How experiencing post-partum depression changed my view of a ‘perfect mom’

I’ve realized that as moms, our biggest mistake is to try and fit into the socially accepted role of the perfect mom—one who sacrifices everything for the baby, to try and be someone you are not.


1. pregnancy

My pregnancy was unplanned. I got married just out of college. Eight months later, as I was all set to enroll for an MBA,  I found out I was going to be a mother. I was in denial. “This cannot be happening,” was my initial reaction. Also, I didn’t have the classic symptoms of pregnancy—nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to smells, etc. In fact, my pregnancy was easy, it was just a difficult time, emotionally. But by the second trimester, I slowly came to accept my pregnancy and by the third, I was looking forward to my baby. I went for Lamaze and ante-natal classes. I really wanted a natural birth.

A traumatic delivery

My labour started the right way—the baby’s head descended, but my labour was extremely protracted. After eight hours, there was no sign of my baby coming out. I was the perfect patient—calm, not screaming, doing my breathing, so on. And the hospital (one of those mom-and baby specialty places) was packed. There were not enough beds in the labour room. I guess the staff wanted to free up beds for others. One of the attending interns said she would rupture my water bag, I protested, but just then I had a contraction and the pain left me silent. The intern also asked my husband to go out though I wanted him to stay. She ruptured my water bag, and immediately, baby’s heartbeat came down. My baby was in distress! As I lay traumatized and in pain, the staff wheeled me into the C-section, against my wishes. That’s how my daughter was born.

After birth, my baby was in the ICU and I was in the recovery room, filled with terrible guilt that I had not tried my best for my daughter. Worse, I couldn’t even bond with her. No one showed me how to breastfeed. I had inverted nipples and didn’t even know what that meant. And I suffered from cracked and bleeding breasts every time my daughter tried to drink milk.

My peers were doing their Masters, but at 22, and I had a baby to care for. I felt utterly lost. I had severe crying bouts. Previously, an emotionally strong person, now I would cry hysterically for no reason. Even I couldn’t understand why. No one in my family knew what was wrong. There was no awareness of post partum depression (PPD). At my ante-natal classes there had been a perfunctory mention of PPD, but nothing about signs, symptoms, what to look out for, etc. My family and I were totally clueless.

Who am I? What happened to my life?

Before pregnancy, I used to be 49 kgs. Now I had touched 67 kgs. The weight gain added to my sense of feeling lost. I didn’t know where my life was headed. I had episodes where suppressed childhood memories (that I had no recollection of till then!), overwhelmed me. For example, a memory of a myself as a seven- year-old playing all alone in the school grounds with just the watchman for company, filled me with so much anger towards my mother. She had forgotten all about picking me up from school because of her busy meetings schedule. My mother was (and is) a working mom, so growing up, I was in the care of a nanny from six months of age.

My anger had me seething, “how could my mother have left me like that?” I came to believe I couldn’t leave or trust my baby with anyone else. There was no one I could talk to about these feelings. My friends were still single, they wouldn’t understand.

“Run away, run away”

When my baby was about four months, I started hearing voices in my head, male voices whispering: “…run away, just run away. You can have your life back, you can start life afresh”. Moreover, my baby was a night baby—she would feed practically all night, and then sleep at 4 am. I was exclusively breastfeeding her the first six months. And she was also inexplicably crying all the time. (I later found out that she had colic).

Meanwhile, my mother had to go back to work. So I felt like a milk vending machine, I felt no one bothered about me. My husband was (and still is) very supportive, he helped as best as he could. But I was in sole charge at night. One night, my baby’s crying got so bad, I didn’t know how to pacify her. The voices told me to hide in a dark place. So I left her in the crib and hid under the wardrobe, under the bed, under the kitchen cabinet—to shut the crying out. I had this intense panic attack, I felt consumed by guilt that I was an incompetent mother, that I did not deserve to be a mother. I wanted to run away. I even packed my bags and kept money ready, like the voices told me too. It took an immense effort to shut those voices and not run away.

In my fights with my mother, I was using abusive language, smashing things in my rage. I had become another person. During this period, I also lost my best friend because I hurt her with my behaviour. Worse, there was friction in my marriage because of my mood swings, etc. My husband didn’t know what was happening to me. Well, I didn’t know, either.

