Whenever the media compare the lives of women today with the lives of women ‘back in the day,’ it’s almost always framed as net gain for us. But as Ivanka Trump’s explanation for why she suffered from postpartum depression demonstrates, the losses modern women have incurred are huge.
According toBabyCenter.com, postpartum depression “results from a combination of hormonal, environmental, emotional, and genetic factors that are beyond your control. Other factors include the physical exhaustion after giving birth, the emotional adjustment of becoming a parent, and sleep deprivation.”
There isn’t a mother in the world who hasn’t experienced those “other factors.” Hormonal and genetic elements are clearly individualized, and how they apply to Ms. Trump I wouldn’t know. But Trump’s explanation for why she was depressed speaks volumes about the environmental factors at play.
“It was very—it was a very challenging, emotional time for me because I felt like I was not living up to my potential as a parent or as an entrepreneur and an executive. And I had had such easy pregnancies that in some way the juxtaposition hit me even harder,” Trump told Dr. Oz.
The reality of motherhood is indeed a shock for many modern women. Why wouldn’t it be? The entire focus of their lives has been their education and careers. The transition to babies and toddlers is jarring.
We forget how wonderful it must have felt for our mothers and grandmothers to not have anything on their plates other than caring for their children. For today’s new mother, the feeling of being pulled in two different directions is the norm. She isn’t prepared for what Ivanka’s confession reveals: that pregnancy and childbirth is the least of it.
It’s what comes after, when the modern woman’s life transforms from an adult-centered existence to a child-centered one, that really rocks her world.
Babies and toddlers require constant, round-the-clock care. That’s overwhelming under the best of circumstances; it’s impossible to enjoy or even to do well when you have something else pulling at you.
“Look, I consider myself a very hard-charging person,” says Ms. Trump. “I am ambitious, I’m passionate, I’m driven. But this is something that affects parents all over the country,” she added.
Ivanka’s confession isn’t about postpartum, per se. It’s about a specific type of despair some new mothers face when they try to do the impossible: take care of babies and toddlers while simultaneously pursue a demanding career. Or in Ivanka’s case, while being an entrepreneur and an executive.
Who wouldn’t be depressed under those conditions?
There’s a way to avoid this depression. It may not be politically correct, but it works. Here’s what we tell young women:
A woman’s life has seasons: a time for this and a time for that. If you want children, you should know they will turn your plans inside out and all around. They will upend whatever it was you were doing before because their needs are staggering.
So plan your life and your career around motherhood, rather than the other way around. Stay home when they’re little. Work part time later on. Tag team with your husband. You have options.
But a demanding career and a demanding baby are incompatible. You will end up feeling, as Ms. Trump did, like a jack of all trades and a master of none.
Some insist the answer to this quandary is mandated parental leave. But that won’t solve it—because the needs of children don’t end after 12, 24 or even 52 weeks. On the contrary, they become even greater.
The truth is that a traditional family arrangement in the early years just makes sense, and most Americans know this. A new study by Pew Research shows that 71% of Americans say it’s important for a man to be able to support a family financially. Only 32% say it’s important for a woman to do the same.
Perhaps that’s because most people know that when children come along, gender matters. Even in families where both parents work, 70% consist of fathers who earn more than mothers.
Knowing these facts about American attitudes can go a long way in relieving the pressure women feel to be and to do it all. There are only so many hours in the day. As one CEO put it, “People say ‘work-life balance,’ but what they really mean is ‘work-life both.’ And work-life both is a lie. We are finite vessels.”