Aisha’s experience with Postnatal Depression

It's Maternal Mental Health Month, Aisha shares her experience on the topic

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Did you know that one in three South African women experience postnatal depression after giving birth, an alarming statistic when comparing one in five in the rest of the world? That means of one three women you know who have given birth have experienced postnatal depression. Despite how common postnatal and perinatal depression and anxiety may be, there is still a massive stigma associated with perinatal mental disorders, especially in communities of colour.

Three months after having my son I was diagnosed with postnatal depression. Warning signs had started through my pregnancy where I suffered a series of panic attacks and bouts of severe depression. I had spent days in bed in the dark and lied my way out of work and social commitments saying I felt sick. I did feel sick, but not physically. For some reason, I felt a lot of shame attached to this process during my pregnancy. I felt ungrateful, I felt like something must have been wrong with me or somehow I was being punished by God. I was really concerned about my baby’s health through it all, but by the grace of God the pregnancy went well even though Khalid was born three weeks earlier than expected.

My birthing experience was traumatic. Losing lots of blood and passing out shortly after giving birth. Although I had that short bit of stress on my body, I still felt utterly connected and in love with my little baby boy instantly! It was only until I got home from the hospital that the anxiety of being a new mom and having someone’s entire life relying on me being good enough hit me. I had been struggling with breastfeeding from day one. It had been a harrowing and strenuous experience for me but I was determined to push through. We hired a lactation consultant who came highly recommended by my friend Lara who had given birth the day before me. Lara and I had met in the hospital and became friends without evening speaking. We had both been struggling with breastfeeding and offered unspoken support by a gentle touch on a shoulder as a show of support. We actually only exchanged names and numbers after our hospital check up! The lactation consultant was great and assured me that once we got the hang of breastfeeding I would begin to settle in and not feel so blue. She assured me that this was a normal process and the first couple of weeks are rough for a new mother.

Shortly after returning home Parny and I had the worst experience we could have ever imagined. Our son had choked on some milk we had syringe fed to him and stopped breathing. We had to rush him to the ER in peak hour traffic, although everything turned out okay we had to stay overnight in the pediatric ward. Being surrounded by really sick babies and having nearly lost mine was a traumatizing experience for both my husband and I. It brings tears to my eyes to even write about this. Our pediatrician strongly advised switching to formula milk or he feared Khalid might not gain weight but mostly that I would fall into a depression due to how much I had been struggling with breastfeeding. I was still keen to persevere. After returning home from the hospital I became really paranoid about losing my son. I barely slept and struggled with my nutrition. My husband returned to work six weeks after I had given birth. His work, unfortunately, meant he had to travel to Canada. I was, unknowingly, buried in the thick of postnatal depression with no physical help or support from my partner. I decided to move in with my parents again but was still struggling. I always felt as though there was nothing entirely wrong with me, that perhaps I just had the baby blues. My very close friends noticed that I struggled to leave my parents home. Whenever they’d come over I was in pajamas and barely lifted my feet when I walked. I spent most of my days crying, trying to sleep or nursing and cuddling my baby.

With the stress of being a new mum I had the extra pressure to lose weight. The pressure I put on myself, pressure by my impending work commitments and pressure by some of my family, who felt if I lost weight, I might feel better sooner. It was all just so much to be going through and thinking back on it now I was definitely in over my head in terms of my mental space.

When my friend mentioned to me that she thought I had PND I burst into laughter. I explained that I couldn’t have it, I was obsessed with my son and I didn’t ever want to leave him. She explained to me that PND was not that simple and I should consider getting help. When she left that day, nightfall came, and I got ready for my night as usual. My son was asleep and I needed to get to bed ASAP so I could be rested enough for the next feed. I struggled to close my eyes and fall asleep. I was overcome with anxiety and panic and could not seem to calm down. I went into my dads walk-in closet, closed the door and sat on the floor sobbing. I sobbed because I wanted to die and I was confused as to how I would want to die so badly when I love my son and my family so much. I felt selfish for hurting so badly inside.  I sobbed and tried to breathe until my baby woke up for his feed. It could have easily been 4 hours later but I wasn’t aware of the time that had passed. I quickly snapped out of it and went to do what I had to do. It was then that I decided I needed help.

After seeking out a psychologist and psychiatrist to help me I discovered that PND was a little more than not bonding with baby. Albeit I had a great bond with my little boy, I could not get a grip on my own personal wellbeing. I lost the desire to do anything I had done before – let alone leave the house. I began to overeat to try to feel a little better. My psychiatrist explained how PND came in different forms for different women and much like depression and anxiety as a whole, it is a process to overcome. I spoke to her about not wanting to leave the house, struggling with my nutrition and sleep as well as how my relationships with friends and family had fallen at the wayside because I no longer had the patience or desire to prioritize them. I decided to go on a treatment plan with my mental health team and within 6 weeks I started to feel an improvement in my well being. At the time I stopped everything dead in its tracks. I gave up on work completely, I left my management agency and undid all the commitments I had, including a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to Monaco and Paris for work! It was really challenging, but I decided to focus on me and my mental space first. If not for me, for my baby. I was blessed to be privileged enough to be able to have financial and emotional support through this. Had I not had that I’m not sure how I would have coped.

