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After months of anxious anticipation and excitement, the birth of a child is a wondrous moment that calls for celebration. It’s the beginning of a new life, a new story waiting to be written and spun. It is a beautiful tale of love and family, bathed in glorious hues of gold. In this story, there is no room for darkness. No room for ugliness. No room for reality – the reality known as PPD – post partum depression.
Many were shocked to read the news where the new mother jumped to her death with her two month old baby. It is a tragic tale of how PPD is often undiagnosed, and more frighteningly, IGNORED and DENIED by most sufferers themselves.
“It is an ugly disease that mars and taints the beauty of a new life; it is a a sign of weakness that only plagues the weak, and I’m not weak. “
“How can I possibly slip into the abyss of depression when a new life has just been birthed? How can I possibly be grappling with depression when looking into the eyes of my angelic baby, whose myriad of expressions changes every day? We should be focusing on the baby, not me. I’m the Mother. I’m the carer and Guardian of this baby. I won’t fall. If other women are not victims of depression, then I can’t possibly be weaker than they are.”
This is the mentality of the new Mother, who more often than not, strives to give her everything to her baby. She is at once concerned about the baby’s milk intake, milk spit-up, worries about the baby’s multiple poops or lack of poop and wonders about the baby’s sleep, while surviving on a couple of hours of interrupted sleep. Never mind that it is the first time in her life that her sleep is thus interrupted. Never mind that she is still recovering from the raw wounds of childbirth. There are more important things than her.
As a new Mother, she has her own ideas on how to parent her child, but her beliefs are sometimes questioned, which bugs and worries her. Worries she daren’t share, for fear that even whispering them would turn her fears into reality.
“it’s already the fifth day. Why isn’t ur milk in yet? You need to work harder to produce more milk”
“The baby is still crying after latching, are you sure your milk is enough?”
“Why feed breastmilk? Don’t you know formula milk is better?”
“You need to feed the newborn water, it’s so hot in Singapore!”
“Why are you carrying the baby? It’s a bad habit”
“Let the baby cry, she’s being naughty. She cannot be carried all the time”
“Told you not to eat crabs when you were pregnant. The baby is all hands and legs, and can’t sleep well”
These comments, however good spirited, crushes her soul and spirit. Her emotions, already raw, starts to bleed a deep red.
“Why is my breastmilk so little, when my Friend had milk from the getgo?”
“Why is my breastmilk so much? People would ridicule me for thinking this is a problem but my baby is choking from the letdown, and it is a chore to keep pumping after latching”
“Urgh why are my boobs so hard? It’s burning up and why the hell am I having a fever? Crap, it’s mastitis! Why is it here again???”
“Why is the baby crying again? I’ve fed it, changed its diaper, I don’t know what’s right anymore…”
“Stop asking me why the baby is not gaining weight as fast as your friend’s grandchild. I don’t know why either.”
“I don’t want to give the baby a pacifier. I don’t want my baby to sleep in a separate room. I want to carry my baby when she cries. Why are all of you stopping me from doing what I think is right? Why?”
In the days following childbirth, do you know that up to 70% of mothers reportedly feel some sort of postnatal blues? Most recover so quickly such that it never becomes an issue, but an experts estimate that 13% cannot extricate themselves out of this depressive cycle, and go on to develop PPD. Out of this figure, only about 15% receive medical treatment.
This figure is likely to be under reported, especially in an Asian society where we don’t typically discuss our feelings. More specifically, negative emotions. We are also poorer than our western friends in dealing with such negative emotions, usually managing a feeble, “are you ok? Cheer up, it’ll be ok” before moving on to other topics. If the depressive state is long drawn, we usually chide the sufferer, “get on with it” etc.
I’ve seen first hand how people who slip into depression spiral down a vicious cycle. My mom was plagued by depression twice when I was younger and back then, my brothers and I had no idea how to help her as we were barely in our teens. The only thread holding her to life itself was the thought of her three kids. It is a brutal, cruel and lonely journey.
