Victoria Jelinek


The Baby Diaries 27

I like to tell people I have the heart of a small boy. Then I say it’s in a jar on my desk.
Stephen King

The Real Mother Goose book coverA favorite book of mine is The Real Mother Goose. I’m not the most enthusiastic proponent for motherhood as a ‘path’ for every woman, but I will say that a great thing about being a mother is getting to re read all the beloved books from your own childhood. But I must have missed the fact that Mother Goose is rather dark when I was a child, which is something that amuses me now as I read these to my young son who is also entertained by them, though likely for different reasons.

Take the “Three Blind Mice” for example: they run after the farmer’s wife who’s terrified and cuts off their tails in retaliation. And they’re blind mice. On the other hand, their mischievous chasing after the woman means they are not such “aw, shucks” pitiable little creatures–they undoubtedly know their effect on women who discover mice underfoot and start screaming in terror and are daring and provocative.

Or “Georgie Porgy.” He’s a predator. He chases the little girls around kissing them and causing them to cry, then runs away like a coward when the boys come out to play.

“Humpty Dumpty” falls off of a wall and despite the best efforts of the king’s men, is left in pieces.

“Rock-a-bye Baby” is calmly lolled to sleep in a tree before dropping to the ground with the bough, cradle and all.

Jack breaks his head open trying to get some water and is patched up with vinegar. Talk about infection.

“Little Bo Peep” goes looking for her sheep and finds their tails detached from their bodies and can’t put them back on her “lambkins.”

“Little Boy Blue” lazily sleeps through his chores. He’ll be fired (unless, of course, he lives in France). Meanwhile, Wee Willie Winkle is a total busybody.

“Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater” keeps his poor wife captive – what a control freak – until he becomes less ignorant. But at least he changed. Wonder if it was therapy or a police threat?

“The Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe” regularly beats her children after giving them only broth for their dinner.

“Bah Bah Black Sheep” has three bags of wool and makes a point of telling us he’s not giving a bag of it to the little boy who lives down the lane from him (ostensibly the little boy is a brat).

How about the old man in “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring” who bumps his head and can’t get up in the morning?

And poor “Tommy Tucker” has to sing for his food…

Everything goes wrong for “Simple Simon.”

Jack Spratt’s wife only eats fat and while they lick the plate clean betwixt the two of them, his wife will die of cardiovascular disease.

In “Ring Around the Rosie” everyone has a pocket full of posies then falls to the ground in ashes.

“Goosey, Goosey, Gander” throws an old man down the stairs by his leg for not saying his prayers.

“Lucy Locket” has no money in her purse, the loss of which she cries for.

Little Polly Flinders gets whipped for messing up her new clothes when she’s trying to warm her toes at the fire.

“Old Mother Hubbard’s” dog takes her for granted, even after she goes out searching for food for him.

A beggar steals a moppet pet from a child.

“Tom Tom, the Piper’s Son” steals a pig, eats it, and is beaten for it.

The maid gets her nose taken off by a blackbird in “Sing a Song of Sixpence” while the king is counting his money and the queen is eating bread and honey (talk about social disparity).

“The Kilkenny Cats” fight till there’s nothing left of either of them except their nails and the tips of their tails.

Does London Bridge actually fall down?

I went online to find out if there are any comments on this subject. What I found surprised me. There are books published about “the darker side” of nursery rhymes. There are chat forums in which parents are talking about the words to some of these beloved rhymes I’ve mentioned, above, and they say that NOW that they realize it, it’s neglectful and ‘wrong’ to read these stories to your children. Oh dear. My son can recite many of them aloud already – I’ll be found to be a negligible mother. But I maintain they’re humorous, and that means something, right? Besides, The Real Mother Goose has been on the bestseller list for children’s books since the early 20th century. Are these parents lying about not reading these rhymes to their kids nowadays? Is it a reflection of how uptight and moralistic and overly vigilant we’ve become, especially as it pertains to our children? Do many modern parents really want to expurgate Mother Goose? I mean, the old woman does fly in a basket up to the sky to clean the cobwebs out – you know what that means – she’s likely a witch!