I was never ashamed of my story but I did not want to share it until I was ready. Partly because I was experiencing a lot of mom-shaming from people online who felt uncomfortable about me sharing the ugly side of motherhood. I didn’t want to get any more negative feedback while I was trying to heal my heart and mind.

I am still on my journey to healing but I am so much better now. I am back at work and able to enjoy my baby, my husband, my friends and working out. Motherhood is still challenging as my husband travels a lot and we are often just the two of us making it work but every time I look at my son and his incredibly sensational smile – every hardship is worth it. Khalid is the most charismatic and charming little boy, just like his mum. He is not afraid to try new things and he is so determined to complete a task. He gets that from his dad. I feel like he is a bright shining light in my life, always making me laugh, smile, dance and sing! I cannot think of a better experience than the one I have now. I feel blessed beyond measure and I thank God every day for my little miracle. I can’t believe how far I have come in just a year and I look forward to the journey ahead. I have always been a brave girl but now I have become a fearless woman.
I am Khalid’s mother.

I encourage any moms reading this to please share their story in the comments. You could be helping a lonely mother out there who is lost as to where to start.

If you are experiencing Postnatal Depression or any of these symptoms sound familiar to you please seek out help as soon as you can. Untreated PND can lead to psychosis and a whole host of other issues. Here are some links that helped me:

The New Normal

http://www.sadag.org/images/brochures/edinburghscale.pdf

  • Laaiqah

    Shukran for sharing this. Many people don’t realise the life altering effect becoming a mother has on one, yes it is the most beautiful thing ever, but as most things which are worth it, there are hurdles to overcome in the beginning. I’m a mom of 2 and I still sometimes have moments of panic and self doubt. But when you look at your kids you realise that they need you to be your best self. Shukran again and all the best

  • Razina Kola

    I love this and take my hat off to u , it’s so refreshing to read about someone else’s journey into motherhood (we ALL know it’s never an easy task , even if we might not want to admit it) … The sad part is ppl & society makes u feel as tho something is wrong with u if ur having a hard time adjusting n that’s not cool , everyone is different n no 2 ppl have the same experience … At the end of the day the thing that matters the most is how you , your baby and ur spouse are doing , if u all on the same page and are doing what is best for u … What works for 1 person most probably wont work for the next … You have to take each day as it comes and for what’s best for you & your baby with the support of your spouse and u close family and friends … I firmly believe that Allah (God) will NEVER give you something you can not handle , He put u in that situation and He will help take u out , u just have to turn to Him and ask for help …

    May Allah take you and ur little guy from strength to strength and may each day be a day filled with love and new memories that bring new learning & growing experiences…

    Jazakallah for sharing ur experience and for showing us that it’s ok to not feel ontop of ur game ALL the time , you allowed to not have it all together , what matters is how u get urself out of that bad space … Turn to ur Creator & He will surely help get u out of it …

    Totally inspiring and eye opening 👌💙

  • Thank you for sharing! I haven’t been able to share my story and this is the first time I’m really opening up – so much of what you wrote resonated with me! There’s also this pressure on someone who is in the public eye to just get on with it but also prying eyes to see if you actually WILL cope.

    Nothing prepares you for the anxiety and panic that comes with giving birth – this was also my second time – I should’ve been prepared but I wasn’t.
    I recently read an article about how friends and family should not focus on a baby shower prior but literally come in after and offer as much support to the parents as they can – I was fortunate to have this – but I didn’t want it.
    I just wanted to be alone.

    And like you I spent days in confusion and living in another country meant I couldn’t go home to my parents immediately. I eventually did go home for 3 months and I too stayed with my parents because my husband had to be in another country.
    My relationship with my husband suffered.

    Today there a different set of challenges – bringing up two boys away from family and I still have bouts of panic thinking what have I done but then when they play together it just makes it all worthwhile.

    Thank you for giving me the courage to share my story.

  • Rheshmi Kalidas

    Aisha I felt exactly like that!!It’s so good to look back and say I have overcome that 😘

  • Lauren Shapiro

    Until we bust the stigma – and the guilt – surrounding PND, mothers will continue to suffer. It’s hard to relate one’s experience in a short comment box, but I’ve written about my experience on http://www.laurenshapiro.co.za/books I would love to hear from other mums who can relate to this.

