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.
Jyothi, mother of two, was begging the hospital staff for an epidermal at nine centimeters dilated. She had a 36-hour labor. She was sure she wouldn’t do the delivery. At the very moment the baby was delivered, Jyothi asked herself, “What just happened to me?”
Jyothi is a mental health counselor and a brilliant, hilarious young mom in New York City. She’s always kept it real with me and I was really looking forward to her take on birth.
“I never tell expecting moms that birth is miraculous. It is uncomfortable, it’s fluids, it’s traumatic to the body. It is something your birth canal has never experienced before. You can never prepare for the intensity of the pain and the duration of it. For some moms, they can enter into a mindset and really anchor themselves into the moment and feel a deeper connection. That wasn’t my case.”
She had a really good physical recovery after birth. Her body didn’t feel like it was hit by a train. She had a small tear, but she was not in agony.
But, Jyothi’s hormones were catching up to her. Her body was dealing with the loss of an organ (the placenta) and she knew everyone’s body stabilizes differently.
Emotionally, she was feeling things she had never felt in such strength—loneliness, sadness, and anxiety. This feeling was exacerbated but one of the hardest, most controversial parts of motherhood— breastfeeding.
Oh, breastfeeding — a very hot topic in the mommy community.
For those of us who don’t know, breast milk comes in three stages and is nature’s design to give your newborn exactly what they need during their first six months of life. If you’d like to learn more, there’s a great article about the history of breastfeeding.
For every mother, breastfeeding can be difficult. Like, really difficult. Every mom I talked to had something to say about breastfeeding.
Jyothi and her husband decided to stay with her parents during her recovery. She remembers feeling very anxious. Her daughter would wake up very often, and by the time she would finish feeding, her mind would start racing again, anxiously worrying when the baby would wake up again.
Despite being in a house full of people—her parents, siblings, and very supportive husband—she felt incredibly alone. By week two, she had developed mastitis—a very painful infection of the breast caused (most of the time) by breastfeeding.
During the course of six months, Jyothi had mastitis three times.
Before having her daughter, she assumed breastfeeding was just going to happen.
“I didn’t have anybody to help me with breastfeeding. At that time, we didn’t have a lot of money, so hiring a lactation specialist was out of the question. I was texting every mom, watching Youtube videos about breastfeeding, trying to research breastfeeding. I was desperate to learn to breastfeed.”
For Jyothi, she was overproducing milk. Because of that overproduction she was developing mastitis. To combat the overproduction and how painful breastfeeding was, she started pumping. She wasn’t sleeping. She was lonely, emotional, and felt extremely anxious.
At the time, a few weeks after delivery, Jyothi didn’t feel like she loved her daughter. She was also losing a ton of weight. Her sisters noticed and started asking questions and began to sense that Jyothi could be depressed. Her sister, with help from Jyothi’s husband, called a family meeting to get everyone on board with her care. After that, Jyothi’s sister talked to her privately about her concerns.
Jyothi was relieved when her sister suggested postpartum depression (or PPD). She honestly felt a weight lifted off her shoulders. She scheduled an appointment with her OBGYN.
After her appointment, Jyothi reached out to her doula, who she worked with throughout her pregnancy. To be clear, Jyothi is not a “crunchy mom,” and trust me, guys—Jyothi is a New York city mama through and through.
The key point here is there’s a whole world of natural methods new parents can explore for postnatal care. Jyothi’s doula offered a treatment that ultimately helped her get back to feeling like herself again. She also says her extremely supportive husband and siblings, who knew what to look for, were also by her side, offering her the support to make it through that season.
Jyothi’s story taught me a few things. As we read in Fairly’s story, we need to understand that PPD is a possibility.
Along with that, Jyothi recommended we need to give authority to the safe people in our life to ask difficult questions to ensure we are healthy, safe, and cared for. For Jyothi, that was her sisters. Her sister knew the signs, immediately intervened, and got everyone on board to be about Jyothi’s care.
Your safe people may not be your mom. Your safe people may not be nearby. As a new mother, it is important to identify this tribe before the baby is delivered. You owe it to yourself to call on those people and make sure they know their job.
Jyothi has counseled many PPD-diagnosed mamas. At the core, she talked to me about shame. Our Indian identity carries a lot of honor-shame culture that specifically focuses on the “I” of the story.
“Shame focuses it on the I AM. I am a bad mother. PPD makes you question your identity. You begin to focus on the I—how terrible, and bad I am. I am unworthy. PPD attacks the narrative of who you are. ”
Jyothi resonated with Nima’s story—the invalidation and rejection of her experience.
When Jyothi was able to name her diagnosis, she was met with pushback by family and people in her community who told her that newborns were just hard, and her depression wasn’t real. Her husband stood up for her in moments when people tried to minimize her experience.
We have to be careful about minimizing and invalidating the experiences of moms. Our job is to remind them that they are enough. That they are doing a good job. That they’re doing the best they can.
As a community, we can do our best to make sure we listen, hear, and—instead of offering advice—try to validate the stories of moms as they navigate this season.