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The Baby Diaries 26

Being an only child is a disease in itself. G. Stanley Hall

Only child TIME coverThe other day I was surprised to hear from a long-lost friend that she’d given birth to her third child. I never would have taken her for a mother in the first place. When I told my husband about my old friend, much to my surprise he suggested that we have a second child. I find myself astonished that he wants a second child and seems to have kept his mouth shut due to my own opinion on the matter. And now I’m confused, particularly as there is a lot of social pressure to have more than one child in France…likely due to the amazing programs available to help you care for them. On the one hand, despite my flawed relationship with my own siblings, I’m grateful they exist and feel bad that my son will not have this ‘record’ of his early life at home, or camaraderie on holidays or later in life, particularly as my husband and I will likely be dead by the time he has his own family. Moreover, I’ve bought into the stigma around only children as lonely, indulged, and neurotic creatures. On the other hand, the single children I know tend to be rather independent and strong-willed, traits I admire. And, also, there are too many people in this world already. I didn’t have a maternal instinct until I had my own child. In fact, I was skeptical of the whole motherhood route for a variety of reasons. I also had a very problematic pregnancy, and am not too keen to repeat the experience. If I were to try to get pregnant again, and to have a child, I would be doing it for my child and my husband only…I don’t want to be selfish, however, so I started talking to friends here in Chamonix and abroad, and doing a bit of research on the subject.

My friends in Chamonix told me that if there is even a seed of doubt in my mind, and if there is any chance that if the circumstances were different and I COULD have a baby in five years, once I’ve rested from the previous pregnancies, then I SHOULD try to have another baby now and just ‘grin and bear it.’ Two of these friends were only children themselves, and they went on to have three kids precisely because they were only children. Two other friends who were only children told me that they never knew any differently while growing up. Reassuring, except that they have two kids each.

Two close friends in the US who are also only children had a different take on the matter. Both of them say that they love and value their time alone. That they were raised to make the best of their ‘alone’ time or go crazy. Both say that they are self-reliable and self-entertaining. Both say that if there were any ‘problems,’ then it would be that it was harder for them to make friends, be outgoing. Both also admitted that they often wished that they’d had a brother or sister to share things with as they grew older, especially as their parents aged, but both remark that it’s likely that my child will a great spouse and/or loads of friends to share the burden and joy of life with, as they do. Both said that it’s arguable that being an only child results in various traits and issues, such as being headstrong, but who doesn’t have something ‘wrong’? It’s what makes us all special. They advised me to teach kindness and a desire to understand and learn from others, which will counter any negative aspects commonly associated with single children. Interestingly, both posed a question to me: “The real question is, would you be willing to go through all that you did to have another child?”

After much thought, I’m not willing to go through the stress of trying-to-get-pregnant sex, likely more miscarriages, and another difficult pregnancy. Whether my son (and husband) know it or not, this would hinder our relationship now and in the foreseeable future, and I feel it’s primarily motivated by the fear that our kid MAY be lonely and spoiled. I found an interesting article in The Guardian by an only child named Emma Kennedy entitled “Who Needs Siblings?”

She writes: A friend of mine recently sat down with me and asked me in all seriousness whether I was happy about being an only child. It was if she were asking me what it was like to cope with a disability. But she had an agenda. She has got an only child and she is concerned that if she doesn’t have another one, her currently happy and well balanced three year old is somehow going to mutate into a gorgon of bitterness and despair.

My experience of being an only child has been unequivocally positive, and I was happy to put my friend’s mind at rest. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a sibling, of course, but rather than wondering what he or she would have been like, I find myself wondering if I would have turned out to be a fundamentally different person. There is no way of knowing. But there are several things I know about myself and I am convinced they stem directly from being an only child. First, I love my friends beyond words. I have a huge circle of acquaintances, I am an incredibly social beast, but there are a handful of people to whom I am devoted to the point of madness…. Second, because I grew up with no experience of sibling rivalry, I have no professional jealousy. I have never, not once, looked at one of my peers and begrudged them their success…The only negative I can ever come up with when I am quizzed about the downside of being an only child is that, when the time comes, I shall bear the burden of my parents’ old age and inevitable decline on my own. While this will be difficult and stressful and heartbreaking, I can think of no greater privilege than being asked to look after the two people to whom I owe everything… I like being an only child. I am guessing that other only children like being the way they are, too. So, please, stop treating us as if we are birds with broken wings…There is a reason China is now the most successful country in the world. It is because it is run by an entire generation of only children. Coincidence? I think not. Let the world take note.