  • Fatima Alexander

    Shukran for sharing this. So many mothers never talk about the struggle but I am all for talking about the struggle of Motherhood. You never really prepared for what lies ahead when having a child, nothing can prepare you for it, I didn’t think I would be feeling so anxious, so depressed. Luckily my baby blues did not turn into PND but the anxiety was real, I struggled with the latching, he screamed every time I tried to breast feed him, I then went onto expressing and giving him the bottle. I really wanted to breast feed but I feared he might not latch and start screaming. To this day I still have that fear. The first few days was such a struggle, I never slept for a few nights, scared that something might happen to him while I am sleeping, I had to force my sleep by listening to surah yaseen on repeat. Things are much better and I am finally enjoying myself with him.

    Shukran for sharing this once again. All the best!

  • Maryam

    I could never share my story but now I feel I can theres nothing that can come close to meeting ur child for the first time I loved my daughter from the first time I met her but it was the fact that I had no support not even from my husband he was so over protective with his daughter that he would question my parenting and there was no one to help me and guide me as my in laws work and I lost my mother six years ago after I gave birth to her I was hospitalised due to an infection and I had to take her with me she would cry the whole nyt and after I was discharged my stitches got infected so I couldn’t sit or walk and I had a baby that wanted to drink all the tym not to mention how she would keep me up the whole nyt everynight and I never new why even after trying everything only to find out later that shes lactose intolerant and has a problem digesting her food so basically I was close to going into depression but the first thing I taught about was whose gonna take care of my daughter if I loose it so I pulled myself together and turned to God and would pray to him everyday and with the grace of God things got better

  • You are so brave for sharing your story Aisha.
    The important thing is that you were able to acknowledge it and get help, I hope more women are inspired to do the same.

    Love to all the moms going through any adversity – know this, YOU ARE STRONG!

    https://carlaxiii.com/

  • disqus_XPKRSY7fQQ

    I struggled a lot after the birth of my son. I was diagnosed with a chronic condition straight after my pregnancy and was forced to stop breastfeeding him. I would have to lie in bed for days because of the severe pain and the chronic meds initially made me feel even worse. Dealing with this on top of a newborn sent me spiralling. Both my mind and my body were in shambles. When I look back, I don’t even know who that person was, I was extremely depressed, moody because of the pain in my joints and tired all the time. No one understood what I was going through and I began to believe that something was wrong with me, as a person.

    Thank you for coming out with your story. Our communities attach such a stigma around mental health and my own family did not understand what I was going through at the time. I am so glad, by the grace of Allah that I was able to come out from that dark time. We definitely do need more awareness in our muslim communities around mental health and I thank you for using your platform to help.

  • Jade

    Reading this just brought tears to my eyes. Memories flooding back!
    I had my baby boy just 4 months ago. Being a new mother I was paranoid and scared at the same time. My baby struggled to latch and on top of that he was colic and I struggled to get his winds out. The 2nd night in hospital, he slept for no longer than 1 hour at a time. Struggling to move because of my c-section, I would get up walk with him, sis him, struggle to get him to latch but when he did latch he would suck nice and hard, but the moment one of us moved … back to square one.
    When I got home, my paranoia went to a whole new level. I would sit up and watch him sleep at night because I was scared he would choke on his winds. I went for 3 days straight without sleeping and I never even realized it. My baby would cry and everyone would say “he wants to drink. Let the child drink”, did I mention he just drank 5 mins ago. Breastfeeding was physically and mentally draining for me and the moment I would breastfeed it would take me to a whole other dark side. There would be days I never ate, my boyfriend or mommy would have to remind me to eat. I went for 2 weeks straight without bathing. I remember When I wanted to take my 1st bath after 2 weeks, I just closed the bathroom door and my baby started crying. That is when I broke! I thought “Not again!!!!!!!!!!!” I felt like jumping out the bathroom window and running away. I let the tap run, sat on the bathroom floor and just cried. I sat on that floor for probably an hour of what felt like 5 mins before walking out and trying to keep it together infront of everyone in the house but I couldn’t and just broke down again.
    That’s when I knew something was wrong. I felt like I couldn’t it.

    What helped for me was not bottling everything up like I did at 1st and I started talking to other mothers about my experiences and theirs as well.

    I believe that everything happens for a reason and God wouldn’t give me something I couldn’t handle and I can proudly say that I’ve overcome it and I’m feeling much better and I love my baby so much and couldn’t imagine my world without him.

  • Jessika

    You are an inspiration to many. It was such a heartwarming post. Sending you all the love and light.

    Jessika
    https://www.ceraonline.org/

  • Steph

    It’s so brave of you to share your story. Post-natal depression is a real thing and most of the time it goes undiagnosed. It’s important that we all spread awareness and share our stories to help women all around the world. https://www.theguardianonline.com/