The challenges of young motherhood are many: the dirty diapers, the shrill cries, the pains of staggering from bed, wearily, with little to no rest. The litany alone is exhausting. And it can take a toll on a mother’s well-being, making her anxious, even depressed.
Depression for new mothers is dangerous, though, as a mom’s mood has a profound impact on her infant’s.
“There have been a lot of studies on maternal depression and anxiety,” says Susan Reneau Rathmell, a clinical psychologist who earned her master’s and doctoral degrees from Kansas University. “Babies are negatively affected by it. They can sometimes grow into children or adults that have mental health problems. (The depression) can disrupt the relationship between mother and baby. So, we understand (mood slumps), but we don’t want to be that way.”
All of this information is tucked into the pages of Rathmell’s first book, “From His Hands to Mine: Leaning on God Through the First Year of Motherhood.” A hybrid of sorts, the book is infused with psychological literature, Scripture and Rathmell’s personal prayers, scribed during that first year of motherhood. Her son is now 18 months old.
Writing the book was initially a cathartic way for Rathmell to handle the trials saddled onto her after giving birth to her son. It was also a way for her to connect with her son and with God.
"Years ago, I realized that I had to start writing down my prayers instead of saying them in my head at night as I was falling asleep ... before I finished them,” says Rathmell. "After my son was born, I started keeping a separate journal of prayers for him and about him. I thought it might be nice to give to him when he gets older.”
But the book kept getting bigger. And bigger. Before long, her husband suggested she cobble it into a publishable manuscript — a project other new mothers could read and possibly draw strength from. Realizing the potential of such a thing, Rathmell started to look at the book in a new light. She wanted to create a work that was intellectually valuable but also deeply spiritual. Using her position as a clinical psychologist, she looked through social science journals, collecting information about topics relevant to new mothers: How does a mom’s own mental health affect her baby? How does a new baby change a marriage?
“I thought about it, and I realized that I could make the book into something unique by pairing spirituality with social science,” says Rathmell.
For Rathmell, writing the book, penning her fears and prayers onto paper, was enriching — and empowering. Verbalizing angst, doubts and despair is something mothers tend to shrink away from.
“I think that new mothers often silence themselves when they talk about their experiences,” Rathmell says. “We feel ashamed to talk about our struggles and our worries, and we feel afraid that others will judge us. But these burdens are easier to carry when you can talk about them with others.”
Rathmell, who lives in Birmingham, Ala., hopes the book will encourage a dialogue about motherhood: the highs and the lows.
The book is available for purchase via the publisher’s website: www.publishamerica.com/benefits.htm.