By Stuti Agarwal
I am a very happy-go-lucky person and people who know me, refer to me as an “enthu cutlet”. When I was pregnant with Yuvraaj in 2017, I read about postpartum depression (PPD) and my husband and I brushed it off, saying this won’t happen to us because we wanted this child, nobody had forced us, etc, and that I’m just not the kind to get depressed.
How wrong we were! PPD hit me a couple of days after he was born, mainly because I knew nothing about breastfeeding before delivering. I was taken aback when I was asked to feed him soon after we were shifted to our room, and milk just didn’t flow in my baby’s mouth as I expected it to (what a fool I was, in hindsight). I felt inadequate and like I was the worst mom on the planet. Well, breastfeeding took off eventually, but what did not go was the feeling of inadequacy, that I can’t be the primary caregiver of a baby, and that I shouldn’t have started a family.
The illogical restrictions that came with Jaapa (40 days of confinement postpartum), some self-imposed restrictions because of my low self-esteem about my looks, and my notion that breastfeeding is something to be ashamed of and shouldn’t be done publicly, coupled with the constant taunting by elders saying the child is not full and to start formula at least at night, did not help. Also, it suddenly dawned upon me that my independence was gone. The change from a girl who loved to party, to staying holed up inside the house with a baby, was too much for me, and I felt I hadn’t signed up for this.
In those days, I was literally consumed by questions like: Am I ever going to be myself again? Will my body ever be the same? Will my life change so drastically? Would I have to make new friends? Will my social life end? Will I ever be able to fit into my favourite clothes?
I did not fall in love with my baby the moment I saw him, or in the initial few days, and wanted someone to literally take him away from me. That made me feel worse as motherhood was only supposed to be rosy and bright and the best phase of your life, right? It should be unconditional love at first sight for your baby, right? Literally, no one had told me about the ugly part. My postpartum hormones were raging and I was irritable, angry, scared postpartum, and ashamed to feel this way, and it confirmed all the worst fears I had about myself.
I would look into the eyes of my days-old baby and cry, day in and day out, saying things like, “I wish I could be a good mom”, and “Sorry you were born to a mom like me”. Well, sometimes I would cry buckets of tears even without any reason. The feeling of helplessness, and anxiety attacks would intensify as night would approach. When I couldn’t take it any longer, I called my gynaecologist, who was also my lactation counsellor. She said it sounded a lot like postpartum depression and asked me to visit her.
Once I visited her and she explained the condition, I started reading up more on it, and realised I was not alone as a lot of mothers go through it, and it did not make me a bad mother to feel this way. Talking about my condition to my husband, Varun, helped me a great deal, and he became my biggest supporter, fielding every negative comment that came my way, and stood up to elders to not harass me with their age-old advice. He told them he believed in me and that I was doing right for my child, and to let me parent my baby my way. I cannot harp enough on how it boosted my confidence and helped me come out of the abyss I was in. The fact that somebody was there to listen to my feelings, understand my pain, and not minimise them, was a big help.
Then, I spoke to my mom regarding what I was going through, and that though my parenting was a lot different than hers, I knew what I was doing; she came on board and supported me too. Also, some moms’ groups on Facebook were also very helpful as I met women going through the same condition and could speak about it openly, without shame.
Also, I started to feel better once I started doing things that I would do normally, but was asked not to do, being a new mom. Once I started getting out of the ‘nighties’, put on my jeans and top, some makeup, did a newborn photoshoot, I started to feel a lot like myself again.
The phase lasted for about two months, because I could ask for help timely, but I know mothers who are suffering from PPD many years after childbirth too. It’s time we destigmatise the condition, speak about it openly and stop painting a rosy picture of motherhood.
Now, I am a confident mom who shares the best bond with her child. In fact, I became so confident that I delivered a second child in October this year. And this time, I was prepared.
(The author is a former journalist, who is now a part-time freelance content writer and full-time mother of two. She is a breastfeeding advocate, who believes in gentle parenting and in practices like self-feeding and baby-led weaning. She blogs about her parenting experiences on Instagram @mombae.blogger)