Bollywood movies portray no mother ever suffers from postpartum depression or baby blues. In fact she is a pretty picture – always blissful and happy looking after her newborn. It is her ultimate goal in life – to get married and have babies!
Sadly this is not always the case and that’s alright! New mommies are human after all – and they just gave birth a new human being! It is natural to feel confused and overwhelmed. Movies usually paint a rosy picture, never showing you what happens in the background. So, if motherhood is not what you, as a new mommy was expecting – it is alright. Please, please don’t feel guilty!
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum is a type of depression that women can get after giving birth. Starting from the first 3 weeks after childbirth, women can succumb to it anytime during the baby’s first year of life. Women feel sad, lost, anxious and guilty because they are unable to bond properly with their baby.
In India postpartum depression or baby blues is a subject that is never discussed. Sometimes MILs are busy fawning over their new “waaris”. Husbands themselves too terrified of handling the baby or to confused to help! The baby is always the first priority – as should be- but no one even looks to see if the mother is suffering.
Don’t get me wrong, yes the new one needs an immense amount of love and attention. But the mother also needs the same if not more amount of pampering which she got when she was pregnant.
I have never understand why, there has always been a stigma attached to any kind of mental health problem. I have seen close relatives dealing with Bi-polar disorder and depression. A family member is depressed, but this is never openly discussed! It’s as if depression is contagious! Everyone around me refused to discuss, or even acknowledge that one of their own was suffering from acute depression.
He did not want to go to work – and that was seen as a sign of laziness – instead of addressing the problem. Even today, I feel, if he had got the proper treatment and loving support – his illness wouldn’t have continued for so many, many years. On days that he was feeling better, he would tackle so many issues. His mood swings and depression were kept at bay with an army of medicines. Only now, has he started alternative healing -doing Yoga and going to ‘satsangs’ everyday now and I can feel the remarkable change in him.
If people fail to understand clinical depression, they wont comprehend postpartum depression either. Having a baby is such a momentous event that friends, family and elders cannot fathom that a mother would be “sad” or “depressed” after the birth of her child.
Indian women are expected to be natural mothers – loving and fawning over their babies. The sad reality is that 1 in every 7 woman suffers from postpartum depression. And this is never talked about – because who has time for the mommy, when the baby needs feeding and changing and rocking?
In western countries, especially the US a vast majority of mothers choose not to breastfeed, preferring to rely on formula. Thus breastfeeding isn’t coming naturally to them. Formula was the norm, not breastfeeding.
When babies are on formula, moms tend to have some respite –as their boobies are baby free. As fathers, nannies and relatives can take over feeding the baby – the mom can take a moment to shower, change or grab a bite. I respect every woman’s choice based on her circumstances, without judgement. But, I am of the firm view that breast is best.
In India, however, formula is an alien concept. Majority of Indian women breastfeed their babies. It is only if the mom is working or not well that the bottle is brought out. Sadly this is also changing in today’s fast moving world. Double income is necessary for couples to survive in big cities. This forces many mothers to put their babies in crèches and bottle feed them.
Why am I discussing breastfeeding and formula when speaking about postpartum depression? Well because it’s a complicated intertwined matter.
Breastfeeding and PostPartum Depression
The longer a mother breastfeeds -more her uterus contracts. This ensures that she regains her pre-pregnancy body sooner. Breastfeeding results in an increased secretion of the feel good hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that helps a woman to bond better with the baby. The more the baby is able to breastfeed the more the secretion of Oxytocin.
But, breastfeeding is a huge commitment! HUGE!! It may not seem as such in India, where it is the norm. But if you look at our Western counterparts – they have it worse. Without any maids to do the cleaning, cooking and dishes! Imagine trying to get housework done, with the baby forever at your breast! It’s just not possible!
With the society changing, and women going back to work – breastfeeding has become more of a burden than a way to bond.
So instead of helping the mommy recover, breastfeeding has become a chore – and a never ending one. It is in cases like these that a mother resorts to formula even when she knows in her heart that “breast is best”.
For me, I had been blessed with an army of helpers. When I delivered Baby Chickoo, all I had to do was breastfeed and eat!
I had an army of helpers around me:
• A baby crazy helpful husband on study leave (It was like we had two years paid paternity leave!),
• My parents (who had come for a month)
• A full time maid -malish or jappa walli (For 3 months)
• A jharoo-poocha and Bartan wali (cleaning lady)
• A Cook.
And now for the moment of truth –
In spite of all these people around me I was suffering from Postpartum Depression. No, I was not diagnosed. No, I didn’t discuss it with any doctor. (Though my close friend herself is a gynecologist.) And no, my otherwise caring husband also didn’t understand what I was going through.
The image shared with this post is by Alexandra Kilmurray. It was her brave photograph and story that gave me the courage to share mine.