In a review of 141 studies examining the personality traits associated with only children, the spoiled, selfish, lonely stereotype had no basis in fact. Only children also rate significantly higher in achievement and motivation, due to increased parental scrutiny. Studies also indicate that only children score higher in adjusting to new environments, exerting self-control, and interpersonal skills – all skills I hold dear. But, it was my mother who both made me laugh and made me realize that for-better-or for-worse, my dear boy will be an only child; she told me that my siblings and me always wanted to be only children. Indeed. So, I will pull up my socks, get on with life as I have it, and simply love my single, and certainly singular, child.

 

 



The Baby Diaries 25

Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws. Barbara Kingsolver

A_Tree_Grows_in_BrooklynI recently read a book in which there was a passage that greatly affected me. While I have always been a person who becomes emotionally and intellectually involved with compelling characters in books I read, and have even been known to mourn them when they die, I am surprised by my reaction to this particular passage, described below in a note to my mother. My guess is that I feel particularly connected to the young mother in the story as I now have a child, and I’m particularly vulnerable to the world around me and to his experience within it–I can feel the woman in the story’s love and protectiveness, her hurt and her rejection. And I am aware of my connection with my own mother, who responds to my note with understanding, sympathy, and a hint of how to handle these very tender feelings. Thus is information passed from one mother (a literary creation) to another (me, the newish mother), to my own mother…it’s an empathetic, comforting connection which illustrates “the strength of motherhood, passed through generations.”

 

Dear Mom,

At my book club meeting the other day (it’s really a book swap for a group of expatriates in the valley who want to read English language books, and not pay for them), I borrowed a book called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Now, courage is a quality I admire most in people, and value greatly in myself, but I fear I can’t finish this book because it’s so sad: the story is told from the perspective of a little girl, a poor, tenement child growing up in turn–of-the-century Brooklyn. She’s precocious, an avid reader, but usually hungry – it hurts me to think of hungry children. Her mother works hard as a washer- woman, and her father is a sweet, but rather useless dreamer. Anyway, there was a passage last night that made me cry and cry and I could not get the image out of my head, and as I write this note to you, tears are coming to my eyes…

In the chapter, a pretty young woman, Joanna, who lives on our narrator’s block, has an infant son. She works in the factory during the week and Joanna’s mother takes care of the baby while Joanna is at work, but she never takes the baby outdoors because the child is a bastard and it’s “unseemly” to take him out of doors. This fact starts to tug on my heart as I think of the poor baby that has shame cast upon him, and they’re so impressionable and sensitive, through no fault of his own. One day, young Joanna takes her baby out for a walk (on the street of the tenements), as it’s a gorgeous spring day. The carriage is clean, the baby is dressed in clean white (uncommon among these “great unwashed”), evidence of Joanne’s love and conscientiousness, and the baby and she are smiling and happy to be enjoying the spring day together. But the women in the neighborhood, angry at their own circumstances, their savage husbands and loveless marriages, whatever, are cruel to her. At one point, they say to her that she has no right to be on the street and needs to go indoors. Again, my heart constricts with this notion, the meanness, and tears well up in my eyes. Joanna responds defiantly, crying, “It’s a free country!” The women start to throw stones and manure at her. One of the stones accidentally hits the baby in the forehead and a thin line of blood starts to run down his face. He starts to whimper, seemingly afraid to cry, as though he knows that he has no ‘right’ to cry out loud (this is where I started sobbing), and quietly holds his arms up to be picked up. The women are ashamed, but don’t apologize, just go away. Joanna takes the baby into her arms, comforting him, she’s covered in manure and now disheveled, and returns home. She abandons the carriage in the street. Our little narrator sees Joanna and the baby in the vestibule outside Joanna’s house, the baby touching Joanna’s face tenderly, and Joanna softly speaking to him, but they are never seen on a walk again.

