It’s the moment most women wait for – entering the coveted domain of motherhood! Tired of pregnancy pains and restrictions, the expectant mother excitedly anticipates the arrival of her baby, thinking that she’ll be fully able to enjoy her ‘bundle of joy’ once it’s all over. She can’t wait to cuddle and gaze at the life that has been kicking inside her for months.
Yet, merely hours or days after childbirth, most women couldn’t feel worse. Amid the congratulatory phone calls, text messages, flowers, gifts and visits of relatives and friends, the ‘new mama’ feels a cloud of gloom looming over her life. Like a whirlwind, the baby has disrupted her routine, usurping the lavish attention and care showered previously to her. She’s lucky, if she can sleep uninterrupted for more than three hours at a time.
So what are the ‘baby blues’? It’s when the mother feels overwhelmed by the burden of parental responsibility, over-worried about the baby’s well-being, displeased with her weight gain, at a loss of control over daily activities and disgruntled with the lack of quality time with her husband – all of this, plus physical weakness and dependence on others during postpartum, makes her tearful, edgy, short-tempered and over-reactive about trivial matters.
“Moodiness, tearfulness, anxiety and fatigue are all common on the roller coaster of emotions women may experience after giving birth,” says obstetrician and gynecologist Susan Spencer, M.D. “Postpartum blues are a normal consequence of adjusting to a huge life change and the sleep deprivation that comes with it.”
For some, this phase arrives days or weeks after childbirth; for most, though, it happens just after delivery. “At the hospital, I just wanted to take off all the IV drips and run away. I felt so chained and helpless,” says Nabeeha. She refused to hold her baby, due to the physical pain of a Caesarian-section surgery. “For the first two months, I couldn’t sleep, until my baby did. Even if she was lying in the cot playing, I would sit nearby, watchful.” After returning to her husband’s home abroad, she frantically called up her parents in tears, panic-stricken that she wouldn’t be able to do it alone. Hours of her mother’s consoling restored her composure.
Struggling to establish breastfeeding, constantly changing diapers and dealing with a spouse, who is unhappy with her new figure and her constant preoccupation, a new mother is terrified of making mistakes and of failing as a parent. Putting up with recurrent advice of older women is another headache: “Don’t hold the baby that way”, “use cloth diapers – it’ll save money”, “swaddle tightly for the first six months”, “press baby’s head into the right shape”… It’s no wonder then that the motherhood brings with it a great mental and physical fatigue.
Triggered by drastic drops in hormonal levels after delivery, the baby blues are experienced by 85% of new mothers. However, if this condition lingers beyond two weeks, so that it adversely affects the mother’s ability to take care of her baby, it can be attributed as postpartum depression (PPD).
“About 10 to 20 percent of women actually develop postpartum depression. The difference is in the degree and duration of symptoms,” says Dr. Susan Spencer.
PPD has more chances of occurring amid certain factors, such as: a difficult and/or unwanted pregnancy, a difficult older child, financial difficulties, poor relationship with spouse, lack of family support, or history of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) before marriage. How does one know that PPD has onset?
A significant change in mood and/or appetite, an inability to concentrate, excessive fatigue, inability to sleep even when a support person is there to care for baby are common signs of this more serious condition.
The signs of PPD are noticed first by the spouse or other relatives. It is very important not to dismiss them as trivial, because PPD is an illness requiring non-medication treatment and therapy.
“Becoming a mother is the most beautiful experience, but it doesn’t come without paying a price. Allah (swt) would not just throw heaven at our feet,” says Amna. “Dealing with sibling rivalry, if there’s an older child, maintaining (the latter’s) school and activity schedule, doing chores expected by the in-laws, having to cook and clean the house, losing the mental enrichment derived from a previous purposeful job, feeling estranged from spouse, if he is not supportive enough… it takes a good six months, or may be more, before you are able to settle down with the overwhelming responsibilities. You can only survive it by pouring your heart out before Allah (swt).”
What can be done? This writer also confesses going through the same phase twice in the past 3 years. That’s all the more why I would like to share the ways of helping women experiencing these problems.
Acknowledge that the problem exists
For the relatives: if you see your daughter or daughter-in-law acting as described above, empathize with her. Recall the pain you felt, when you delivered a baby (the stitches hurt, whether the delivery was normal or C-section) and don’t reprimand her for her outbursts. Also, try not to say: “I never went through this,” because you were fortunate. Other women have erratic hormones, even if you did not. And it’s not their fault that they do.
Ask for help
Whether it’s your husband, mother or mother-in-law, don’t feel guilty about asking them to take the baby for some time, so that you can relax and unwind. Pamper yourself: you need to recover from one of the biggest physical experiences ever. Go out, exercise, eat your favourite dessert or call up a friend, especially one, who has also recently given birth.
Remember Allah (swt)
If you cannot recite Quran, pray or fast, engage in extra remembrance of Allah (swt), particularly the Adhkar that repel the Shaitan. Remember Him, when you cry, when you feel the physical pain, when your toddler misbehaves or when the house is a mess. Remember Him, because He knows how you feel:
“And We have enjoined on man (to be dutiful and good) to his parents. His mother bore him in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years.” (Luqman 31:14)
Have faith in Allah (swt): help is near
Even if it seems impossible right now, it’s just a matter of 5-6 months for you to become ‘normal’ again. Your baby will start sleeping through the night, you will have ‘free’ personal time; you will lose weight and gain energy; you will enjoy leisure hobbies and your husband will revert to being more than a male-nanny.
Sister, remember that also this shall pass…