PJ Media

The Delusion of the "Perfect" Mother

I spent a good part of the day at the doctor’s office dealing with a sick kid — what parent isn’t this time of year? While in the waiting room for three hours, I had plenty of time to read freelance writer Adrienne Martini’s book, a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0743272730?ie=UTF8tag=wwwviolentkicomlinkCode=as2camp=1789creative=9325creativeASIN=0743272730″emHillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood/em./aimg src=”http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=wwwviolentkicoml=as2o=1a=0743272730″ width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”” style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;” / I met Ms. Martini once as she used to be the editor of Knoxville’s alternative paper, emThe Metro Pulse/em, and a href=”http://www.metropulse.com/dir_zine/dir_2003/1314/t_gamut2.html”did a review /aof my documentary, emSix,/em before moving North to pursue other interests. br /br /The book tells the story of Adrienne’s decent into madness after the birth of her daughter and her subsequent hospitalization for postpartum depression. Apparently, the women in her family descend into madness after the birth of their children and the same happened to Adrienne. Unfortunately, like many mothers with postpartum depression, Adrienne buys into the delusion that out there, is some perfect mother image she is supposed to live up to–a one size fits all approach made up by the La Leche league mafia or some derivative thereof. br /br /Adrienne and her husband dutifully hire a emdoula,/em a woman who is supposed to help the mother during the birthing process. Her doula is also a lactation consultant who will help her with breastfeeding. “All of my college-educated bohemian buddies–very few of whom, I must observe, actually had kids at that point–told me that breast is best and chicks who formula feed are wimps who don’t care enough about their infant’s health to put up with a little discomfort.” During the childbirth, Adrienne feels that she cannot conquer pain like a “real woman” and “whimpers for an anesthesiologist” and feels like a coward, thinking that the doula and nurse see her as “weak and annoying.” Who wouldn’t feel that way, after listening to all of the bullshit this poor woman had put herself through prior to her delivery.br /br /Later, when her baby has jaundice and is becoming badly dehydrated from a lack of fluids because of some trouble Adrienne is having breastfeeding, she does not want to take her doctor’s advice to start formula and starts to “go on about how important I think breastfeeding is, about how much it improves IQ and overall health, about how it gives new moms a hormone lift and helps them lose the weight, about how I’ve been warned by my granola friends (none of whom have kids) that pediatricians are all in the pockets of the big formula companies and will push the stuff even though we all know breast is best.” br /br /It is no wonder after all the worry over being the “perfect mother” that Adrienne ends up in the mental ward of a local hospital in Knoxville believing herself to be a failure as a mother: “I’ll drive myself to the emergency room, where I’ll check myself into Tower 4, a local psych ward… I’ll stay there for a better part of a week, bonding with my fellow loonies while someone else takes care of my brand new baby becasue I am a failure. New moms are supposed to be joy made flesh, yet motherhood and I met like a brick meets water, I am drowning here, not waving.” br /br /I have never understood the machismo that women put themselves, or worse, others, through to try to live up to some non-reachable standard regarding mothering and childbirth–but have you noticed all the while, these same women are the ones complaining bitterly about how some men are too macho. What’s the difference? br /br /And for women who tend to suffer from depression or mood disorders, the delusion of the perfect mother is more devastating, because the dichotomy between what they are able to do as a mother and what they perceive they should be doing is usually greater than for those women not suffering from these disorders. Therefore, their wish to be the perfect mom is more likely to come crashing down around them and result in an exacerbation of their postpartum depression. br /br /As a psychologist, I have seen many more children in treatment because their mother was depressed and stressed out then I have seen kids who missed out on breastfeeding until college. Adrienne finally discovers this by the end of the book: Her daughter now “watches TV. She eats red dye and French fries and nonorganic produce, but generally not at the same time. The holier-than-thou mommy patrol, who believe in breastfeeding until college and growing their own organic flax, would be appalled. Which is fine, really, because they aren’t much fun to hang out with in the first place. I can be perfect and completely insane or good enough and sane enough.” Sometimes good enough is….enough.