Are You Feeling Depleted?
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
- Nutritional deficits
- Autoimmune conditions
- Intensified PMS
- Type II diabetes
- Some kinds of cancer
- Gallbladder and kidney disease
- 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.
Our society glorifies the wonderful side of motherhood, but it doesn't
want to look at the challenges. For example, new moms fall off the radar
of the health care system a couple months postpartum - as if bearing and
rearing children made no long-term difference. Articles in popular
magazines for mothers rarely go beyond chirpy proclamations that all
problems can be solved with stuff like low-fat casseroles or clever
tricks with a screaming baby. And compared to other Western, industrial
nations, America ranks dead last in family leave and other
This blind spot - or worse, denial - in our national consciousness
makes many moms think that feeling run down must be their own fault in
some way. Consequently, they delay (or never do . . . ) the self-care,
thorough check-ups, or firmly speaking up for themselves with their
partner that would reverse the downward slide of depletion.
It's a pity, since there are so many research-proven ways to lower
stress, replenish your body, heal the health problems common among
mothers, get more help from your mate, and nurture a lasting and loving
marriage after children. They're summarized in our book, Mother Nurture
(endorsed by Christiane Northrup, MD, and other experts on women's
health), and we'll also be exploring this territory in future columns.
Meanwhile, you can start feeling better by simply knowing that you are
not alone, that objective factors have brought you to this point (not a
personal failing!), and that there are plenty of good ways to improve
your health, your mood, and your marriage after children. Whether you're
feeling just a little bit worn out - or even that you're running on
empty - try this simple suggestion: Commit to doing one simple thing for
your own health or well-being for three days in a row, and on the third
day, decide if you want to keep doing it.
We wish you the best!
(Rick Hanson is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson is an
acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and son,
ages 12 and 14. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the authors of
Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate
Relationships, published by Penguin. You can see their website at
www.nurturemom.com or email them with questions or comments at
firstname.lastname@example.org; unfortunately, a personal reply may not always be