Will becoming a mother improve my mental health?

I’ve been thinking about the relationship between mental health and motherhood ever since I realised nine years ago that what I was experiencing was depression.

I’ve worried that depression would make me an unsupportive friend and wife, and a frightening mother. But I’ve also known I don’t want it to determine how I’ll live my life.

These fears surfaced again when I had my first appointment with a midwife who asked about my mental health history, including what meds I’d been on and for how long. She reassured me that it was just routine and that women who’ve suffered from depression do not necessarily develop postnatal depression. I wasn’t that concerned about postnatal depression though. I just wondered about my depression in general.

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For the last nine years, I’ve experienced at least one extended bout of depression each year except the last. The greatest change has been that I got married. I can’t say whether this would have been a time of mood stability for me anyway but marriage has been a powerful motivator for me to address my swings.

Knowing that someone else depends on me and desperately wanting to be fair to him, I’ve been a lot more watchful – quicker to take a step back from life, rather than characteristically waiting for crashes.

Whether it’s coincidence or improved coping, the absence of long months of debilitation has decreased my fears about what my depression might mean for my children.

Yet, this issue always lingers somewhere towards the back of the closet. So I found it refreshing to read Viv Groskop’s article Having children helped my depression in the Guardian when @imperfectpages tweeted about it.

I loved someone taking a positive view of the relationship between motherhood and mental health. And, because I do think that marriage has helped me on some level (at least for now), I was encouraged by the idea that having children might improve one’s sanity.

I do worry, though, that Groskop may be writing from the perspective of mild depression, without making the distinction. When I’ve been in the depths of depression, it’s not been a matter of not wanting to get out of bed in some purely self-indulgent way but of literally losing the grip that enables me to.

I’ve forgotten how to use the washing machine, lost track of where I’m walking and found that conversations don’t make sense anymore. I’ve kept the lights on all night because I’ve been convinced that there were malicious spirits lurking in my bedroom.

Depression last hit me in 2009, almost challenging our engagement and nearly wrecking my MA thesis. Though I’ve experienced low moods, especially in times when work has been hard to come by, it’s been nothing like that since.

While I appreciate the optimism in Groskop’s article and am glad she’s found being a mother has helped her, I can’t help but find it a little unrealistic. How does she know depression won’t hit her again? Not that I wish it on her and, perhaps, it won’t.

But I can’t blindly hold on to that optimism for me. While I do think that the role of mother will help motivate me to self-manage better, just as the role of wife has, I just can’t imagine that the creature will automatically fix things for me – and I don’t think I should put that kind of expectation on her, anyway.

Obviously, I can only speak from the perspective of someone waiting to have a baby. Perhaps things will radically change. As far as I can see, though, motherhood will mainly ‘help’ in the sense that the intense responsibility will remind me that I am not just pursuing wellness for me but for my family.

Image: Laurence Jarrett-Kerr