When I first became a mom, I, who have always viewed myself as a confident, strong Type A personality, became emotionally raw and vulnerable. I felt extremely stressed and harassed from all the older folks telling me what to do, what to eat, what I shouldn’t do, what I shouldn’t eat. It was as if my life suddenly became subjected to scrutiny and I no longer had any free will of my own. I was big on breastfeeding but had to grapple with oversupply, eventually getting mastitis in my bid to quickly reduce my supply. I didn’t want to share my woes because others might tell me what to do, advice I was not prepared to take. It was as shitty a period as it was beautiful. One moment I’d be looking at my baby and smiling to myself blissfully, and the next I’d be crying.
Thankfully, I snapped out of that depressive state rather quickly (it was just a day or two for me), but it could just as easily have gone down south. I wanted to achieve only the best, and that can take a huge toll on anyone. Luckily for me, I am a very determined character, and most importantly, I also had the support of my very awesome hubby, Pips. Whilst he shared his concern about my health and lack of sleep (in striving for exclusive breastfeeding, I took on night duties mostly by myself and most of day duties too), he never once forced them upon me, which was a relief to me. An oasis in the desert, his quiet, unwavering support gave me strength to press on.
So hubbies, please be more careful about your choice of words and please be a pillar of support to your wives. You can make or break them, so think before you speak. You may also wish to monitor your wife’s mental wellbeing more carefully, and speak to the people she’s in contact with to be more sensitive too.
The tricky and scary thing though, is that PPD is NOT a 24/7 condition. You can be laughing one moment and be crying for hours the next. You are not always depressed. You can even hide your depression and convince yourself otherwise.
Another scary and little known fact about PPD is that it is NOT confined to the weeks after childbirth. It can even be as long as a year or more after childbirth before PPD strikes with a vengeance. A close friend’s wife committed suicide by leaping to her death, leaving behind her six month old baby. It was shocking to say the least, and beyond tragic. When we met her approximately 2- mths before, she looked every bit the cheerful and happy person we know her to be. PPD is insidious. You never know when it hits, and how hard.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO TO COMBAT PPD?
As the new Mother, never be afraid to share your thoughts with your loved ones. It is NOT a sign of weakness. Confronting your fears and seeking help is an act of courage. You’re not burdening anyone with your worries. But do remember, instead of drowning in emotions, actively look for ways to improve your situations. Most of all, never believe that you’re alone in this journey. If you only look, there are many footsteps and warm gazes just by your side.
As husbands, we need to support our wives by showering them with love. We don’t need to be nitpicking on every little thing. We also need to encourage our wives to speak up, and monitor if they behave or exhibit behaviours out of the ordinary. We need to extend a loving, helping hand and not view domestic duties as a woman’s job.
As friends, we can always share advice but never judge. We should also lend a listening ear as sometimes, moms just need an outlet to vent!
As concerned parents/parents-in-law, we can always share advice but must NEVER insist on things being done our way. We had our turn under the sun when we raised our kids, and now it’s our daughter’s/ daughter-in-law’s turn. Times have changed and our ideas may not necessarily apply today, and in fact, may not be safe parenting practices either. Keep an open mind. Even if you want the best for ur kid and she’s not open to them, leave it be. It’s better for ur relationship.
As employers, we need to understand the demands that motherhood commands. I’m not saying that the new Mother gets to skive at work while receive the same amt of pay. Pumping at work is not easy at all and instead of watching the clock and passing snide comments, if she is able to produce the same standard of work prior to giving birth, or work comparable to her colleagues, then surely there is no reason to mark her down for doing a 30min milk run three times a day. If she’s more efficient, why fault her? I myself have pumped at my desk, and I read my emails and even reply during this time. I am thankful that my boss was excellent and was able to look at my work output than the hours put in.
As colleagues, if you’ve nothing good to say, then shut your trap. All that bitchfest and whatnots, leave it at the market. The office is not a marketplace for you to be gossiping all day. If you’ve got time to gossip about the new mother ,you’ve got time to be improving your own quality of work and gun for a promotion. It’s only those that don’t have what it takes (be it work or inner goodness) that shoot their mouths off.
That’s all I’ve got to say for now. Stay strong, stay safe, and most importantly, stay happy!
Cheers from London,
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