During my six weeks postpartum checkup after my third child, I completed a survey about how I was feeling. My midwife read it, and looked at me soberly.
“Joy, I have to ask you about this. You said you have had feelings of suicide?”
“Well, I’ve been so sleep-deprived I have once or twice felt like it would be nice to be dead so I would at least get some sleep. And then the baby couldn’t wake me.”
She regarded me for a minute, then asked a few more gentle questions. I didn’t think it was serious. I didn’t actually want to kill myself at all. I was just so, so tired, and I couldn’t help but wish desperately for some sleep. As an occasional insomniac, I was used to feeling this way when things got really bad, and having everything fixed by a good night of sleep. This baby had me up all night often, and I couldn’t nap to make up for it because I was already back to work. Besides my husband, I had no family nearby to help with the baby or kids.
We decided I would let my husband know what was going on and try to get some more sleep in the next week, to see if that alleviated the moods. It did. But if it hadn’t, we were going to make another, more direct plan to take care of these feelings. For my sake and my family’s.
That’s what appropriate mental health care for mothers looks like. Wildly inappropriate — and dangerous! — mental health care would have been for my midwife to affirm my irrational, depressed feelings, and blame them on the baby. Yet that’s just what ladies’ mag Marie Claire does in a recent article, “I Regret Having Kids.”
This is not a “movement,” Marie Claire. It is not brave journalism to uncover, normalize, and glamorize the “secret lives” of mothers who need therapy, not reinforcement in their unhealthy and anti-human thought patterns. It is exploitation of the mentally ill, sensationalizing their suffering for clicks rather than helping alleviate it.
A Few Mothers Suffer, So All Women Should Beware Babies
The article does everything it can to scare young women contemplating the objectively beautiful and creative act of bringing a new human being into this world. It opens melodramatically: “‘Here’s the thing about realizing that you shouldn’t have had kids,’ says Laura*, 37, a journalist based in Los Angeles. ‘You can’t take the decision back.'”
This sort of prurient alarmism is a social disservice, and should be treated as such, not as “bravery” or other falderol. The same dramatic non-statement could be made about any significant decision: Marriage. Accepting a job offer. Heck, even getting a haircut. Should we not make decisions, then, because we cannot take many of them back? Of course not. Otherwise nobody would ever do anything worth doing in life.
Unless that’s what Marie Claire actually wants. The article says birth rates are falling dramatically and fewer millennials say they want children:
A 2012 survey from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found that just 42 percent of students planned to have children, compared to 78 percent from a similar survey in 1992. The change is actually already happening: In 2015, the number of live births in this country fell to the lowest number on record. Americans, it seems, aren’t as interested in parenting anymore.
Well, if people keep presenting parenthood as a hellhole comparable to World War I foxholes from which anyone lucky enough to survive struggles with PTSD, yeah, fewer people will want to engage. Pro tip for you, fellow millennials: This is horseshit. There’s never been a better time to have kids. Anyone who says otherwise knows nothing about history or biology. Other surveys show 90 percent of men and women — and 93 percent of millennials — want kids for a reason: children are worth the sacrifice.
Hm. Doesn’t sound like a “movement” any more, does it?
The Problem with No Name, Redux
Speaking of movements, this article also implicitly indicts the feminist movement:
It’s a huge taboo, admitting this kind of thing, but there’s a growing and largely ignored group of mothers all over the world who are confessing their regret over having children. Day after day, as they change diapers, drive to soccer practice, and help with college applications, they fantasize about a life unburdened by dependents and free from the needs of others. A do-over.
Wait a second. Has not modern feminism been hugely driven by efforts to solve “the problem that has no name“? Are you telling me feminists have been spinning their wheels since 1963? That for 53 years they actually haven’t addressed what they have long said is a serious ill that plagues women? If so, that’s a big problem for them. Maybe rehashing their narrowminded solutions for yet another generation will once again fail to satisfy women’s yearnings for something more. Something to think about.
