It used to be called the wintertime blues; now it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder. It used to be called teenage anxiety about how you looked compared to your friends; now it’s Body Dysmorphic Disorder. What’s next, motherhood, you might ask?
The answer is: yes. Being a mother is now officially hazardous to your mental and physical health, according to a trio of medical and psychological experts. There’s even a new name for it: Maternal Depletion Syndrome, or MDS. It affects two-thirds of all women who give birth to children, and half those women–a full third of all mothers–suffer from “significant depletion,” a dangerous state indeed whose symptoms include years, even decades, of sleeplessness, depression, guilt, fatigue, decreased libido, marital dissatisfaction, weight gain, and poor eating habits. It’s the ultimate medicalization of maternity: motherhood as lifelong pathology.
MDS is the brainchild of psychologist Rick Hanson, nutritionist Polly Hanson, and OB/Gyn Ricki Pollycove, whose book, Mother Nurture: A Modern Mom’s Guide to a Healthy Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships flogs the new syndrome they say they’ve pinpointed. So do mom-authors Stephanie Wilkinson and Jennifer Niesslein in their article “What Motherhood Does To and For You” in the latest issue of Brain, Child, which bills itself as “the magazine for thinking mothers.” (Thanks, Arts and Letters Daily, for the link.) Wilkinson and Niesslein declare that MDS is “a serious bio-psycho-social condition.”
According to Rick Hanson, et al., MDS is just about everywhere. Wilkinson and Niesslein write:
“Maternal depletion is the number one unacknowledged health care problem in the U.S., Hanson says. We should take this condition seriously not only for the sake of the individual women themselves, but also for the impact on our country and the economy when so many women are ‘running on empty.’ Children are neglected, marriages get into trouble, jobs suffer–‘all of which, one way or the other, costs our economy billions,’ Hanson says….
“MDS happens, they say, when three common factors collide: the high physical and mental demands of bearing and raising children; the low resources many mothers have on hand when they have kids (ranging from poor-quality food to insufficient help from a partner); and ‘personal vulnerabilities,’ such as having children at an older age, a prior health problem, a temperament that’s unsuited to the chaos of living with young children, or a bout of postpartum depression.
“By their calculations, one-third of all mothers will sail through the birth and caregiving years relatively easily. They’re likely to have the deck stacked in their favor: a loving, helpful partner, good overall health, youth, enough money, and ‘plain old good luck,’ Hanson says. One-third are likely to find it more challenging, suffering some depletion, fatigue, depression, or difficulty with their relationships–but they’re able to rise out of it by the time their youngest child is in kindergarten.
“The remaining one-third of mothers are at risk for significant depletion. ‘They have a really difficult time, especially in the early years, with more serious health problems and deeper depletion that has longer lasting consequences,’ Hanson says. ‘Their depletion may last into their children’s teenage years, and then collide with the challenges of the transition to menopause.'”
My word, that’s a lot of MDS mothers. And a lot of years of one’s life. So far, the Hanson-Pollycove trio hasn’t proposed a massive government program for dealing with the mental illness formerly known as being a mom–but it’s likely only a matter of time before someone does.