I can’t reconcile myself to this today, can’t make my heart hurt less, it’s such a vivid scene and it has hurt me to the quick for that poor baby and his sweet, pretty, hard working mother (the father was a coward), and I’m so distracted that I’m finding it hard to focus on anything…do you have any salve for my soul?

 

Dearest Tori,

I understand.  Tears are in my eyes as I read the retelling of this part of the story. There is so much unfairness in the world. I tear up both at sad stories in the daily newspaper (usually about a child) and touchingly reassuring stories of kindness, of sympathy, of generosity, and I try to be a person of kindness and generosity. I can’t avoid my “soft-heartedness,” nor do I really wish to do so.  My sadness reaffirms my intention to be caring, but I then have to wipe my tears away and return to my more common, daily world and tasks, or else I, too, will be one of the broken ones unable to act to free oneself from meanness or purposelessness or lack of hope.

One cannot forgive or forget the sad things, but one puts it away in one’s “heart” and goes on.  Think, too, how the author of that story was able to convey the picture of people in a slum–in which there are, as I recall, Aunt (Cissy?) brassy and funny, and–the little, brave tree which grows amidst the stones and sidewalks and dead-end, unhappy, mean people.

Finish your guide for *. You’re helping to make kids lucky enough to be studying that play aware of things such as rejection and unfairness and also feisty rejuvenation and wisdom and some created happiness, instead.

Love, Mom

 

 



The Baby Diaries 24

“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age.” Victor Hugo

Boy-George-001A friend invited me to go and see Boy George in Chamonix last Friday night. Yes, that’s right – Boy George of the Culture Club fame, the iconic girlie-man in the pop band of the 1980’s – was in this wee village DJ’ing, or ‘spinning.’ When I remarked on how bizarre it was to have Boy George in town to my husband, he tried to give it the ‘big un’ about how Chamonix is a cosmopolitan place, a destination for many, and that I underestimate its appeal…that Boy George probably saw it as an opportunity to go snowboarding for the weekend, hang out in a “cool French Alpine village,” and do his DJ’ing. Hmmm. I later found out he was paid 15k, which makes more sense. Curious to see what he looks like now, and a little anxious to prove to myself that I’m not only a rapidly aging mother, I agreed to go. Then I found out that he wasn’t scheduled to begin till 1am. If I’m up at 1am these days it’s cause my little tyke has wet or pooped himself, had a ‘night terror,’ is hungry, or has indigestion. Moreover, if I’m up at 1am these days, it means that when my day inevitably begins at the crack of dawn, I’m going to be even more fatigued than usual. Not wanting to disappoint my friend, however, or myself, I decided that on the night of the show, I would go to bed at the same time as my son (shortly after dinner), then wake up at midnight and go to the gig. All went as planned, I got a few hours of sleep, got dressed, made a coffee for myself, took an ibuprofen, (god I’m lame), and set off for the nightclub.

Nightclubs still smell like the teen spirit of my youth – sweat, alcohol, hormones, and the close, stale smell of an interior that never opens its doors for a spring-cleaning. This one is downstairs in a cave-like space below a two-story magazin. I couldn’t help but think that if there were a fire none of we club goers would be able to escape and it’d be a tragedy noted on the AOL homepage. Many of Chamonix’s expat ‘society’ were out for the gig – middle aged, middle class, dressed up in heels and ‘hip’ tennis shoes, already drunk in celebration of being away from their respective hearths-and-homes, in denial of the next morning and the demands of children and the household. Boy George didn’t come on until 3am (he must have been snoozing before his set, too) and he looked good: he had a sequined butterfly flower makeup design on half of his face, eyeliner, white foundation make up, and a pink, glittery fedora, with a simple black suit. Like the rest of us, he’s put on a bit of weight over the years. There was a charisma and energy around him – you could sense him moving through the crowd even before he entered the DJ booth. Immediately there was a tight knot of people around the little booth, which would have made me claustrophobic. Hyper-realistically, cell phones were over the heads of everyone standing around him as they took pictures and made videos. Boy George didn’t do much other than bob around while his partner actually DJ’d, then he, himself, started spinning. He chose ‘poppy’ riffs, which were good, and the music he chose had an energetic, non-aggressive beat, but after awhile, it was repetitious, and, well, boring. I wasn’t the only one to think so either ‘cause the club drained of folks pretty quickly. That said, maybe the crowd left because they were knackered in the small hours of dawn?



