PPD & Immigrant Life: When Your Village Is Far Away

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from an immigrant Warrior Mom from Pakistan. A practicing Muslim, her family doesn’t discuss mental health, so she struggled to make sense of what was happening after her baby was born. -Jenna]

PPD & Immigrant Life: When Your Village Is Far Away

It does not give you a warning, it does not hold back any punches, and it definitely does not allow for clear thinking. For me postpartum depression was the most excruciating, humiliating, and traumatic experience of my life so far, thankfully. I have nothing else to compare it to, for which I am constantly grateful.

I had a worry free pregnancy. I worked until the day my water broke, albeit a little before my due date. I thought I was fairly prepared and could handle this baby birthing thing. Sure, I had a natural fear of the pain and anguish involved, but I was clear in my head that I would plow through it and all will be well.

I had done my share of extensive research on pregnancy, healthy eating, development milestones, and so on, and my bedside table was piled high with books with titles like working mother’s pregnancy guide and such. When I think back on those days, I realize that all those books didn’t have a lot of information on postpartum depression; they did not seem to red flag it. Even my OBGYN didn’t feel the need to fill me in.

Perhaps I was just unlucky.

I had a painfully long, induced labor, but my son was born after only four pushes, and then, it was done. He was healthy, and I was in a daze of happiness, elation, and perhaps relief. In the recovery room, a lot of information is thrown at you in a short span of time, and you are expected to absorb it, and leave in a day to start the most important journey of your life.

For me it meant I reached home and the panic hit me. I remember looking at my tiny tiny baby and wondering, what now? My husband on the other hand seemed to be happy and excited, not panicky at all.

From that moment on, I lost the ability to sleep and eat and as a result to think straight. I would meticulously feed him, note down the exact minutes and seconds he fed, how much he spit out and how much he slept. I would panic each time he would latch on and off, worrying if he was getting anything.

I would not sleep even when he would sleep because I had to keep an eye on him. I had to wake him up every other hour to feed him just in case he was hungry. I could not leave his side, and on top of it all, I could not eat. Not one bite.

I would keep asking my husband why the baby was sleeping too much and if I should wake him up. His pediatrician recognized on our first well visit that I was definitely not okay even though the baby was thriving perfectly. She told me I needed to relax and seek help.

Of course I did not do those things since in my culture. I am from Pakistan and a Muslim by faith. Women are taught sometimes consciously and mostly unconsciously that mental health issues are trivial pursuits and even taboo topics; you just bear your burden as best you can and carry on. We’re also taught that motherhood is the most natural thing in the world, so you are somehow hardwired to excel at it, with no setbacks.

I come from a fairly liberal background and studied law not only in Pakistan but also in the United Kingdom as well. I worked in a law firm for a few years, so I was not really subject to most of these cultural nuances, but I did grow up in that society and some things just latch on to you.

My husband finally did some research and diagnosed me with postpartum depression and tried to be understanding, most of the time. It was rough for him to see me melt into this puddle of confusion and incoherence. I always had my shit together, always. But now my thoughts and fears were paralyzing me.

However on my husband’s coaxing, I did try calling a helpline once or twice and was told of resources I could turn to (reading materials and maybe therapy if my insurance covered it) once they determined that I was not suicidal. I was not suicidal; I was just not myself.

The thought of navigating the internet for resources or finding a therapist covered by my insurance seemed like insurmountable tasks. I was just so tired, too tired to think. I could not remember how to make my go-to recipes. I could not watch TV. I just just did not know how to navigate through this fog.

I finally went to my OBGYN and asked her for anything to clear my head while in tears. She on the other hand told me I needed to hand the baby to my husband, sip a glass of wine, and just sleep for a few hours (forgetting that I was a practicing Muslim and could not have alcohol). That all made sense, but it felt like she was trivializing a disorder I so clearly had.

By this time my mother in law was with us looking after the baby, so my doctor suggested I should be grateful that I had help which she never had and I should snap out of it. That conversation made me feel even worse since now I was acutely aware of the fact that perhaps I was inviting God’s wrath by not being grateful and pulling myself together. But I had no idea how to get out of the haze that seemed to follow me everywhere.

My mind has always been my strength. I talk myself out of stressful situations. I enjoyed reading. I enjoyed cooking, but now I was incapable of seeing any silver lining, any sunshine, and it was killing me from the inside.

I come from a culture where depression or any sort of mental issues are not discussed or even acknowledged, at least for my mother’s generation. She would call (from Pakistan), and I would cry and she did not understand why, saying time and time again that as long as my baby was well, there was no reason to feel this way. But I had no choice in the matter. I tried to make her see that I was trying to find a way out, that I could not help how I was feeling, but to her it just seemed I was over reacting and just thinking too much and perhaps this state of mind was somehow a western phenomenon.