I had a dream pregnancy. I traveled, I ate, I laughed and I moved house twice. No problems whatsoever! Finally after seven years of courtship and four years of marriage we were ready to take the plunge into parenthood! Nothing, nothing could have prepared me for what came.
No heartburn, no weird aches, not much trouble sleeping – I never even considered that I would not be having a normal delivery. Plus I was going to a fauji hospital – all the horror stories that I had heard about gyanecs doing C-section just to save time and trouble were not going to apply to me. My doctors were govt salaried – it made no matter to them whether I delivered normally or via c-section.
Having heard that sometimes the anesthesia given during C-sections, causes babies to be depressed, I wanted to avoid a medical epidural at all costs. I had mentally prepared myself to deliver only naturally. Having myself suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety (I was born via C-section as well) I was willing to do anything to have a vaginal birth for my son! I walked, I did yoga and I ate well.
But it never goes as planned, does it? Because of moving cities, I had different gyanecs as well at different stages of my pregnancy, occupational hazards of my hubby’s profession. I was overdue – I told my doctor that I had been diagnosed with PCOS – I had 40 to 45 days long periods. She said it doesn’t matter, not relevant – you are overdue, water level is reducing – we have to induce.
On hearing that they have an 85% success rate of normal delivery, my family agreed for a induced labor – against my better judgement. After all the painful inserting still labor pains did not start. I knew they were going to put me under the knife. I wanted to run from the hospital. I begged my husband to take me away that i would deliver naturally – i trusted my body. No one trusted me. They prepped me for the OT and once I was in the pre-operating room -my water broke! And the doctors still operated! Despite my protests to atleast try for labor – they operated. If I had not been at the government hospital and in a private one maybe i would have worked up the nerve to scream at them and refuse the operation.
Well, at least me and baby were both safe. That was the only solace I had. Even after having read numerous blogs about not washing the baby and the importance of skin to skin immediately after birth – everything went out of the window. Only in the post operation room, did I vaguely recall that to increase the success of breastfeeding I had to get baby to suckle ASAP.
I remember arguing with the nurse who had placed my baby on a separate bed. I asked her to bring the baby to me or take him to my husband and she kept telling me he is fine, not crying – both mom and baby will leave together. Then I asked her to make the baby suckle at my breast. Instead of encouraging or initiating this on her own she tried to dissuade me by saying that baby is not crying – he is not hungry – no requirement to feed.
One of the younger doctors doing my post-op check up heard my request and asked the nurse to bring the baby to me. He said both mother and baby feel good by this, do it. I didn’t even get to thank that wonderful man!
It feels weird and cathartic at the same time finally coming out and saying all this.
At the govt hospital where I delivered they didn’t proved a separate crib or baby bed for my baby. I was shit scared that my baby would roll off the bed or worse I would roll over on him!
Once home my helpful husband was in overdrive commando mode when it came to all things baby. Being on study leave aka paternity leave as we liked to call it, he had transformed into an overprotective papa bear!
My mother and husband – both sensed that I wasn’t coping well. I didn’t want my baby near me. My husband’s ‘overprotective’ behavior was slowly convincing me that I was not a good mom. Having read a lot about SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) I was afraid to have the baby near me. I was afraid that I would accidentally roll over him on my sleep – as I read one mommy had inadvertently done. I became afraid to sleep next to him – and always placed him at a ‘safe’ distance.
I became paranoid – that all the worst things could happen to my baby – and that it would happen out of my carelessness – my inability to care for him! I was scared that I would drop him! I was scared to hold him! My mother brought my baby to me, only when he was hungry – and all I really did in those first 40 days was breastfeed.
Sometimes it all seemed so overwhelming that I would just want to take the elevator to the 15th floor and not wish to return. Yes, I have had those worst dark thoughts. Sometimes I felt like jumping out the balcony. Sometimes i just like standing in the shower – just so that no one would speak to me. And yes, I have also silently cried hiding in the washroom.
Somehow I had begun to fixate on my C-section. I was blaming him and my little one and everyone around me for what had happened to me. And what had happened to me? I had had a C-section. I was not able to get over it as the physical pain -was a constant, constant reminder.
My husband had his priorities straight – baby first -everyone else could go to hell. Including me- provided I was back for the hourly feed! Today I thank God, that someone was sensible at that time. But his antipathy towards me is what hurt me a lot at that time.
When my hubby was more worried (rightly so) about the baby than me all the doubts and dark thoughts I had ever had came to haunt me. I regretted choosing to move around the country with him and his transferable job over my dream job. Something that had entirely been my decision – but now I blamed him for that too. I wondered if I had been living in Australia, or New Zealand or England – would the doctors have been better equipped to ensure a normal delivery for me?
I was jealous of him. That he was a man unburdened by all this – free to pursue his higher studies. When in fact my hubby didn’t even want to go out of the house to attend the classes. Whenever he went for a class, he would come straight home and say he couldn’t concentrate in class thinking about the baby. Our roles had been reversed!!!! He wanted to stay home all the time ensuring his baby is safe. I wanted every excuse to escape. He should have been the mother – not me – I felt so inadequate.