Seeking help

My baby was eight months old by then. I knew something was seriously wrong with me. So my husband and I went to the top psychiatry specialty hospital in the city. The doctor we saw told me I had bi-polar disorder. That I needed immediate hospitalisation, that I couldn’t breastfeed (because I had to be on medication) and that I was too dangerous to be near my baby.

The doctor’s diagnosis was unacceptable to me. My husband was fully supportive. He said we should seek a second opinion. That’s how we went to see another top doctor—a psychiatrist who is also a marriage and relationship expert. He diagnosed me with PPD. He explained it was treatable, that I was not losing my mind or going insane. He explained it was a combination of factors that had led to this. He advised medication and counselling. As I wanted to continue nursing, I opted for counselling with the assurance that I would go on medication if things did not improve.

Feeling hope, for the first time

The diagnosis was a great relief. The doctor didn’t belittle me or my situation. And that helped. I had been guilt-tripping myself thinking my own selfish ambitions had led me to this. But knowing I had something treatable made a difference. The counselling worked and the voices in my head died down. Things slowly improved. By the time my daughter was 10 months old, she was sleeping better (my husband and I worked at changing her sleeping patterns). I hired a cook who could also babysit while I got some extra sleep.

I re-started doing things I love, like cycling and yoga. Doing my morning yoga made me so happy, that carried me through the day. Exercise truly releases happy hormones (endorphins). Interestingly, I had tried gymming previously, but that did not help me at all. Doing what I love helped me the most. It helped too that I was no longer just confined to my home. I used to be an avid backpacker and trekker, I slowly re-started that too.

Loving my baby, myself, my life

I’ve realized that as moms, our biggest mistake is to try and fit into the socially accepted role of the perfect mom—one who sacrifices everything for the baby, to try and be someone you are not. There is also so much pressure today, to lose the baby weight immediately. And people can be so cruel about weight gain. When my baby was seven months old, I attended an engagement function. A woman, who had known me all my life, didn’t recognize me. She in fact, told me: “You’re so fat. I, on the other hand, lost the baby weight immediately, but then I had a normal delivery.” Hearing this, I felt gutted. I stopped going out and that, in turn, made my situation worse (this was before my PPD diagnosis). It took me two years to go back to my pre-pregnancy size.

Why, there is even a stigma over having a C-section. My daughter’s birth weight was 2.6 kg. Some of the people who came to see me after delivery would taunt me saying, “you couldn’t even deliver such a small baby!” Why cannot people be kinder to new mothers, not say such hurtful things?

My daughter is almost three and a half years old now. At 26, I am younger than most other moms around. But first and foremost, I accept that I am not a “perfect” mom. My doctor told me that new moms often set too high standards for themselves. It is so true. Today, I leave my daughter at my mom’s place so I can go on treks by myself. Other mothers judge me for this but I know that I am a better mother if I have the space to be myself. What’s more, my daughter is independent and strong. Every time I come back from a trek, I bond with her better, I love and cherish her more. My only regret is that I will never get back my best friend.

On the other hand, my experience has led me to my true calling–I am training to be a Lamaze-certified Birth Instructor. So I can help other new mothers. So they won’t go through what I did.

(as told to Divya Sreedharan by Anjana Sharma (name changed on request))

 

#SpeakYourMindlll-logo is a special series on mental health by The Alternative in partnership with  The Live Love Laugh Foundation. Starting Mental Health Day, Oct 10th, the series will feature voices and expert views on issues like depression and anxiety disorders and how sensitivity and timely support can help people overcome them. If you have a personal story around mental health to share, please write in to editor@thealternative.in, and we will publish it in the strictest confidence.

 

 


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Divya Sreedharan is a journalist and author in Bangalore. She writes on gender, health, lifestyle and ageing-related issues for various publications and has a blog titled Connected Lives on Citizen Matters. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Divya Sreedharan is a journalist and author in Bangalore. She writes on gender, health, lifestyle and ageing-related issues for various publications and has a blog titled Connected Lives on Citizen Matters. more

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