© Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac. 2001, 2002
How a Mother Gets 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've heard statements like this one from nearly every mother we've ever
met. Many of them think in the back of their minds that they must be
doing something wrong.
But in fact, you feel the way you do for very concrete, physical
reasons, and understanding those reasons gives you clarity, eliminates
self-blame and guilt, and points you toward solutions.
Think about it: motherhood is profoundly fulfilling . . . but it is
also the most physically demanding and stressful activity most people -
whether women or men - will ever do, and it gets done day after day for
twenty or more years. The job is harder 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: skillful with the kids and committed to
parenthood, they do their fair share around the house and are
sympathetic and supportive. But let's face it: many are not. The average
mom works about twenty hours more per week, altogether, than does 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 raising a family today in an environment that is
vastly different from - and at odds with - the one in which human beings
are adapted to and are meant to have kids. The frantic pace, lack of
supportive community, scary culture, need to juggle work and home, toxic
pollutants that even appear in breast milk, mediocre nutrition, etc.,
etc. all wear on a mother's mind and body.
As a result of all these factors, research has shown that raising a
family is associated with generally poorer health in a woman, especially
as the number of her pregnancies increases. In particular, studies have
found that motherhood raises a woman's risk for: fatigue cardiovascular disease
nutritional deficits hormonal problems
diabetes kidney disease
gallbladder disease some kinds of cancer
depression a higher overall mortality rate
Even when a mother seems to have a purely mental concern - such as
irritability, poor memory, or a blue mood - there is often, in fact,
something awry with her body. 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, your body could be getting depleted as well,
which means both that its vital nutrients are becoming drained and its
key systems are getting dysregulated.
Motherhood is not a medical issue, but depletion is. Every year, it
impacts millions of American women and their family members, and it
probably leads to billions of dollars in health care expenses and lost
So we don't think you're "fine." Sure, you're not ready for the
hospital - but you shouldn't have to be in the Emergency Room to get the
care that will help you feel really good, rather than merely not-sick!
In future columns, you can learn about proven methods for getting the
stress relief, nutrition, health care, teamwork, and intimacy you need.
They will prevent depletion and build up your well-being, so that this
wonderful time in your life is as good as it can possibly be.
And meanwhile, you can start feeling better about things just 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 and your mood.