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.
Stacy, mother of three, was struck by an onset of feelings in the middle of the night in a hospital bed. She had delivered her third son via C-section a few nights before. As she lay, she wished she could jump out of her skin and run out of the room.
As nurses checked in on her every few hours and her mother slept soundly by her side in the chair across from her, Stacy didn’t speak up. She lay silently, experiencing the strongest panic attack she had ever had.
The next day, Stacy’s mom helped her fill out her outpatient paperwork. One included a postpartum depression screening questionnaire. Her mom, a veteran labor and delivery nurse, had been the first person to talk to Stacy about the “baby blues,” years ago during her first pregnancy. Stacy knew there was potential for internal bursts of sadness, anxiety, and insecurity. This time though, three babies later, she knew she felt differently.
Stacy’s mom read out the questions and selected NO for many of the answers. You don’t feel that way, I can tell, she remembers her mom saying as she filled out the paperwork.
Looking back, Stacy realizes she could have said yes to at least four or five of the questions. When I asked Stacy what stopped her from telling her mom, it wasn’t so simple. First, Stacy didn’t feel her symptoms were so bad. She didn’t have suicidal ideations, and she didn’t feel like she was in a desperate state. Having known women with diagnosed postpartum depression, she didn’t feel like she fit the bill.
She also knew her mom was the primary caretaker for her sister and couldn’t imagine burdening her. She loved her mom too much. She wanted to be the child that her mom always knew her to be—strong and without complications.
Stacy’s story didn’t shock me at all. Many of us struggle with the vulnerability of our stories because of that exact fear of burden. We don’t want to be a weight for our partners or families. We want to be brave, strong, and resilient.
Stacy came home after her delivery in what could possibly be the busiest season of her family’s life. Her father-in-law had just had emergency surgery, and her husband had been scheduled for work travel abroad. Stacy describes it as the perfect storm. So many things were happening all at once, and she found herself completely overwhelmed. After one incredibly difficult fight with her husband, she knew it was time to check in with someone. She scheduled a visit with her OBGYN.
Talking to her OBGYN made all the difference. She told her doctor she had been feeling down and different from her previous pregnancies—not necessarily suicidal, but definitely not like herself.
“Talking to someone made a night and day difference for me. She told me I was not alone. She normalized what I was feeling. She told me I was going to be okay.”
About four months later she returned to work and she started feeling like herself again.
“It made a difference to get out of the routine of changing diapers, and carrying and feeding children. Having that separation was huge. I felt like a human being again.”
What struck me about Stacy’s story is how much mothers take on as the primary caregiver. She and her peers felt they had to be superwoman—the perfect mom—just like our moms were.
Helping moms feel more human—giving them the space to take rest, take a shower, get out of the house—can really help them come up for air. Most of the time, a new mom’s focus is on their child’s care. If we can position ourselves to offer support that focuses on the mom’s self-care, it can help a mom prioritize herself in the midst of the chaos of motherhood.
“If someone had asked, the flood gates would probably have opened. If you know a new mother, check on them. Ask them how they are doing. Are they getting enough sleep? Are they feeling okay? If they sound overwhelmed, go take the baby off their hands for an hour and let them get out of the house! Even if a new mom isn’t quite comfortable with that, just talking over coffee at home, or holding the baby while mom naps is a big deal!”
At the beginning of the call, Stacy told me her oldest son had only three more years left at home. It felt like yesterday when her kids were diapers. Being able to make most of that time when your kids are small is so important. But we can’t make it everything. We have to make space for moms to care for themselves especially when their kids are young.
Moms taking care of themselves is the best way for them to be whole and to be good mothers.