Postpartum Depression Should Not Be an Alien or Exotic Term Anymore

Art by Zei Jooyeon Bae (Courtesy of the Atlantic)


Mehnaaz Pervin Tuli


A childbirth can be an introduction to a lot of joy, some adorable proud moments of nurturing a life, and a lifelong precious attachment along with phases of depression and mental breakdowns. Postpartum Depression is a clinical term referring to depression initially stemming from rapid hormonal fluctuations post pregnancy and childbirth, which eventually requires proper medication, thorough counselling, therapy sessions, and long term family support. 

There are countries, especially within Asia, where talking about mental health issues or seeking medical attention for recovery from depressing episodes, is considered just an unneeded luxury. Hence, the new mothers facing serious levels of depression and mental agitation hide it all to prevent themselves from being ridiculed. Mothers of any age, culture or religion can go through this dark phase after childbirth and the causes can be both physical and emotional problems or even due to poor and unfit surroundings.

Oftentimes we mistake baby blues with postpartum depression but the latter one can be a prolonged phase of suffering, mental pain and disappointment. Baby blues is a very normal emotional phase that can occur just after child birth but almost always vanishes within two to three weeks. This actually occurs from the thought of handling a lot of new responsibilities for a tiny soul whom you would want to be the safest with you all the time. This baby blues can happen to mothers also because of the excessive crying of the newborn babies, especially at night. Each baby reacts differently and we name babies with the tendency of crying for long periods of time at night as colic babies. These babies are likely to wake up frequently at night, feel uneasiness with their new world and new form of life. These recurrent cries of newborns can make mothers restless and clueless regarding the appeasement of the child, thus giving way to baby blues. 

But postpartum depression is the discussion of long term emotional suffering and mental breakdown of new mothers, with frequent panic attacks and mental instability. Postpartum depression is also said to occur due to genetic inheritance or prior periods of depression some time before pregnancy, non-cooperation of the family and the significant other about helping out with the newborn, newly parenting, and endless responsibilities. This depressive state can persist for months after delivery and can last up to a year, only getting deeper and darker if unnoticed and untreated. Not only mothers, but fathers can also face depression if they act as the primary caregiver of the child. However, this is not as common as it is in the case of mothers. The causes of this depression are related with the unnecessary stereotypical gender performativity norms of women being the sole bearer of all responsibilities that comes with the birth of a new life. There are a lot of unpleasant external factors such as incongruity in conjugal relationships, hostile fights in the family, loss of occupation, discontinuation of hobbies with little notice, being cut off from friends and the broader outside world and being confined to a room with the baby and household errands—can lead to the serious aggravation of postpartum blows.

Both the father and mother can work as a team to handle these barrage of responsibilities, be it the physical or monetary support for the child or by giving each other some space to nurture themselves. Nevertheless, the best form of healing from this unpleasant state can be taken from accurate medical attention along with an easy access to counselling and therapy sessions. 

Now shifting attention towards the bleak condition of acknowledging mental health hazards and treatment in Bangladesh, it is simply ghastly. In many parts of the country and in many families, the term mental counselling is an alien notion, even for educated and sophisticated people. Shaming and mocking the victims is normal as they openly seek medical counselling or mental healing, thus sufferers spiral into an even more bleak and vulnerable position. At such an unwelcoming abode, a woman for sure cannot have the privilege of sharing her state of postpartum distress, let alone seek medical counselling. Moreover, the mothers are overburdened with phrases telling them that they are to carry out all responsibilities of the child except the monetary ones. Mothers are blamed mercilessly, even by family, if the child gets sick or hospitalised. They are often insulted publicly. This is a thing I have witnessed in a brutal fashion in hospitals and have found women sobbing and lamenting helplessly without even knowing what their fault was. I was extremely disappointed to be a spectator of this unnecessary hostile behaviour towards mothers by their husbands or their in-laws or sometimes even the mother’s family, in the hospital in front of the nurses. The fathers are odiously privileged in this case and only need to worry about hospital bills and the child recovery, although it is understandable that these are not minor issues. 

If one assembles every factor together and try to picture the dilemma of a depressed mother, one can have an idea why this problem occurs so frequently. Every now and then, there are women seeking help through private Facebook groups in Bangladesh asking similar questions about their predicament, hidden from their family and even their spouse. There is no platform for men to discuss or learn about child care, health problems of the newborn, sleeping problems of the baby, and the overwhelming responsibility of being a parent in social media. This is because the fathers and mothers do not feel that there are others like them. This is a problem that exists at two different levels, one for men and another for women. There are some responsible and sensible fathers who share their parental responsibilities with their spouses. However, as they handle the trials and tribulations of being a good parent, they often feel as if they were the only parent like themselves. As a result, they do not have a platform in society where they can vent their worries or share any hurdles, feelings, or serious concerns related to their newborn or their parenthood and conjugal life to similar minded parents. Due to this inability discussion, these laudable parents are not acknowledged at all. This further reinforces the societal norm that all worries and duties regarding the newborn only belong to the women as mothers. What a horrifically entrenched quandary for postpartum suffering!

In protest against this taboo regarding mental health, I yearn for some voices to assert the removal of the notion that postpartum depression is an alien problem, and cater to the improvement of mothers’ mental health. A healthy cheerful mother can make the childhood of their offspring a soothing and inspiring one. There will be snags and hitches in the journey of parenthood, which is quite acceptable, but there should always be a place to seek help and support in order to leave baby blues and postpartum struggles behind, becoming a healthy and supportive parent.

 


Tuli likes to have small talks with people of various cultures, religions, and races. She can’t sit at home and would prefer living out of a suitcase at any time. 

 

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