Srinagar: Arus Wani was delighted after she gave birth to her first child. A beautiful girl, she remembers.
The joy of becoming a mother faded fast and the sadness took over. Amid endless wails, she couldn’t dare to look after her daughter. “I didn’t like her,” she said. “I didn’t know what was happening with me.”
Midnight sweating and shaking became the norm. So did the nightmares. “I’d feel like ripping my clothes apart at such times,” she recalled. “I was convinced I was going to die.”
The 26-year-old mother tried everything to feel better: from a cardiologist to faith healers. “I felt helpless. I was told I’m under the [effect of] black magic.”
It wasn’t until her best friend told Wani about Postpartum Depression (PPD) – a mental health problem pushing mothers to experience a combination of physical, mental, and behavioral changes after giving birth.
Zoya Mir, a Srinagar-based psychologist, said that she has dealt with patients who came with major depression, which has been underlying for years. “When asked about the history, they say it started after childbirth but they didn’t get it treated at the right time,” she said.
She said that the PPD is a severe condition and needs to be dealt with properly. “A combination of medication and psychotherapy to be taken immediately after noticing the symptoms.”
The major and common symptoms of the PPD include thoughts of harming self or baby, severe mood swings, sleep disturbances, guilt of not developing the bond with the child or fear that one may not turn out to be a good mother, hopelessness, worthlessness, and even thought of death or suicide.
Mir added that most new mothers experience “postpartum baby blues” but it fades away soon roughly either by two to three days or may last up to two weeks. “But the PPD is a severe long lasting form of depression after child birth.”
Even after knowing about the PPD, Wani chose not to see a psychiatrist. “I was breastfeeding and I thought taking medicines for the depression will harm my baby,” she said. “But it became easier for me to fight it after knowing the exact issue.”
However, Mir suggests that a mother suffering from depression should take it like any other physical ailment and get it treated. “There’s no average time length of PPD, if sought treatment on time it can settle around three-six months. In some cases when no treatment is sought it can get chronic and can turn into Major Depressive disorder,” she said.
According to a study published in the ‘Molecular Psychiatry’, an international scientific journal, the PPD affects one out of every seven women and has significant mental health repercussions for both mother and child.
In Kashmir, it is a widespread problem, the doctors told The Kashmir Walla. Sixteen miles away from Wani’s home, in the Ganderbal area of central Kashmir, Afshan Rashid has a similar tale of trauma.
Ever since she gave birth to her first child in September 2020, she has been going through severe mood swings. “I get hyper on little things like when I ask my husband for help and he does not revert back quickly I start shouting,” she said. “I immediately realize that it was unnecessary.”
For Afshan, the situation worsened after her husband left for his job. “I wanted his presence. I felt helpless because I was high on emotions.”
Afshan supports the idea of shared parenting. She believes that society puts the entire pressure of parenting on mothers. “We need our partners during and post pregnancy. I’m happy my husband was there all along but I know people who experience the exact opposite of it,” she said.
Mir, the psychologist, said that the responsibility of motherhood and taking care of the child contribute to the depression but is not exactly the causal factor.
However, psychologists say that the situation has improved in certain sectors of the society. The mothers of new-borns are also advised by their gynecologists to visit psychiatrists or psychologists. “Definitely not 100 percent are incoming but with the educated new generation mother, we can see that they do seek help,” Mir added.
Afshan, who had been aware of the PPD, said that she suffered from it anyway. “Usually families misread the behavior when women get cranky after giving birth,” she said. “There is still a lot of lack of awareness.”