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Postpartum Depression: Deromanticising Motherhood

illustration of a woman who's face is covered holding a baby to her chest. her face is half hidden.

Motherhood is one of the most romanticised experiences, with mothers being seen as the ideal women. Facts that run contrary to the myth of the perfect experience, are brushed apart. One such experience is postpartum depression (PPD) – a form of depression women may get after childbirth, anytime during the baby’s first year but particularly during the first three weeks after birth. It is not limited to first-time mothers. Some of the common symptoms include feeling sad, hopeless and guilty about not wanting to care for the baby in ways you are expected to.

For this piece, I spoke to women who had experienced PPD and wanted to share their experiences anonymously. When asked about the level of awareness among medical professionals, family and friends about the reality of PPD, the response was consistent: typically the doctors only followed-up on the physical aspects of the post-pregnancy experience. While as medical professionals they were theoretically aware of PPD as a reality, there was little to no actual discussion about the issue or linking it to the women in front of the doctors. One respondent mentioned that her obstetrician said: “Yes, some women suffer it. It gets better”, while she was right there. Naturally, this made her feel that her pain was unseen and the doctor was not willing to have a true conversation with her.

While families and friends may also be aware of the condition, there is a lot of stigma around discussing what it means and seeking help. Several women mentioned how the 40-day confinement period (when women are not supposed to move out of the house for the mother and baby’s health) worsened their feelings of sadness and hopelessness, since they were constrained to their house (whether they were at their natal home or otherwise). As depicted in various forms of media, society has unrealistic expectations of how mothers and motherhood should be – enamoured by their babies, to feel only happiness at being a mother, being completely focused on their babies, living in the ‘glow of motherhood’. Being depressed is simply not seen as an acceptable response and as with other forms of depression, considered something women can snap out of if they tried hard enough – as if you are lazy, if you experience depression.

Some of the women mentioned that having supportive husbands made the experience a little better, especially when they were limited to home and had a constant stream of visitors asking intrusive questions about everything from breastfeeding to the mother’s diet. The confinement and constant visitors were not the choices they would make but in this scenario, respondents mentioned ways in which they tried to make the best of this situation.

When asked how they knew they had PPD (or as one respondent mentioned, a milder case of blues), respondents mentioned periods when they only wanted to cry and be left alone, or when they felt inadequate as a parent or mother. Others diagnosed themselves at first, using the Internet, and then followed it up with a visit to the doctor. Getting formal help came with its own stigma and not everyone chose to do it, despite knowing they would benefit from seeing a doctor. One respondent gave the example of taking up a time-consuming project at home to distract herself. While family did support new mothers with taking care of the baby, but they were disinclined to acknowledge PPD and brushed it off.

I asked the respondents what they wished they had known before their babies were born, responses were varied. One respondent mentioned she wished she knew how all barriers between her body, her parenting style, and society would be broken. Another spoke about wishing she and her spouse had discussed their roles after the baby’s birth with more clarity. Others felt that their feelings and suffering were minimized, if not ignored completely. They were seen as mothers only, not as individuals in their own right.
There are some online support groups but they are not enough and are not always free of judgment. Friends and family do have the potential to play a more supportive role but are limited by their own and societal prejudices and ignorance. Medical professionals in India are a long way away from acknowledging and setting aside their own biases about women’s lives and experiences. For now, women who are going to be mothers, are perhaps best served by building their own plan to deal with PPD – whether this mean finding the right doctor or educating their family and friends. None of this is easy and to be honest, none of this should be necessary. But until mental healthcare in India evolves to be a space where women (and people across the gender spectrum) can be seen without a biased lens, the burden of this work is left on individuals.
This article was originally published here.

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