Stupid. Illogical. I know all this NOW. But at that time these thoughts were all consuming. I couldn’t see straight. i didnt want to see straight. I knew I needed help – but I was afraid of the diagnosis. I was afraid what people would say. I finally understood why people are afraid to speak up about this silent disease called depression.
At times my marriage just didn’t seem worth it. I could come to terms with the fact that the person I had loved and cherished for more than a decade was so blind to my suffering.
I felt like banging either his head or mine, whenever he opened his mouth to speak. Vitriol, yes that’s the word – that’s what I felt!! Anjana, you have not placed the mosquito net properly. Anjana, you have not wiped his face. Anjana, the laundry is still in the machine since last night. Anjana, there is too much dust on our tables and headboards. Anjana, Anjana, Anjana – I was fed up of hearing my name. Whenever he or anyone around me asked me to do anything (and it was always something for the baby, never for himself)- I got really, really bugged!
Tears well up when I write this or I begin to relieve that experience. My awesome loving husband and me – we had just broken apart. We didn’t know how to connect. We were like two boats drifting further and further away from each other…..I had never hated, yes hated anyone with the intensity which I was feeling for him. It was like there was a physical barrier between us.
Today, when Chikoo is one and half years old, and I have slowly begun to feel like my old self again. that is one reason I started this blog. To share what I went through, so that if any woman out there is feeling the same – she gets the strength to ask for help!
I look back at that time objectively and analyze, how in spite of so many people helping me, I was depressed! I thank god for the good sense of my husband – that he did what I couldn’t.
Yes, I did not have any burden of housework – and this was such a relief. My bedsheets got changed every other day. You cannot imagine the sanity one feels sleeping on a crisp new sheet – unstained by baby poo or pee.
I would look at some of my fellow mommies, and feel guilty. Despite having to do laundry, cook and take care of baby– they are blissful in motherhood. This bliss is something I never experienced, not in the first two months atleast.
The first two months were like a living hell! I couldn’t pee without it hurting. The minute I laughed or coughed current would course through my belly. I couldn’t breastfeed for long without having severe backache. I felt ugly, fat with heavy unwieldy breasts. It constantly felt like I was a cow –literally a cow-with milk overflowing onto my shirt. Each night my entire tshirt, bedsheet and mattress would get drenched! There was no escape! Thank god that it was summer season not winter else, I don’t know what I would have done. Sometimes I still wonder why I experienced post partum depression. All I really had to do was breastfeed the baby. I did nothing else, I ate, I slept, and I breastfed.
Yes, and I cried too. A lot. Sometimes I felt that my entire life had come to an end. I felt as if my personality, my dreams, my aspirations ceased to exist. Nothing mattered any more, except looking after the my child.
My hubby and I had known each other for 7 years before we got married. We had our baby after being married for 4 years. So, it had always been the two of us for over a decade, and I was used to being the center of my hubby’s affections.
Don’t I sound like a guy? Aren’t the husbands the one who usually complain that their wives don’t have time for them, once the baby comes? Now that I think about it, I feel sometimes that my husband was the mother and I the breastfeeding dad!
But in the end, it was breastfeeding and breastfeeding alone that helped me to overcome my depression, that helped me to connect to my little one. He was of my own body. I feed him from my own body. It was a powerful, powerful realization!! And it helped once that sunk in!
Anyone can suffer from postpartum depression
Postpartum depression doesn’t differentiate -any mother can succumb to it. It doesn’t matter if you have people helping you or not.
I had so many happy helpers and yet I still felt unhappy. And then, there are women who never have to experience PPD or baby blues, even though they have 3 children! And there are women, silently suffering, overburdened by guilt and unable to speak up because of an unsupportive family or husband.
I may have been imperfect mother during the first few months of my child’s life, but I sure am going to be a good one now!!! Chikoo, I promise.
Like me, have you suffered or ARE suffering from post partum depression? Do you have a hunch that the new mommy in your neighborhood is having a tough time and could be experiencing PPD? Do you feel that your wife is not able to connect with your little one?
Please don’t judge her! Please reach out to her, please help her! Get her professional help – even her gynecologist could help. Like all machines even our brain needs rest. There should be no stigma in feeling unwell – be it physical or mental.
Mother in laws and insensitive realtives also sometimes, compound the problem. They should really stop taunting or making snide comments that “breastmilk is not sufficient”, making the new mommy feel inadequate. Instead help her, encourage her and she will sail through.
Let’s not brush the issue of postpartum depression under the carpet. Mothers have taken the most extreme step, when they feel they are incapable of taking care of their babies. Instead of belittling her, and shaming her and trying to make her feel small, encourage her to take small baby steps towards motherhood!
This article originally appeared on Mommy Republic!