an ear ache, was sick, or just tired and cranky. Their lives were their own for a very long time. And suddenly enter a baby (sometimes/often without a live-in partner, or any partner at all), and no one can really tell you what that’s like. And most people today don’t have the benefit of ‘tribes’/families in the same city, so no aunts or mothers or grandmothers or even older sisters to give them advice with a new baby. They’re relying on books, classes, and friends in the same boat, which isn’t the same as a wise old grandma or aunt telling you what to do with a colicky baby. And pediatricians and emergency rooms are now besieged with calls from frightened new moms who have no idea why their baby is screaming, and are panicked.
Suddenly those women who had seemingly enviable well ordered, even self-centered lives, discover what others know from having children earlier: a baby will eat up your time, wake you up frequently in the night, cry for seemingly no reason for hours, nursing is not always as easy as it looks, and some days you’re lucky to get out of your nightgown by 6 or 7 pm, and all you did all day was nurse the baby, and do endless loads of laundry, change the baby a million times, and never make it into the shower. Lunch with friends becomes complicated, dinner even more so, so those new moms end up isolated, and then scramble for day and/or night nurses so they can get a little sleep, and they’re sleep deprived and not used to it. They look and feel a mess, have no time for the gym, nor time for a facial which they thought was a given, and unless they have some kind of regular child care arrangement, they never get out of the house. The amount of time it takes to care for a baby comes as a huge shock to women who have only had to take care of themselves for 20 years, and it’s harder than it looks. I think many of the women who think they are suffering from post-partum are really just suffering from a huge adjustment to the reality of having a child, (with all due respect to those who really do have postpartum). They heard all about labor and delivery, but too little about everything that comes after that. And I’m not saying having a baby at any age is a bad idea, but I do think that most of those women who grab that last baby-train out of the station before it’s too late had no idea of what a huge change it would make in their lives. I never had lunch with friends when my kids were little, never slept through the night, never had time for professional manicures or had time to bother with nail polish, and I worked at night when the kids were asleep and was with them all day. You learn to get by on very little sleep, but it takes time. Even good changes in life can be hard to adjust to, and I can’t think of a bigger change than having a child. It changes your life in wonderful ways, and is a huge blessing, but if you’re not used to putting someone else first, deferring your own plans, having your life turned upside down, and going without sleep…..it is going to be a MAJOR adjustment. I feel for those women when I listen to their shock at what it entails, and I think once they adjust to it, as we all do with kids, they won’t be depressed. But those first months, or even year, must be rough. Maybe those of us with kids should be more honest about what they’re getting into, instead of just giving them baby showers. In some ways, they are better informed than we were who had kids earlier, and most of the later moms can afford to pay for advice: they have’ lactation experts’ and day or night nannies who teach them the ropes, they read books about various child rearing theories, and are afraid to just wing it. They want to be competent, as they are in their careers. But a baby can turn your life upside down in a minute, and a baby that cries for hours and hours is unnerving for anyone, and with no partner to take turns with you, dealing with it, you’re really stuck. So I feel for these modern day new moms, and I suspect they’re not suffering from depression, but just from the shock of a whole new life, and the end of their old one. They’ll figure it out, but I think the adjustment is a lot harder when you’re older. And it’s a brave new world with all these brave new moms. And hats off to them for accepting the challenge.