Dec 27, 2010

The Hospital Under the Bridge Syndrome

In a recent issue of Mishpacha magazine there was an Amitz story called "Advance Notice" which irked me because the message was the wrong message.  In short, a woman is left to handle 5 children under the age of six, the youngest of whom is a newborn.  She had no help whatsoever and had to care for the children (including the toddler who became ill), do the cooking, cleaning, and laundry, and all shopping herself.  Then, rather than reading that she finally got the help she needed, we read that she got a medical diagnosis instead and the subsequent treatment. 

This is reminiscent of the Chelm story in which the wise people of the town build a hospital under the bridge because of the many accidents that take place there rather than fixing the bridge.  This woman did not need a doctor, a diagnosis, or treatment.  She needed help in the house! We are fed article after article to convince us that PPD is nothing to be embarrassed about and urging people to be aware of the symptoms and to seek help.  Are we in Chelm?! It is obvious that if a woman has to deal with everything this woman had to deal with, that she is more likely than not to break! Rather than work on teaching us to "recognize the signs" and convincing us to get medical help, how about urging women to get the physical household help they need! If a woman is having her fifth child under age six, she and her husband must be urged to get household help.  The articles should be directed at women to insist they not be martyrs and at men to insist that they do not allow their wives to be martyrs.  No more hospitals under the bridge!

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  1. I totally agree with you.
    This reminds me of a cassette (from back in the day) I used to listen to to deal with insomnia.
    The narrator told over a story of a guy who had severe insomnia and was hospitalised for depression. One evening the patients were congregating in some sort of lounge with the TV on and a comedy showing. He says all the patients were sitting and moping while he and one other guy were sitting and cracking up in laughter from the show. He realised then that he was not depressed, he was simply exhausted! So he checked himself out and went off to deal with the insomnia.

  2. what if they can't afford help?

  3. Great story Chabadniker!

    Rosie - They have to figure out a way to get the help they need whether that means turning to their local Bikur Cholim, shul rabbi, high school girls-seminary, chesed organizations that operate in their area. They have many months to do this (unless born prematurely, a baby is not a surprise). Having her confined to a mental hospital or in bed at home after the "diagnosis" will mean SOMEONE will have to step in, or social services will.

  4. Shouldn't a woman in that situation discuss family planning with a rav? Some women have families that help, are naturally strong and capable, and have husbands with good incomes. If a woman only has one of those 3 perks going for her, she could have as many children as her body could bear but some women have no nearby family, poor stamina and organizational skills, and a husband who cannot pull in much of a living. Chessed organizations might send over a girl for an hour a day for at most a month after the birth. I have not heard of help arriving after that unless there is a special need. Some bikur cholim organizations help with a kimpeturim heim which some people feel is essential for mothers of big families to recover from childbirth. Not all physicians agree with sending the mother away and not all women feel comfortable leaving their husbands at home with their mother and the kids (yichud problem). A kimpeturim heim is not as expensive as people imagine but it does cost something. Some organizations will pay for a cleaning woman for a few weeks after birth but not long term. Jewish family service agencies will find them a cleaning woman but will probably not pay for it.
    If a woman is on the verge of a mental breakdown from having many children closely spaced, I don't know why they haven't discussed this with their rav.

  5. The point is that even if you do believe in the existence of mental illness or any other of the conditions they are coming up with now, these labels are being used to an extreme and in ridiculous situations where the true cause is totally being ignored.
    Often these labels are used as a scapegoat. Although I'm not convinced that these conditions don't exist, I do agree with one thing and that is their over use as a diagnosis.

  6. The true cause is ignored because the solution is not easy. A pill is easy.

  7. Okay, rosie, so that's the answer to your question. It's easier to tell women to take anti-depressants or prevent pregnancy (no matter the method, they all have serious minuses) than to lend her a hand.

    We are reading in the parshiyos these weeks about the Jews subjugated in Egypt. We know that the the Egyptians did their best to disrupt family life and the Jewish men despaired, but the women did their utmost to have children. They are commended for this. We don't say - what were those Jewish women thinking?! Children in Egypt? They should have spoken to a rav!

    It brings to mind organizations like Efrat which convinces Israeli women not to abort their babies. They do this by providing them with moral and physical support, convincing them that they are not alone. It's amazing but true that women who would have aborted because they couldn't see how they could afford to raise their baby, change their minds when told they will be given baby paraphernalia etc. I say it's amazing because a stroller and diapers are only necessary for a couple of years and yet, this is often enough for them to forgo the abortion! What about raising them until they are 20 and all the costs? That's not what concerns them at this point. Moral of the story: When women feel they are not alone, that there is someone who will help them out right now, this gives them the fortitude to carry on.

    The woman in the Amitz story was very capable. She held the fort and did quite well, as described in the story. The way it's written, she was able to rise to the immediate challenges of running her home by herself and it was only later on, when things had settled down (to some extent) that she felt depleted, even turning down an offer of a vacation to her parents. The offer came too late. It is very likely that had she had even a little help from the very start such as an occasional cleaning lady, someone to run errands for her, someone for an hour or two in the evening at bedtime, she would have been fine.

    What does it say about us and our values if we are willing to step in if a mother is hospitalized for an illness but we are not willing to help if she had a baby? It sends a powerful message to women - if you're sick, we'll help you, but if you want to bring children into the world that's your problem, and if you can't manage, don't have babies.

  8. what about families where bubby still has kids at home and can't give long term help when grandchildren are born? how much time do most people volunteer for non-relatives? how much time do most high school and sem girls have to volunteer? how well do other young mothers cope with volunteering?
    (one-handed typing =baby in arms)

  9. There are two issues being discussed here
    a) the birth control/ppd issue and
    b) Rosie's question re the lack of available support.

    regarding the first, Rosie the problem with birth control is that the pill = hormones and can often bring about ppd like symptoms in the person taking them.
    So what do you have, a woman who is taking the pill because she is afraid of not being able to cope > having symptoms from the pill that further confirm that she can't cope.
    Now don't get me wrong, I'm not totally against using Birth control when it's needed with the guidance of a Rov but it does present it's own problems as well and it's not a solution on it's own.
    And the other methods of BC are not without their own set of potential problems.
    The other concern I have with birth control is that for some, society is convincing women who may not otherwise need it to think they do and take it.

    Now on to your question Rosie about help, I'm with you there and I have the same question.
    How far does the community have to go to support it's mothers and do they go that far?
    From my own personal experience in our community they have a knack of deciding for themselves who really needs their help and that's a problem.
    So if you have family they assume your family is all taking care of you and aren't as forth coming as they are with those that don't have family.
    And I get that, it makes sense but it doesn't always work that way.