She even suggested that people had babies all the time and they all turn out okay and it should all come naturally to me. At some point the people around me, mostly family, started to blame breastfeeding for my state of being, thinking and suggesting out loud that formula feeding would solve the issue. I knew it would not.

In our culture, a woman is expected to receive 40 days of absolute rest and pampering after child birth. During this time, she is fed certain foods known to heal the body (and perhaps the mind, unknowingly) and is surrounded by family members who offer all kinds of advice and practical tips for taking care of the new baby.

I did have my mother-in-law living with us who tried to help in every way she could despite the fact that she had never heard of postpartum depression, so her help tended to constitute of constantly suggesting formula as opposed to nursing so I could get some rest and sleep. I know it must have been very hard for her seeing me in such a state and not having a clue as to how she could help.

It truly does take a village and being an immigrant in a foreign country meant my village was very very far.

I want to mention here that the constant portrayal of a “perfect” new mother with a sparkling house, a smiling baby and manicured nails in the media does not help an average new mother, not one bit. We end up feeling unnecessary pressures and focusing on all the imperfections around us and in us instead of using that time to bond with our precious babies.

I chugged along in a haze of anxiety trying to hide my fears, dismissing them as irrational and crying all the time praying to God to help me feel better. I so desperately wanted to be happy and not be plagued by dark thoughts. I resorted to simply not discussing myself every time my mother called. I would hide from my mother in law and cry my eyes out. In a way I felt sad that I had to hide this way from the women closest to me just so I would not have to explain what I had no idea how to explain.

Fast forward to about three months later, my fog cleared (somewhat) in the most bizarre way. I was struggling to get in touch with the state disability office while battling engorged painful breasts by heating up a pad to place over them. I was literally in tears of exhaustion standing by the ironing board.

I lifted the iron while holding the phone in my other hand and instead of placing the phone on my ear, I almost put the iron on my cheek. I stopped in time but just about. Somehow this jolted me in a way I did not expect. Coupled with the fact that my maternity leave was ending and I had to get back to work, my mind set shifted, perhaps the hormones balanced out, or I just got lucky.

I did struggle (still do) with balancing work, pumping, nursing and a baby (notice how I did not even count a house or my husband). Now I tell my story every chance I get. I am not ashamed or embarrassed one bit. Every woman needs to know about this crippling phase, just so she doesn’t feel punched in the stomach when a baby doesn’t come with rainbows and unicorns.

To all those who suffered and are suffering, please know that this foggy version of you is NOT you. Reach out to everyone and anyone, speak about it, discuss it and know that there is help and just take each day one day at a time.

~Jehanara Haider

Steps for Mothers of Color to Improve Their Maternal Mental Health

Steps for Mothers of Color to Improve Their Maternal Mental Health

We know that women of color, particularly Black women, do not have the support and treatment they need in order to achieve recovery after suffering through postpartum depression and anxiety. We know that the system doesn’t support the well-being and wholeness of Black women. More than simply stating the problem, Postpartum Progress is committed to making changes in a system that oppresses and harms extremely vulnerable people.

Our first step to providing change is equipping Black women from all ethnic backgrounds with a tool for seeking help. Our second step is to provide access to mothers of color to tell their stories through the platform we’ve built.

We know that mental wellness happens when we are in the context of community and do not feel alone. Our Black Diaspora Checklist is designed to provide language that is reflective of the Black experience. Postpartum Depression and anxiety show up differently for Black women and women of color.

Because so much of the Black experience can include environmental trauma from systemic racism, it is vital to engage in self-care regularly. As you are facing your experience around postpartum depression, remember that recovery is a process. Below are some steps to help you as you evaluate the best way to obtain support.

Process

Think through how feel. Many women feel increased shame once they realize they have symptoms of postpartum depression. Don’t stuff your feelings. All yourself to move through the emotions. Avoiding your emotions or assigning value to them (ex: I am a bad mom for being angry at my baby) creates internal pain and suffering. Allow yourself space to experience whatever emotions come up.

Evaluate

Determine if any of the things you feel require action. If you realized you were feeling deep shame while in the processing stage, does that require action? Some feeling are just feelings. Understand that they are not facts and they do not have inherent value other than to inform you of what you experienced. If emotions you experienced were linked to a need (ex: I feel angry because I am tired and drained) it may be necessary to move to the next stage and make a plan for your well-being.

Plan

Once you recognize that your emotional experience was informing something you need to take action on, it is time to plan. What is your goal? How will you achieve that goal? Do you need support achieving that goal? Create steps for yourself and make self-care through a plan with concrete steps a requirement.

Act

This can be the most difficult step. Form a support team who can help you be accountable to your well-being. Understand that you cannot pour anything out of an empty vessel. Recognize that the well-being of your child is directly linked to how well you take care of yourself.

