I conceived at the age of 31, when I was skinny and underweight. In fact, I have been underweight all my life. From the moment I discovered that I was pregnant with our first baby, fear gripped me. As a result, I suffered from severe nausea and was unable to keep food down. By the 5th month, excruciating back pain set in. As the pain worsened, sleeping became difficult and I turned into an insomniac. The pain was so severe that it felt as if I was in labour 24×7. I began feeling as if I was heading down on the road to depression at lightning speed. Then came the panic attacks and I was put on psychiatric drugs, which helped only temporarily. During the 6th and 7th months I spent more time in a hospital than at home. At the end of the 7th month, my gynaecologist called for an emergency C-section as my baby’s heartbeat had slowed down due to placental insufficiency. At 32 weeks, my son, although premature, was born and was shifted to the NICU for observation. Fortunately, he was healthy and had no complications.
Meeting my baby for the first time
I still recall that moment vividly: the doctor was suturing me and I was thinking that the worst is over and now everything shall be fine. But I was clueless about the impending storm. Before I knew it, postpartum depression hit me like a tornado and it happened even before the doctors shifted me from the OT to my room. Exactly what it was I can’t describe but an overwhelming sadness enveloped me, as if something terrible had happened; I began crying inconsolably for no reason. I spent the next few days either crying or talking gibberish or in complete silence. When I was called to the NICU for the first time to feed my baby, I was emotionless. There was no love at first sight that everyone talks about or that is glorified in the movies. I just stood there staring at my fragile baby, waiting to feel the connection. He looked so tiny like a mouse, but not an emotion stirred in me. I was numb.
The breastfeeding challenges
My baby couldn’t latch at my breast at all and I was asked to express milk. I struggled with the manual pump; what’s worse, the hospital staff did not provide any guidance or support for struggling mothers like me. My baby was straightaway put on formula and I thought, “So now my baby doesn’t t even need his mother for his feeds.”
When we came home, I spent my days staring outside the window, often secretly contemplating jumping to my final freedom. The various psychiatric treatments weren’t helping. Everyone around me had started wondering why I keep crying when everything seemed fine in my life. I heard labels such as ‘crazy’, ‘mad woman’ and ‘hopeless’ being used to describe me. Meanwhile, the insomnia continued. One day my mother gave me a sedative but it didn’t help. I thought may be two would do the trick so I asked her for more, but she refused. No one trusted me with my life, you see.
Postpartum depression: Watch out for these signs
- Feeling lonely or wanting to be alone always
- Gloomy feeling for no apparent reason
- Unexplained crying / crying easily
- Feeling lost
- Insomnia or excessive sleep
- Lack of interest in doing anything
- Self neglect
- Suicidal /Homicidal feelings
The turning point
Seeing my plight, a doctor friend of mine sent me a prescription of sedatives for a whole month and said, “Vandana, I trust you.” His trust in me gave me hope. It brought a huge change in my attitude and, ironically, I never took any of those sedatives. I stopped all the psychiatric medicines, as they were not helping me anyway. I decided to take charge of the situation and my husband did everything he could to support me. I hired maids to help with all the chores so that I could focus on healing myself. Most importantly, I cut off all the toxic people from my life.
Babywearing and relactation
I started reading about baby care. I started wearing my baby using a baby wrap and it felt like magic. It was healing me by releasing ‘feel good hormones’ in my body and soothing my baby at the same time. My baby slept on my chest and I had my hands free to do anything I wanted to. I did everything for my baby. Initially, I was doing things mechanically, but gradually the bond developed. I knew I was on the path to recovery.
Next, I started working on relactation. I kept pumping day and night on a military schedule to induce lactation. It was hard but it gave me immense satisfaction and joy as I could feed my baby liquid gold. Everyone discouraged me from pumping, as my baby was thriving well on formula and pumping every two hours was difficult. But I am glad I did it as I won’t have the guilt of not trying. Before I knew it, the depression disappeared and I felt like a normal new mom caring for her baby.
Today I am completely healed of postpartum depression. My son is now three years old and has just started at nursery. I have also started working from home, pursuing my passion for creating art and tutus. Life is full of excitement with no time to rest and I am going with the flow, with hope and gratitude in my heart. I hope that my story gives hope and courage to women going through postpartum depression.
How the Husband/Family/Friends can help
- Avoid repeatedly asking the woman what is wrong with her or that she needs to get better soon for the sake of the baby
- Just tell her you understand her and you are sure you both will overcome this together
- Seek help from a professional counselor
- Help as much as you can with baby care and housework
- Avoid giving unnecessary advice [Visitors love giving advice so you may have to keep them away for a while]
- Pamper her in any way that makes her feel special. During her pregnancy the woman gets so much care and attention and after the delivery all the focus shifts to the newborn baby; the new mom is neglected
- Avoid unnecessary food/lifestyle restrictions on mother
- Seek the support of friends and family whom you can trust. Brief them about PPD so they know what to say and what to avoid
- PPD can be challenging for the husband too, so you will need tons of patience and some close friends/family members whom you can talk to and share what you are going through
- Most importantly, don’t forget to take care of yourself and take some time off.