The Baby Diaries 23

Before God we are all equally wise – and equally foolish. Albert Einstein

0594-marianne-stampInternational Women’s Day is March 8th and it has me thinking about what it means to be a woman in the context of motherhood today. It may be a taboo to write, but I find that the most difficult aspect of motherhood is the fact that I must be less selfish. I think it’s hard enough to be an ambitious woman in this world, much less one who is also a mother.

Having my son has been, by far, the greatest accomplishment of my life. This in the context of surviving divorce, illness, several moves, and a few career incarnations. In the long run, too, it is likely the most interesting thing I’ve ever done. This is in the context of living in a variety of places, working in the film industry and as a writer, traveling everywhere, and being married more than once.  But in the daily scheme of things, it’s hard work to be a woman and a mother. I won’t be able to sleep in again until he’s in his teens. I can’t just move to a more desirable locale if the whim or an opportunity exists, as I must defer to my husband and his wishes. I must work towards compromise and contentment in my marriage to the father of my child, even when circumstances are taxing. Living in a provincial small town, I must often sit with the women in the kitchen as we discuss our children and our marital relationships, when I would prefer rhetorical conversations on politics, culture, books, and film. And, when I do have the opportunity for these types of conversations, they are fractured because I must attend to my small child. It’s a lot of personal sacrifice and a lot of work, which has prompted me to go outside of myself and consider what we as women have accomplished over the last century.

Issues typically associated with notions of women’s rights cover, but are not limited to, several points: the right to bodily integrity and autonomy. Yet these rights do not exist for many women in the Middle East or Africa, as evidenced in mutilation exercises, rape, and the covering of the body. The right to vote. This is relatively new – it only became possible for women in the U.S. in 1920 and in the UK in 1928, and it has just became possible for Saudi women in 2011. The right to hold public office. Yet women are not evenly represented with men in public offices throughout the world. The right to fair wages and equal pay. Yet women, on average, earn 44% less than a male counterpart in the same position. The right to own property. Yet in China, male family members are the proprietors of property, and in France, a man’s property goes to his son, first, and if there isn’t a son, the father, and if there isn’t a father, a brother, before it goes to his wife. The right to be educated. Yes, indeed, girls can go to school, but see the aforementioned regarding equal opportunities and wages. Parental and marital rights. In France in a divorce, the children are not automatically put in the guardianship of their mother (not by a long shot) and there is no such thing as an equal division of property (the French republic’s motto is, after all, “Liberte, Eqalite, et Fraternite” even if the French republic’s motto is embodied by the image of a woman, Marianne of France). When there are disparate rights between men and women, institutionalized or supported by law, local custom, or behavior, the argument runs along the lines that women’s rights are different from the broader aspirations of human rights because of inherent historical and traditional bias against females. In essence, a man’s rights trump a woman’s rights because it’s just that way historically and culturally.

I stumbled on an article written in The Washington Post in October entitled “7 Ridiculous Restrictions on Women’s Rights Around the World.” Apparently, road safety laws do not apply to women in India (such as helmets on a motorbike). In Yemen, women are considered half a person when giving testimony (but hey, they can give testimony). Also in Yemen, women can’t leave the house without permission from their husbands (rushing to the aid of ill parents is exempted). In Ecuador, abortion is illegal unless you’re “demented” or an “idiot” (there’s another article on political correctness here). In Saudi Arabia and Morocco, rape victims can be charged with crimes (such as leaving the house without a man in the first place). Also in Saudi Arabia, women can’t drive (but they’re not even the worst – they’re #10 ahead of Mali, Morocco, Iran, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Syria, Chad, Pakistan and Yemen).

