This piece comes from the “The stigma of postpartum depression” series, honoring the life of Nima Bhakta. I interviewed several South Asian women about their experience of postpartum depression to share their stories and help as a community support mothers after labor and delivery.
Praisy, mother of two, fondly remembers her excitement in finding out she was pregnant with her daughter. From the start of her pregnancy, she and her husband were full of ideas of parenthood. They were committed to becoming 100%, hands-on parents.
No one told her she would have complications in the delivery room. She had a long, horrible, and tiresome labor that ended in a C-section. Her oldest daughter was in the NICU for four days after her delivery.
“In my mind, I thought I was going to have this normal, natural delivery. It’s going to be great. All of that went out the window. I didn’t expect my daughter to be in the NICU for four days. I didn’t expect to be recovering in the hospital without having my daughter by my side. It was so hard.”
As she and her family returned home after an exhausting week, she tried to process her delivery and sudden concerns of her daughter’s health. She was overwhelmed with how everything had been totally uprooted.
“I loved my daughter from day one, and I couldn’t imagine my life without her. I was so protective of her. But there was a part of me that was like, what am I doing? I don’t even recognize myself. I don’t recognize my body. I don’t think I’m fit to be a mother.”
Motherhood, like many of the major stages in life, are often open to the comment of family, friends, and “aunties”. As soon as she became pregnant, she found herself getting both solicited and unsolicited advice from everyone.
“As soon as you announce you are pregnant, everyone has an opinion about how you should have a baby.”
This advice (and the opinion) often leads to mom guilt—a “pervasive feeling of not doing enough as a parent, not doing things right, or making decisions that may “mess up” your kids in the long run”. I mean, if you spend five minutes on Instagram, you’ll see how everyone is doing parenting differently. It’s hard not to compare yourself to the moms who seem to have it all together.
My sister in law, an incredible mom to a child with down syndrome, told me that the vicious cycle of mom guilt can make you feel like there’s a “right way” to do things. It’s a vicious cycle of mom guilt and shame.
I asked Praisy how she dealt with the expectations people placed on her as a mother. The point that shined through? Boundaries.
“Moms are sometimes afraid to say no. We have to make sure we respect the boundaries of parents as they navigate this transition.”
Boundaries are a difficult conversation in the Indian community. But boundaries setting is singlehandedly one of the best ways for our parents to begin seeing new parents, as adults.
Creating boundaries allows parents to clarify their needs, wants, and comfort levels, and helps foster healthy relationships with their parents and in-laws. In order to have healthy and whole relationships with the elders in our life, we need to start seeing that we are capable, and they don’t always have it right about how we raise our families.
Praisy set very clear boundaries around her newborn phase and didn’t make them a secret. She and her husband had honest conversations with her community before the baby was born. She didn’t allow anyone outside of her immediate family to hold her baby until she was eight weeks old.
“I was unapologetic and matter of fact. God gave me a responsibility to care for my kids. I made it known it is about my kids and what I think is right for my kids.”
Praisy told me one great story that really solidified their stance. She and her husband, well before they were born, made the decisions to have their children sleep in their own room, even as babies.
Embarrassingly, I am the child who slept with my parents until she was 11 years old. (Don’t judge me, my dad worked nightshift and it was just me, my mom, and sister most weeknights).
Back to the story— her parents weren’t particularly keen on this idea. She remembers one night putting their baby to bed and seeing very confused and upset looks on their faces. That night, while everyone was asleep, Praisy and her husband heard strange shuffling noises on the babycam. They saw grandma checking in on sound asleep baby in her crib. She didn’t touch or take the baby out of the crib. She just wanted to make sure the baby was okay.
The beautiful thing about coming from a very Indian family is most of our beloved parents are incredibly well-intentioned. They just don’t know how to handle their emotions. They love their children, and they love their grandchildren even more. They want us to be safe, healthy, and protected.
That is why it is so important for us to help our parents on the journey of boundaries. They need to understand we are now adults. According to therapist, Dr. Carder Stout, “Grown children need to recognize that their parents are people—flawed and probably trying their best—and parents need to recognize that their children aren’t children anymore.”
I learned this concept of integration in an individual counseling session a few years ago. We have to be comfortable with the idea of our parents being both good and bad. It also means that we too, will be good and bad parents, and that’s okay. It doesn’t destroy who we are, our credibility, and it definitely doesn’t make us less than.
It’s important for expecting parents to understand that they are now officially the ones in charge of their children. They make the rules. They will do great, and they will mess up.
As a community, we need to allow parents the space to do this well by respecting the boundaries they set. If you’re trying to be a good parent, your kids are going to be fine.