READ EXCERPT: 'Mean Mothers' by Peg Streep

We talk about mother love as though it were a universal and absolute truth and, perhaps, this has nothing to do with motherhood at all. If Erich Fromm's idealized, if wishful, thinking about unconditional, instinctual love is a shorthand summary of what we hold to be the "truth" about motherhood, it probably also testifies to our deep psychological need for a love without strings or complications.

We want desperately to believe that every mother falls in love with her baby at first sight and that the complexity of relationship, so evident elsewhere as part of the human condition, is totally absent from the connection between mother and child. This ideal is so ingrained in our culture that, until relatively recently, even science held that pregnancy and childbearing were a protection against maternal unhappiness or depression – rather than potential causes of them. In 2005, Brooke Shields' frank depiction of her struggle with postpartum depression – after years of trying to conceive a child – was newsworthy for that very reason: how could a famously beautiful mother with an equally beautiful daughter possibly be made so miserable by motherhood?

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