What’s also worrying to me is that many younger women (I can’t believe that I can say this) feel that the battle for equal rights between men and women has been won. Sure, there are more women in the boardroom and in the political arena, as well as greater equality in legislative rights, and there are visible female role models in all aspects of life…but, as mentioned, they are not paid the same as their male counterparts, nor represented in equal numbers in politics or business (ever notice that the heads of all the departments on a film crew are usually male, too, with the exception of hair and makeup, costume, and a few producing roles?) But this prompts me to hope, and, as I explain my hope, reveal my cynicism: my hope is that money will eventually motivate the change necessary to truly make women equal. The World Economic Forum recently wrote that there’s a “strong correlation between a country’s gender gap and its national competitiveness.” Ergo, a nation’s competitive edge in the long term depends on whether it utilizes its women, who comprise one-half of a given country’s “potential talent base.”

When I consider the global situation, I know I should be grateful, not least of all because I have the luxury to consider these things. I’m also married to a Danish man, and all of the Scandinavian and Northern European countries are in the top rankings for gender equality (alongside the Philippines and Nicaragua – who would have thought?). I can vote (but for whom?). I can leave the house of my own volition without fear of arrest. I can drive. I can work and have a family, even if it’s stressful sometimes. And while it sometimes doesn’t seem like it, I do have choices.



The Baby Diaries 22

“It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in the our air and water that are doing it.” Dan Quayle

Mont Blanc TunnelLa Vallee de l’Arve, which is the region that encompasses the village I live in, has very polluted air. I believe that Paris and Marseille are the only other French places that have worse air (and they have a few more people). This is ironic, given that the area became a tourist destination – its primary source of income – in the late 19th century when the Victorians would come here for ‘the mountain cure’ of fresh air. The problem is primarily the result of transit through the Mont Blanc Tunnel, home heating (bad wood, fireplaces and chimneys that aren’t energy efficient), and the fact that the valley is so deep that it traps the air in it. All the expats complain about the air and attest that this will be the reason they leave the valley, ‘Poor little Junior can’t breathe and always has a cough.’ It’s true. My infant son often has a cough and after several visits to the doctor because of it, we’ve been told ‘C’est comme ca…c’est le Chamonix toux…” (It’s like that…it’s the Chamonix cough…). I, myself, am always congested here, and I find it odd when I return to London that my nose becomes clear again.

Recently, my husband and I received a letter home from the crèche (nursery) letting us know that they would no longer be going outdoors with the kids on days in which the pollution index was too high. Mon Dieu. Then, almost all of the doctors in the region signed a petition addressed to President Francois Hollande, stating that the air pollution in La Vallee de l’Arve is a health issue, particularly for the vulnerable, such as infants, children, and the elderly. I signed and sent this petition to everyone I know globally in the hope that by having folks of other nations sign it, maybe the powers-that-be would think that the tourist money will dry up if they don’t do something (god forbid they do it for the inhabitants).

Now there’s the proposal for a second Mont Blanc Tunnel, or, alternatively, the expansion of the current one, to increase the amount of transit and goods through the tunnel. As an aside, those that own the tunnel – a 50/50 partnership between ATMB France and SITMB Italy–pay for its upkeep and all of the overhead/salaries associated with the running of the tunnel, in the first six days of every month, so the rest of the month is pure profit. A second tunnel, or the widening of the existing tunnel, would be dire in terms of air quality. Ten years ago there was fierce opposition by local residents against plans to widen the tunnel, but it seems it’s back on the table again. The Swiss are busy building tunnels for trains through their country in the hope of increasing efficiency and not destroying the environment. But the French, and Italians on the other side, are extremely reluctant and claim it will cost too much money.

So, this last weekend there was a demonstration in Chamonix against the pollution, in which the highway, La Route Blanche (The White Highway), leading up to the Mont Blanc Tunnel, was closed so that protestors could walk it. I sent emails and text messages to all the expats in the valley I know (not many, granted, but a couple of dozen), many of whom are regularly complaining about this situation. But on the day, there were five expats I recognized there. The rest of the crowd of, perhaps, 150-200 people, were French, and included Chamonix’s mayor and various council folks. A disappointing turnout for the valley of 10,000 regular inhabitants and 90,000 saissonaires, but, then again, it was a good snow day. I did receive numerous text messages from my pals with various excuses about why they couldn’t participate, but they reflected their hypocrisy. At the march, I carried a HUGE sign with about 13 other people for the entire demonstration. It was very heavy and awkward to carry, but the spirit of the crowd was one of camaraderie, and the line of us carrying the sign joked together, often as a result of the French ‘lovey’ next to me calling out to folks passing in cars or on foot ‘cause she seemed to know everyone and was really charming. We marched down the highway and into town, then to the Mayor’s office where there were a bunch of speeches (of course). Yesterday, the Mayor travelled down to Paris to meet with someone in Hollande’s cabinet about the situation. I look forward to discovering what’s next. I’m still hopeful, despite my instinct telling me that apathy and commerce will rule the day…



