Many mommies experience postpartum depression or baby blues after childbirth. But because of the stigma attached to any kind of mental problems in India, they are afraid to talk about it. Recently, the Prime Minister of our country made the discussion about depression mainstream by speaking at length about it in his most recent Mann Ki Baat.
What Exactly Is Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression is a type of depression a woman can experience after giving birth. A woman may feel sad, lost and anxious because she feels incapable of looking after or bonding with her newborn.
The birth of a child marks the birth of two individuals – the baby, and a mother. The woman existed from much before – but never the mother. It’s a whole new experience and it is natural to feel confused and overwhelmed. Movies paint such a rosy picture that I wouldn't blame you if it turns out that motherhood is not what you were expecting – not really.
Postpartum depression is a subject that is rarely discussed in India. With mothers-in-law busy fawning over their new grandchild, and husbands too terrified of even handling the baby, no one even looks to see if the mother is also comfortable. Who has time for the mommy, when the baby needs feeding and changing and rocking round the clock?
Yes, babies, and especially newborn babies need immense amount of love and attention, but doesn’t the mother also need some amount of pampering? Shouldn't at least a fraction of the pampering she got when she was pregnant, continue after the birth of her baby too? Parenthood is such a meaningful event that friends, family and elders cannot even fathom that a mother would be anything less than overjoyed after the birth of her child.
The sad reality is that 1 in every 7 women suffers from severe postpartum depression and 1 in 5 women suffer from mild depression or baby blues. Despite these eye-opening statistics, I am surprised that this topic is rarely talked about around us!
My Experience With Postpartum Depression
I was never burdened with any housework. I had an army of helpers around me. A baby-crazy helpful husband on study leave, my parents (who had come to help me for my “japa” month), a full time maid, a masseuse for me and my baby, or japa wali, and a cook. There were numerous people around to change, burp and rock my little one.
All I had to do basically, was breastfeed and eat.
And yet, in spite of all these people around me I was suffering from Postpartum Depression.
I knew something was wrong with me. I didn’t discuss it with any doctor, though my very close friend (a gynaecologist) was just a phone call away. And no-one, not even my gentle, loving and caring husband understood what I was going through.
I had had a dream pregnancy, completely trouble free. I travelled to many places, I ate whatever I wanted, and I even packed and moved my house – twice. No problems whatsoever. And it was not as if, my baby was unplanned. After a long seven years of courtship and an additional four years of marriage – my hubby and I had both decided to begin our journey into parenthood.
I Never Even Considered I Would Not Have a Normal Delivery
Since, I was going to an army hospital, I was very happy that all the stories that I had heard about doctors doing C-section just to save time, were not going to apply to me. I’ve always had mild lower back pain, so I wanted to avoid an epidural, at any cost.
But does it ever go as we plan?
I was a couple of days overdue and my doctor said that the water level was reducing – and we should induce labour soon, if natural labour pains don’t start. Slowly, it began to dawn on me that I was going to be put under the knife.
I tried to persuade my doctors and family that I would deliver naturally – I trusted my body, but no one would listen. They prepped me for the OT and guess what – my water broke in the pre-operating room. Despite my protests to at least try for labour the docs considered it best to operate.
The only solace I had was that at least my baby and I were both safe. Skin on skin contact immediately after birth is very beneficial to babies; at least that's what I had read on numerous mom blogs – but as everything I had planned this too went out of the window.
My Husband Became Over-Protective About Our Baby
Nothing could have prepared me for what came. All the mom blogs, all the articles I read – nothing came close to what I felt inside of me. Once home, my hubby was in commando mode when it came to taking care of my baby. He had transformed into an overprotective papa-bear, while I was scared that I would roll over on my baby in my sleep.
My mother and husband – both sensed that I wasn’t coping well. My hubby’s overprotective behaviour had convinced me that I was a bad and careless mom, so I tried to keep away from the baby.
I Was Worried My Baby Would Get Hurt, Because Of Me
Knowing about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) I became afraid to have my baby sleeping near me. I became anxious and paranoid. I constantly thought that all the worst things were going to happen to my baby, and that they would happen because of my carelessness – my inability to care for him. I was always scared that I would drop him. I was shit scared to hold him.
The first two months were very difficult. I had chosen to exclusively breastfeed, and that also gave me severe backaches.
Sometimes it all seemed so overwhelming that I would just want to take a break.
Sometimes I just felt like standing for hours in the shower – just so that I wouldn’t have to speak to anyone. And yes, like so many mommies I have also cried and wiped my tears, all the while hiding in the washroom. I felt that my entire life had come to an end. I felt as if my personality, my dreams, my aspirations ceased to exist.
I felt ugly, fat with heavy unwieldy breasts. I felt like a cow – literally a cow – with milk overflowing onto my shirt every single time I breastfed. Each night my entire t-shirt, bedsheet and the mattress would get drenched, and don’t even get me started on the night sweats. I was constantly dehydrated and irritated.
My hubby had his priorities straight – baby first, everyone else could go to hell... including me, provided I was back for the hourly feed. I feel that our roles had reversed... What he wanted was to stay home all the time ensuring that the baby is safe and I wanted every excuse to escape.
Today, I thank God that my hubby was there all the time to take care of my little one, but his indifference towards me hurt me a lot at that time. I became frustrated with him. I was envious that he was a man unburdened by all this. My hubby was so engrossed in our baby’s care that he couldn’t concentrate on anything else.
Tears well up when I rethink about that time, but it feels weird and cathartic to finally acknowledge my feelings. Today, when Chikoo is one and half years old, and I have slowly begun to heal, I feel like my old self again. I have started a mom blog to share some of my thoughts and experiences, 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 around me and helping me, I was depressed. I would look at some of my fellow mommies, and feel guilty. Despite having to do so much housework in addition to taking care of baby– they are blissful in motherhood. This bliss is something I never experienced, not in the first two months at least.
I am still at a loss to understand why I experienced postpartum depression. But the truth is – postpartum depression doesn’t differentiate... any mother can succumb to it. It really doesn’t matter if you have people helping you or not.
There are women who never experience baby blues, through multiple births, and I am so glad for them. But there are many Indian women, suffering and overburdened by guilt. They feel they will be judged, like I did, and so will not speak up.
Let us stop brushing the issue of postpartum depression under the carpet. Let’s talk about it so that it gives other mothers courage to know that we are all in the same boat – imperfect moms, trying to do our very best for our babies.
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