Northside Hospital Is a Title Sponsor for the 2016 Warrior Mom® Conference

Northside Title SponsorEditor’s Note: We sat down with Dr. Diane Wulfsohn, clinical psychologist at Atlanta’s Northside Hospital to learn more about the hospital’s maternity services and commitment to educating their expectant families about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like PPD. We are grateful for their sponsorship of our 2016 Warrior Mom® Conference and look forward to seeing Dr. Wulfsohn in person in October.

 

The Warrior Mom® Conference is proud to introduce Northside Hospital as a 2016 title sponsor. One of our guiding beliefs at Postpartum Progress is that “perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are a women’s health and a children’s health issue.” Northside Hospital’s commitment to all aspects of women’s health care makes the partnership between their organization and Postpartum Progress a natural fit.

While women’s healthcare in all aspects is one of Northside Hospital’s leading services, they are most well-known for their outstanding maternity and infant care, including a 34-bed high-risk pregnancy unit and a Level III NICU.

For more than a generation, Northside Hospital has been Atlanta’s leading maternity care provider, delivering more babies per year than any other community hospital nationwide. (About 15,000 a year at their main campus in Sandy Springs! That’s a LOT of babies!)

With so many new moms coming through their doors every year, Northside Hospital is dedicated to ensuring both moms and babies get the best pre- and postnatal care available, which includes making sure moms are informed about postpartum depression and its effects on new mothers and families.

Through a vast array of childbirth education materials, including classes available in-person and online, moms are introduced to the symptoms of postpartum depression, made aware of the risk factors, and assured that the illness can be overcome.

Moms who are identified as at-risk while in the hospital, either by nurses noticing signs of postpartum mood disorders, concerned partners, or by patients self-identifying and requesting help, are visited by staff members in the Behavioral Health Services department. Those visits are free of charge for moms.

Northside Hospital, through the Behavioral Health Services department, offers screening and treatment for postpartum depression. Services at the Outpatient Behavioral Health Clinic are offered on a sliding scale for those who may need financial assistance while trying to get better.

We are thankful for Northside’s support of new moms, babies, families, and the Warrior Mom® Conference. Together we can make a positive difference in the lives of mothers battling postpartum mood and anxiety disorders.
Still interested in attending the Warrior Mom® Conference? Add yourself to our waitlist by clicking Get Your Warrior Mom Con Ticket Here.

Get Nosy: Be Direct When Asking Moms If They Have Postpartum Depression

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from a Warrior Mom who wants us to be more direct when we’re talking to new moms about postpartum depression. Her points are very valid and very helpful. -Jenna]

Get Nosy: Be Direct When Asking Moms if They Have Postpartum Depression

Today I’m giving you permission to be intrusive.

There’s such a stigma around postpartum depression and mental health issues that people won’t even ask about it directly. We have no problem asking someone for an update on their back pain, if they have a cold when they sneeze, or encouraging them to see a doctor when sick. Why aren’t we the same way with mental health?

My challenge to you

Ask people directly. Don’t take a “step back” to let them “get settled with the baby” unless told to. Don’t beat around it by making a joke—all you will get is a nervous laugh and mistrust in return.

Here are just some of the examples of hints and jokes about mental health said to me between M’s birth and diagnosis.

“Wow, a house, baby, marriage, new job…aren’t those all at the top of some checklist of mental health stressors?”

“That’s a lot of change! Those things are all on those mental health inventories!”

“Are you feeling back to normal?”

“If you don’t feel like yourself in a couple weeks, you need to tell me.”

“It’s just the baby blues. You’ll get over it.”

None of these directly address postpartum depression or other postpartum disorders. Nor are they directly asked if I am experiencing it.

Not being asked directly made it easier for me to hide in my shame and delay getting help.

I’m sure some of you are thinking right now that as a mature, responsible adult, I’m responsible for advocating for my own needs. You are right—to an extent.

However, some people experiencing depression are not capable of self-advocacy. It’s just part of the sickness. Besides, with all the pressure to be perfect, what new mom wants to admit they don’t have it all together?!

To all the folks who may be feeling guilty for not saying anything or recognizing a loved one needed help, it’s okay. What new moms need is different for everyone, and everyone has their own way of giving support. I’m just saying next time, ask directly about postpartum depression. Here are some examples:

“It’s quite common for moms to continue to feel down, depressed, anxious, or just not themselves after giving birth. Do you feel this way?”

“Are you experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression?”

“Lately I’ve noticed *insert behavior here*. Do you feel like you might be experiencing a change in your mental health?”

Finally, when someone does disclose to you, make them feel affirmed, loved, and help them find help.

~Cassie Walizer