Rhea Braganza’s voice still shakes when she recalls giving birth a year ago. “I was induced,” she says. “I knew that I was going to deliver at any moment, but when my baby was born the nurses were here and there when I was telling them, ‘My baby is here’, and they were not prepared. My baby just gushed out on to the bed. It was traumatic.
“My thing was, ‘What if they had asked me to move from one bed to the other bed and the moment I pushed myself to come up to the other bed, the baby just came out?’ The only thing in my head was, ‘What if my baby would have fallen down?’"
The fear that raged within her would consume her even as her mind withdrew from her young one. “After delivering, I felt disconnected from my own baby,” says the 32-year-old Indian expat based in Dubai.
When she was trying to conceive, Braganza had dreams of what life could be and how things should progress; those expectations began to crumble soon after she confirmed her pregnancy. First she lost her job. “It was because of COVID-19; my company shut down,” she says. But it did take a toll on the two-income household who had to now hunt for an insurance plan that wouldn’t strip the wallet while also downsizing on lifestyle. “My pregnancy cravings weren’t satisfied either,” she says ruefully.
I didn’t even know that this [postpartum depression] is something that happens.
However, it was the birthing experience that really got to her. Feeling low post delivery is not so unusual; because of the hormones, one may experience a dive in mood for a while. “During pregnancy and after delivery, there are many changes happening in the brain. That is why a woman is more likely to experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or within the first year than at any other time in her life. A recent Harvard University study states that mental health problems affect as many as one in five women during pregnancy or within the first year,” says Dr Marie Thompson, Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Director at Dubai-based Vivamus.
By the time Braganza’s baby was three months old, she was struggling to feed him, struggling to do it all – and guilt tripping herself at every opportunity for not meeting her own expectations. She says, “I wasn’t doing enough for him. I stopped feeding my baby after three months. There were lots of negative things happening to me, as in not working, I wasn’t getting milk and I never put in the effort to try to spend that much time trying to get my baby to latch or consulting a doctor over it. I was actually running away from that part. I know I could have made an effort but it wasn’t coming from within,” she says.
Braganza, who isn’t in therapy, says it’s her research into her symptoms that have pointed her to the term ‘postpartum depression’. She says, “I didn’t even know that this [postpartum depression] is something that happens.”
And today, a year on, she still struggles with the weight of handling it all. “It’s not that it’s [the feeling has] vanished, it keeps coming back and there are moments when I just don’t want to speak to anybody, I just want to be left alone. I yell, I snap at things that don’t make sense – it’s something that’s been happening on and off. Maybe it’s a phase, or the hormones,” she says. “I love my child … I’m just so tired.”
She notices a change within herself. “After I delivered, I started greying, which for me … appearance really mattered before and now, things have changed so much that even if I want to lose weight, I’m struggling so much. I have greyed so badly. I isolate myself. I am on social media, but when it comes to socialising, I have gone away from it – or maybe my friends are in a different zone now that I have a baby, it’s difficult to go out.”
She misses the person she used to be as much as she misses her spouse. “After delivery, life is not the same with my husband, too; the importance [and attention] that I got has been entirely shifted to our baby. Our conversations are only about the baby. We don’t have much to speak about as a couple, which is sometimes sad, which I miss.”
These feelings, explains Dr Thompson, are warning signs of PPD. Red flags to look out for include:
- Lack of enjoyment in things you used to enjoy (including the baby)
- Low mood or feeling numb
- Difficulty sleeping even when the baby is sleeping
- Negative thoughts that go round and round your mind
- Thoughts of harming yourself, your baby or your other children
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling like you can’t cope
Braganza is taking things by the day, hoping for the sun to shine on her once more. “My mum and sister have been constantly trying to motivate me to start focusing a bit on myself too, to feel better. My sister comes over to help me during weekends. I have been trying to be focused on positive things like my health, reading a book when my baby sleeps even if it’s one page, applying for jobs even I know it’s difficult getting back to work. I try to occupy my mind so that I don’t feel alone.”
Sudden wave of sadness
Thirty-four-year-old Indian expat Haifa K Mohammed has three children, aged 11, 6 and 3. “My pregnancies were easy, with some morning sickness and food aversions. And delivery was normal and easy too,” she says. Which is why the sorrow was such a surprise; “I felt it mostly with my first and third child,” she recalls.
I used to feel gloomy and hopeless all the time. There was exhaustion and lack of sleep from taking care of a newborn, which made things worse.
“I used to feel gloomy and hopeless all the time. There was exhaustion and lack of sleep from taking care of a newborn, which made things worse. I would start weeping while nursing my baby thinking about people who hurt me or some other random bad memory. The first few weeks after having my first child I felt that I can't be a good mother or I don't have much maternal instincts. Sometimes, I knew it was just my hormones going berserk but other times it was overwhelming,” she recalls.
For Haifa, the glumness lasted for more than three months each time. “Getting rest and sleep when my husband took care of the baby at night. Lots of sunshine and going on a walk around the block helped lift my mood,” she says. “I also took multivitamins, especially vitamin D and calcium. Reading forums about PPD and writing down my feelings gave my emotions more clarity.”
Motherhood can be an isolating experience, where your solitude is only broken by the cries of a child. If you feel despair, reach out to your doctor, suggests Haifa. “Stay connected with other mums, read about PPD and take short breaks even if it’s a 15-minute walk outside or getting some sunlight.”
And know, you are not alone.
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