The Perfect Mother

Carolyn Phelps, Ph.D

October 21, 2014

I did a search on Amazon using “Perfect Mother” and aside from a novel that looked like great Halloween reading if you’re into the “Mommy Dearest” genre; the list generated my personal favorite “The Real Mother Goose.” You remember? The nursery rhyme lady, uh goose. So I was glad not to get a list of How to be the Perfect Mother. (There was however, a book on How to be the Perfect Mother-in-Law; but that’s another show.) I was able to find a book called “How Not to be a Perfect Mother.” I am considering buying multiple copies because as far as I can tell, there is no end to the women who could use it. The cultural pressure that we place on women to be perfect never ceases to astound me. From look perfectly thin, beautiful, and wrinkle and jowl free; to being a perfectly pregnant (where you have done all of the “Do’s” and done none of the “Don’ts”) and perfectly need-free mother. None of this works for any of us. Men don’t really care about this, except maybe Tom Cruise (Remember that nonsense? I feel quite certain that Brooke Shields does.) And it’s killing us women; some literally, others spiritually.

So here is the real scoop: women with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and any other psychiatric illness you care to name become pregnant, deliver babies, and get on about the business of motherhood. High functioning pregnant women with resources can develop debilitating anxiety, depression etc during the course of their pregnancy. And both groups deserve to be treated like intelligent sentient beings, who deserve treatment; and can, with good information, make wise decisions that are in their best interest AND the best interest of their child. Sometimes what might be best is therapy. Sometimes what might be best is medication, and sometimes, both. But the number one point, the takeaway, the bottom line is this: women are capable of making good decisions with good information. And what is best for one woman will not be what’s best for another. Ok that’s two points. But you get the drift. Quit perfect. Get help if you need it from someone who is smart and knowledgeable and will listen to what you have to say (which is not always the same thing as tell you what you want to hear.) If you’re a woman here’s a great resource to get you jump started: www.womensmentalhealth.org. If you’re a man – it’s ok to read and become informed too: it may help demystify what’s going on around you.

A viewer asked if you can have post partum mental health problems if you adopt. Kinda – yeah. So no you can’t have post partum mental health problems because post partum refers to the actual delivery of a baby housed in your body. But you can develop mental health problems: for all of the same psychosocial reasons as all the other mom’s (and a few other psychosocial reasons – like family weirdness around adoption you weren’t expecting).

And here’s a question a staff member asked me to ask and I totally forgot: How about placental encapsulation? Somehow, until that moment the whole eating the placenta movement had escaped me. Probably has something to do with the fact that that I am beyond childbearing age (stop wondering: 55) AND I don’t have children so there was never a placenta around for me to consider if I would make a lasagna or crème brulee with it. Let me say that I know somebody who knows somebody who made the lasagna. Unfortunately for all those readers who are wondering I have no recipe. And believe me I asked. Did she include it in the tomato sauce or whip it into the ricotta cheese? Did she tell the guests before or after dinner? I even googled it to see what recipes there might be for the adventurous cook (Anthony Bourdain has been to many parts unknown – but maybe not this one.) Some advise to treat it like beef or liver and make a taco out of it; others a smoothie. Now, as a woman who likes to cook – I can tell you that I usually do not  see ingredients for liver and onions as being interchangeable with a mango strawberry smoothie, but to each their own. The amazing thing is that the first site I checked had a man whipping up a placenta ragout and eating it while his wife had taken the baby to the hospital. WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE???? The second site I visited had tons of recipes: Roast Placenta, the Placenta Lasagna I mentioned, and what I thought was going to be my favorite – Placenta Cocktail. Alas, for all of you who are worrying that the Placenta Cocktail may deliver alcohol to the babe – via the nursing mother, stress not; it should be named the Virgin Placenta Cocktail (but maybe they thought that implied something TOTALLY different). The websites are quick to point out that we are the only species who does not eat the placenta – and thus, we should not find placenta eating strange; the only thing that is strange is that we do NOT routinely eat placentas. (We are also the only species to do a lot of other things like wreck the environment, drive cars and write blogs.) AND it is a well known fact that eating the placenta helps a mother to recover because of all the rich vitamins and nutrients etc, etc. What does all this have to do with postpartum mental health? Well, some believe it helps decrease the baby blues by stabilizing hormones quicker. I did not see any double-blind scientific evidence that supports this (which doesn’t mean that NIMH hasn’t funded hundreds of these studies already). But consider this, NIH DID fund studies where they performed “fake surgeries” on half the sample with bum knees and real surgeries on the other half of the sample with bum knees. By fake surgeries they mean that they cut the person’s knee open and DID NOTHING but stitch them back up. And the results? Both groups – the real surgery group and the fake surgery group recovered from their knee ailment at the same rate. You see, the fake surgery group believed they had the real surgery (cuz that’s what they were told.) So all of this is to say, YES! Eating the placenta very well may help some women’s emotional well being after delivery – especially if they expect to feel better. If all of this talk about eating placentas makes you a little anxious consider 2 things. First, as my mother always said: “You don’t know unless you’ve tried it.” Second, take a deep breath and tune in on Thursday October 23rd for a show on Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders.

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