Being A Mom Can Be Bad For Your Health (And Science Agrees)

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 

Last night, both of my kids were sick. My little one was in bed with me, snotty and coughing, whimpering that he couldn’t breathe through his nose. My other kid was coughing his lungs out, and although he wasn’t asking for me, my mind was on him, worrying that the cough would trigger another asthma attack, something both of my kids are prone too.

All the while, my mind was racing with my endless to-do list. My little boy needs pants, I remembered at 3 a.m. I must add that to my to-do list in the morning, I thought. And ughhh…what about that doctor’s appointment that needs to be made? And oh shit, I must come up with a plan for how I’m going to help one of my sons deal with his homework anxiety, because it is fast becoming a thing.

So yeah…I didn’t sleep at all last night. And although I should be used to not sleeping after all these years of raising kids, I don’t do well with lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation does a number on my anxiety disorder, it wrecks my stomach (I already have IBS), and just makes me feel like a totally non-functioning piece of crap.

Of course, both of my kids were snotty, coughing wrecks in the morning, and so I kept them both home from school, which meant that I had to parent and work (I work from home) while my mental and physical health were an absolute disaster.

I realized at 7 a.m. – while fumbling around the kitchen making breakfast for my kids and feeling like I might actually topple over from exhaustion – that this kind of day is all too familiar. Although my kids are older now and don’t need as much of me as they used to, they still need me pretty freaking constantly. And now I have about ten million more responsibilities (job, managing their school life, extracurriculars, etc.) than I did when they were little.

It’s not just me. This is motherhood. Taking care of everyone and everything, while abysmally exhausted, and feeling like the entire weight of everyone’s life is on your shoulders.

It’s not like we moms need research or studies to prove what we live every day of our lives. But I happened to come across two recent studies the other day that confirmed it: Mothers are overworked, overtired, overextended, and all of it takes a giant tool on our mental and physical health.

The first study looked at all the “invisible labor” mothers perform and how it affects their mental health. Published in the journal Sex Roles, researchers noted that although men do more of the housework and childcare than in the past, women still take on the managerial tasks of the household. Oh, and they do this while employed. Fun times.

For example, 9 out of 10 women say they are the ones responsible for organizing their family’s schedules. And 7 out of 10 are basically the “family nags,” assigning chores to everyone and making sure they get done. Most women claim to take on the role of “family therapist,” helping their kids navigate their emotional lives – which, of course, means that women often feel responsible for everyone’s happiness.

Unsurprisingly, this level of responsibility resulted in “strong, unique links” to distress among moms, as well as lower levels of satisfaction with life, relationships, and marriage. Women also reported feeling totally overwhelmed with parenting, and that they had almost no time for self-care.

Susanne Walstrom/Getty

Duh, right? Still, it’s great that researchers are looking into these things, and helping us shout our woes from the rooftops.

Another bit of recently published research, based on a survey by Orlando Health, looked at the experience of moms in their “fourth trimester” (the first three months after giving birth). They found that a whopping 40% of new moms ended up feeling depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed during this time.

And although 63% of moms were just as concerned about their own health after they had babies, only 37% felt they had the time or resources to tend to it. In fact, 1/3 of women were so embarrassed about what their bodies were undergoing since giving birth that they neglected to discuss these things with their doctors.

Wow. Yet this isn’t all that surprising, either. How many of us felt uncomfortable asking about the fact that our bodies still didn’t feel quite right weeks or months after having babies? And what about our mental health? So many of us just think we are supposed to soldier through, no matter how depressed or anxious we feel postpartum.

Again, most of us don’t need studies to tell us that modern motherhood — with its relentless and unattainable expectations and demands — is too damn much, and that our mental and physical health is suffering a whole hell of a lot as result. However, it’s about time that experts in the field became more cognizant of this fact – and that, hopefully, society as a whole works on helping unburdening mothers a little more.

It’s no joke when people say that you can’t pour from an empty cup, and you can’t be the mother you want to be if you don’t take care of your own needs too. We don’t really have a choice in the matter – going to therapy, making that appointment with your doctor, and being open about what if bothering you – is so vital.

So many of us are strong AF, and are able to get through this shitshow while also finding little ways to take care of ourselves. But none of us can do it alone. It takes a village — not just to care for a child, but to care for a mother too — and sadly, many of us are lacking this.

I’m hoping that by talking about this all – and having more experts and professionals talk about it too – that eventually mother will be cared for and tended to with all the love and attention they bestow onto others. It’s about damn time.

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