The Baby Diaries 21

Depression is melancholy minus its charms…Susan Sontag

Depression picHaving a baby triggers a heap of emotions both good and bad – pleasure, joy, enthusiasm, apprehension, anxiety, and, often, depression. Yes, that’s right. I’m daring to talk about the elephant in the room. The one that Brits don’t generally like to talk about and Americans talk too much about. When Brits talk about depression, their views often reflect their ignorance and outdated myths (or repression): it’s a sign of “weakness,” it’s self-indulgent, and one needs to keep their “chin up,” be positive, and all that. One thoughtless English ‘friend’ recently said to me, “Oh, I simply don’t have the luxury of depression!”

Regarding depression following the birth of a baby, rest assured it’s a complication of birth, not narcissism or an inadequacy on the part of the mother. It can happen a week or two after giving birth, it can happen a year after giving birth, or it can happen after nursing stops. Experts no longer regard depression’s cause as being purely physical, circumstantial, or emotional, but, rather, a combination of reasons. Physically speaking, after a woman gives birth, there’s a dramatic drop in hormones (estrogen and progesterone), and other hormones produced by the thyroid also drop sharply. There are changes in blood volume and pressure. Changes to the metabolism and the immune system. The mother’s lifestyle and emotional circumstances also can prompt depression. Perhaps the baby is demanding. Maybe there are other siblings. Perhaps she has difficulty breast-feeding. Or there’s a lack of personal and practical support. Her body changes, she feels less attractive. She struggles with her sense of identity as she feels a loss of control and independence.

The most common form of depression is called “the baby blues.” This lasts for a week or two, and causes the new mom to be moody, anxious, irritable, tearful, and unable to concentrate (though what new mother doesn’t feel this?). The second type is called “postpartum depression.” Symptoms include a loss of appetite, insomnia, intense irritability and anger. Overwhelming fatigue. No interest in sex. No sense of joy in life. Feelings of shame, guilt, and inadequacy. Severe mood swings. Withdrawal from friends and family. Thoughts of harming oneself or one’s baby. Difficulty bonding with the baby. The third type, and the most severe type of postpartum depression, is called “Postpartum Psychosis.” Symptoms include confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and serious consideration about harming yourself or your baby.

As mentioned, there has historically been a stigma to speaking about depression, so one is understandably reluctant and embarrassed to talk about it. But it is important for your own health, as well as your baby’s health, to talk to your doctor (in the first instance) about any combination of the aforementioned symptoms you may feel. Left untreated, each of these depressions can become more severe in nature and can lead to a chronic depressive disorder. Even when they’re treated, there’s an increase in a woman’s risk for future episodes of severe depression. Also, left untreated, the depression will affect your child negatively: studies show that the children of mothers with untreated postpartum depression have an increased likelihood of developing behavioral problems, such as sleeping and eating disorders, hyperactivity, temper tantrums, delays in learning development, language, and socialization skills.

The good news? It’s not your fault if you’re feeling depressed. And, contrary to the US, where doctors are so used to people asking for help with depression that there is an inadvertent “business as usual” approach, and contrary to the UK, where the whole “keep calm and carry on” myths prevail (it’s ironic to me that this British slogan was first used during WWII, and Winston Churchill was depressive and quite open about this fact), and one must beg for help with depression, the French are incredibly sympathetic, and they believe in a comprehensive approach. One that incorporates modern medicine, such as anti-depressants and sleeping pills, as well as holistic care such as acupuncture, meditation, vitamins, and yoga. So, if you’re feeling bad, and you suspect that you may be depressed, go talk to your local French doctor and read up on the maladie. Discover what it entails and how common it really is – you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel afterward, if only by learning that you are not unique in your feelings after all.