New baby – not a job for sissies

Our fifth grandchild arrived just a few weeks ago, and as I watch my daughter, and help when I can, I’m struck once again by how hard it is to be a new parent. While I empathize with my daughter, I revel in being a grandmother. And apparently, we’re not the only species with this helpful relationship.

Here’s an easy riddle: What leaves you deliriously happy, totally exhausted, madly in love, and convinced you’ll never again see 10 minutes of peaceful solitude? A new baby, of course. Our fifth grandchild arrived just a few weeks ago. Our daughter and her growing family have been staying with us these past few months, so all my memories of a new baby in the house have come flooding back.

Emmett joins brother Finn, 3, and sister Maggie, 5. Their mother, Mollie, has lots of support – a very engaged husband and both sets of grandparents, extended family, and old friends here in Anchorage. Even with that sturdy support network, the prospect of a long hot shower seems like nirvana – alluring and impossible.

As I watch my daughter and help where I can, I’m struck once again by how hard it is to be a new parent. Certainly, it can be more difficult for poor families and single mothers, but even those blessed with greater resources and support can be stressed to what feels like the breaking point.

One important leap forward has been the recognition of postpartum depression as a serious clinical condition and development of treatments for it. Thankfully, it has lost much of the shame it carried just a few years ago. A big shout out to actress Brooke Shields for helping to bring it out of the closet.

Bette Davis said “old age isn’t for sissies.” Well, the same goes for parenthood.

Now, grandparenting, that’s a different story. While I empathize and sympathize with my daughter, I revel in being a grandmother once again. And apparently, we’re not the only species with this helpful relationship.

According to a recent report by the BBC, menopause and post-reproductive helping have evolved among the great apes and toothed whales. The grandmother hypothesis was first proposed in the 1950s, the BBC said. The theory was that menopause, which stops a female’s fertility well before the end of her lifespan, evolved to benefit a social group; grandmothers went on to play an important role in caring for offspring not their own.

What’s new now is that two scientists in the U.K. developed a mathematical model to map kinship dynamics among killer whales (orcas), short-finned pilot whales, and humans. The study revealed that as post-menopausal females age, they develop closer ties to infants. All the whales in the pod benefit when grandmother whales are there to help out … and the same applies to humans.

Best,

Abbe