Intimate attachments to other human beings are the hub around which a person’s life revolves, not only as an infant or a toddler or a schoolchild, but throughout adolescence and years of maturity as well, and on into old age. From these intimate attachments a person draws strength and enjoyment of life and, through what s/he contributes, gives strength and enjoyment to others. These are matters about which current science and traditional wisdom are at one.
John Bowlby (1980)
Two weeks ago, I wrote about postpartum depression in men. There are many reasons why such depressions occur. A variety of studies, including this one published in the U.S.in 2007, or this one reported in Scientific American in 2010 point to factors as varied as biological factors like hormonal changes in men during the their partner's pregnancy and postpartum period and like sleep deprivation, to ecological factors like a sick baby, a difficult relationship, financial stress, and a lack of good role models for fathering to help us to understand the ways in which men can have difficult experiences as they enter into fathering. A more recent study out of New Zealand likewise points to poor health and stress as common factors in the lives of men who experience PPD. The Scientific American piece notes that being proactive is important:
If there is a history of depression, be prepared for a relapse and have plans in place for seeking treatment quickly. If there is strife in the relationship between the parents, seek counseling or other help before or during pregnancy. Or if a father-to-be is starting to feel anxious about his new role and responsibilities, he should enroll in a parenting class.
If you know a father who is struggling--or if you are that father--please know that there are many resources for you, both online at Postpartum Support International and locally at Baby Blues Connection.
International Fathers' Mental Health Day was launched in 2016 to explore the transition to fatherhood, and the difficult experiences that can accompany that transition. As many as 10% of fathers will experience depression or anxiety after the birth of a child, and the fact of the child's mother experiencing a postpartum mood disorder is a significant risk factor for men. So IFMHD, which is celebrated on the day after Father's Day--on June 19th this year--recognizes the importance of letting men know that they are not alone.
Postpartum Support International has created this video, an interview with David Levine, a father who is a pediatrician and a survivor of postpartum anxiety and depression--it's great. Please give it a look.
The New York Times has been running a lovely series over the last few months that explores meditation in real life, offering suggestions about when and how to move into a more mindful state.This piece looks at how to be mindful while holding a baby. I am drawn to this piece, and to this practice, but especially drawn by these parts of the practice:
If the baby you are holding is awake and content, notice the changing expressions on his or her face.
If the baby is interested, gaze into its eyes for some moments. Notice any thoughts or emotions that may arise as you do this.
If the expression on the baby’s face changes to unhappiness or you hear sounds of fussing, notice any emotions this brings up for you — sadness, compassion, frustration or anxiety.
If the baby begins to cry, notice how this makes you feel, as well as any thoughts about the future, such as “how long will this last?” or “I don’t know what to do.”
Feel the feelings, as unpleasant as they might be, and return to the breath. By working at being with your breath, your body may become an anchor for the baby to find calm in the present moment.
This interplay between child and parent, parent and child, is the essence of the practice, just as it is the essence of the relationship: observing the other with care, noticing and allowing whatever thoughts, feelings and experiences arise for us as we observe, and returning to the place of calm within us in a way that allows the other to feel that calm and to use it for themselves.
I spoke with a group of parents yesterday about just this: how to mindful of what is happening for each of us as we live in relationship with one another at the same time as recognizing that our needs and our child's are not always the same. It’s hard work—work that often goes unacknowledged because it is described and/or dismissed as “natural,” meaning instinctual, effortless, lacking in intention. Good parenting is the antithesis of this: it is a skill that we learn in relationship with a particular child who has particular needs; it requires great effort, often when we are feeling depleted ourselves; and the more clarity we can bring to our lived experience as parents, the more easily we can notice those moments when we are or are not acting in accordance with our own values.
We enter parenting in many ways: by choice and by chance; birthing children, fostering children, adopting children, taking respnsibility for our siblings, our nieces and nephews, our grandchildren, our neighbors...
For many of us preparing to give birth, there is a deep desire to enter into the process with some clarity about what we want for ourselves and our babies, with some control, with a plan. But birth doesn't comply with our wishes.
A birth plan not going according to plan is an apt introduction to motherhood because the reality of raising a family includes surprises and ultimately letting go of control.
The New York Times recently published this beautiful illustrated piece on four births, four philosophies, four outcomes. Give it a look.
A friend visits with a basket in each hand, her twin sons. She feeds them, changes them, carries them, and lays them down with perfunctory attention. She says, Sometimes I think, “It’s been seven months! Where in the world is their mother?”
—Sarah Manguso, 300 Arguments (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2017)
I love this quote. It speaks eloquently to the strange slow shift in identity that comes with mothering, with fathering—the sense that this new life is not your own, but belongs to someone else. It’s distressing, disorienting. And that sense can lead to enormous self-doubt and self-criticism
And so I’m relieved to know that at last this disorientation is finally being taken seriously—that is to say, that it is being investigated by people who are not sleep-deprived, confused about who they are becoming, too interrupted to make sense of the experience and to hold onto the sense that they make of it. This piece on matrescence--the process of becoming a mother--by Alexandra Sacks, prior to the publication of her book this fall, is part of that exploration.
Often we worry and wonder about which action to take. Will our actions produce results? Meaningful results? And will they take us to the place we think we want to go? In moments like this, when we are consumed by restless thoughts, it can be helpful to remember this:
It is the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no results. - Mohandas Gandhi.