She was feeling over run,
Had too much to do,
And no one was there to help her,
She wanted to shoot through,
But upon her they were dependent
She had to soldier on.
Robot-like she functioned
Sleep deprived and unsupported
afraid to stop – she would be judged
Maybe even reported.
So on she marched, ever on
Until she could no more.
A Nervous Breakdown they called it
And others had to step in
Tut tutting at the situation
Thrust upon the next of kin.
When she was feeling better,
All went back to as before.
It was not a Nervous Breakdown,
For this is not a ‘thing’
It was a cultural breakdown,
A societal failing.
This Mother was unsupported
And expected to just cope.
The term ‘Nervous Breakdown’ has popped up several times this week, in random places. In all cases, the context was “My mother had a nervous breakdown” spoken by ‘baby boomers’. ‘Nervous Breakdown’ is not an official term, it is not a medical definition. It is vaguely understood to mean that a person reached the limit of their ability to cope – in a time when depression and mental health was not well understood and was even shunned. The shame and difficulties associated with being ‘less than’ what was expected, different to what was expected or more needy than ‘appropriate’ meant that many women ‘soldiered on’. Robot-like, the ‘stepford wife’ ideal meant there was no time to think, to reflect or express oneself.
In all the stories of nervous breakdown I heard this week, the under current was a lack of support. A lack of recognition, early on, that this mother needed some help. That she was experiencing Big Feelings, that she needed some time and support to process.
In one story, the breakdown came with the death of a spouse. This incredibly HUGE event, and it’s implications for a home-based woman (ie UNWAGED), would have meant that along with grief, she experienced great stress. These days we might sympathetically see this as PTSD, and not expect her to simply get on with it.
Another story spoke of a single mother – recall at a time when this alone was a great shame – in a deeply religious and rigid cultural group. She felt greater pressure to perform ‘perfect mothering’, so became rule focused and robot-like. Unable to show affection or relax, for fear that she would be shunned by the only ‘support’ she knew. A life unlived, processed and stressful, feeling ever watched.
The impact on the children of women experiencing these feelings, is called ‘transgenerational trauma’. We are seeing this in current times as a result of birth trauma: the PTSD that can result from experiencing fear, violation or extreme loss of control during birth. And just as we glossed over, ‘brushed under the carpet’, the Nervous Breakdowns, we are doing the same with birth trauma.
We continue to expect new mothers to ‘just get on with it’.
We have workplaces set up for a patriarchy – a childless world where the only responsibility is to your job. This is problematic for all people involved in unpaid care work (also known as life).
A society that has lost its ability to care, is on the fast track to a dystopian reality.
It isn’t just in relation to children. This also extends to the care of the disabled, elderly and sick. We outsource ‘care’, so that we can continue with the expectations of a workplace. Because without the work, we have not the means to provide….and yet we need to work longer hours to pay for the outsourcing of the care….this catch 22 means we a stuck in a holding pattern. Unable to land and unable to find another pathway.
If we start with Birth, the rest will follow. If we start by honouring the importance of mothering, and increasingly the role of fathering. That the ‘village’ we so often speak of is NOT a virtual reality in troll laden facebook group, or a pressure-driven competitive mothering group led by a rules-based nurse pushing strict routines and pressure to be ‘available’ to one’s husband.
We need to honour the importance of communication. With spouses. With extended Family. With healthcare providers. With the Village.
This is the what it means to be human.