Here the author also telegraphs that she is completely out of touch with women who are mothers, because every single one of us has fantasized about what life could be like in the alternate universe where we did not have children. Usually I start this kind of fantasizing about a half hour before bedtime, when I’m at my limit of kid antics for the day but still stuck with those monkeys.
Does this mean I should not have had children, or should demand that the world speculate about how I should have sterilized myself, or scare the everloving daylights out of my fellow women who have not yet created a tender heir to bear their memory, or seen their blood warm when they feel’st it cold? Again, of course not. It means I should tell those screech owls to play outside, draw the water for a quick fun bath time, or create some other sort of diversion and get myself over it.
This is what we call a healthy woman’s response to occasional child-induced stress. An unhealthy woman will indulge these lurid fantasies. And that’s what this article is really about.
Making the Individual Supreme Degrades Mental Health
Several common cultural assumptions underlay this article. One is the idea that things and people have merit, or value, if and only if a specific person says so. Worth is not objective, it is relative. We are not all created equal, endowed with our creator with certain unalienable rights; we are all amorphous creatures for whom truth does not exist or is ultimately unknowable, and therefore subject to our circumstances.
This, by the way, is the inherent conflict between the old civil rights movement and the new “civil rights” movement: the old insisted that men (and women) of every race were created equal, and objectively so. Its beliefs were based on objective, external truths that were to be applied equally to all: rule of law. Justice. The equal humanity and dignity of every person. The new, Black Lives Matter-style “civil rights” campaigns” instead say we cannot ever be equal because some have more privilege than others. We have no common basis for determining a single standard that applies to all. We only have our subjective, individual experiences, our self-determined “identity.”
Apparently this identity can change at will: from mother to “not a mother.” The fact that one has birthed a child and is therefore objectively its mother (and, if we continue in this train of thought, objectively has a duty to care for this child she has created whether she feels like it or not) does not matter. The mother “feels” she is not a mother. She rejects an outside, objective standard. She rejects reality and substitutes her own.
Another example pertinent to our Marie Claire article: abortion. A child is valuable if the mother wants it. That same child is so much incinerator fuel or black-market body parts if the mother does not. This is, at root, an entirely subjective values system that pivots entirely upon an individual’s choice, which is to say quite often an individual’s feelings.
This relativism, a pervasive assumption in our culture, is contributing to the American mental health crisis that has been increasing dramatically over decades. It is doing so in myriad ways, but one is depriving therapists of effective counseling techniques. For many mental health problems, including many forms of depression, patients’ problem is simply that they do not believe the truth. They think they are worthless. That no one loves them. That it would be better to die. Wrong.
Refusing an Objective Standard Enables Delusions
If a therapist believes his role is merely to help the patient get what he wants because there is no truth and no standard for good besides what the individual himself decides, what happens when the patient wants to be dead? To kill others on his way to killing himself? To abandon her family? To soak her face in drain cleaner so she becomes blind?
We used to call people in extreme denial of reality “delusional,” and think they needed substantial, sustained assistance to dispel the delusions. Now we reinforce their delusions. We used to call that “enabling.” Now, apparently, enabling is the new “therapy.” It is at root a result of lacking a framework for objective truth and morality.
This is a horrifying social development, because enabling typically creates more victims. For one, it hurts the enabled person. Living inside delusions is not fun. Do the women in this Marie Claire article sound like they’re having fun? Do you really think it’s likely they would be enjoying life if their children disappeared? Depressed neurotics typically remain depressed neurotics even if they get everything they want. People with OCD don’t get cured by living in an OCD-arranged house, but by learning to get over their hangups. It’s not their circumstances. It’s the person.
Enabling also creates more victims. Marie Claire‘s article is a prime example of blaming the victim. It’s not a child’s fault his mother has depression and sees him as an impediment to her happiness. Imagine growing up in that household, as opposed to one where the mother hears “This is not a normal way to feel about your baby. It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for your child. Let’s get you some help.” That’s what true care for sad mothers looks like. Not reinforcing their delusion that erasing their child would solve their problems.