There is no shortage of people who feel that post-natal-depression was invented somewhere around the early seventies. My father is convinced there was no such thing back in his mother’s time when she had four boys. Three of whom were born close together and the fourth, referred to as God’s Little Gift, was born about fifteen years later. He always maintains that he and his three brothers never fought or gave his mother much grief and that no-one they knew suffered post-natal-depression.
While my father was very supportive of me during my post-natal and subsequent depressions, he doesn’t understand why it is such a phenomenon these days when before men and women just got on with life regardless. There was little anecdotal evidence of women’s suffering in his day.
Last night I attended a University lecture on the History of Psychology. Self-actualization and the Humanist Movement was on the agenda. Self-actualization is based on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. From the bottom up, we need physiological needs; food, water, air, shelter and safety from the forces of nature and carnivorous predators. Then we can concentrate on belonging within a community and love needs followed by developing confidence and self-esteem. After which we then have the capacity to reach our full creative, independent and spiritual potential. History tends to reveal that men self-actualize and women bring up the children.
It’s my experience that it’s difficult to reach your full potential with screaming babies, sore nipples, sleepless nights, two-year-old tantrums, supermarket fights or three great big thumping teenagers in the house all arguing over whose human rights have been abused the most by other members of the family. Had I been a 1950’s housewife and mother, I think I would have drunk myself to death in the corner of my immaculate, gadget-filled kitchen. Think Julie-Anne Moore in The Hours. Would Abraham Maslow self-actualized had he been a house-husband up to his neck in nappies?
History and Literature was mainly written from the point of view of men, without the added balance of women, and mainly concerned men’s issues, such as war and politics. Back in those days not many people, although Emily Pankhurst, Virginia Woolf and Betty Friedan spring to mind, were interested in what women thought about life in general and raising children in particular. Just because there is very little record of how women felt, doesn’t mean they didn’t feel it at the time. How different life would be now had women been given a stronger voice in the annals of history and a chance to reach their full potential over the ages. Thank goodness we are starting to create a more enlightened environment where men and women can equally share mystic or peak experiences that are important to both sexes.
My father is a product of his upbringing and typical of his generation. Subsequent generations, especially my children’s are brought up with the knowledge that while child-raising is rewarding and fulfilling to a certain extent, it’s not the be-all and end-all of a woman’s existence. We all need to reach peak experiences in our own special way. Anti-depressant medication for me is attending University at the ripe old age of forty-seven and sitting amongst several hundred other students most of whom are thirty years my junior. Now that’s my definition of a peak experience.
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Last reviewed: 11 May 2009