Â This post has been contributed byÂ Tanya Percy Vasunia, Psychologist at Mpower.
In our society, very few roles have been as glamorised as the role of a mother. Bollywood, along with other pop culture fads has made â€œMaâ€_x009d_ the ultimate embodiment of sacrifice, unconditional love and of course purity. Unfortunately, like everything that has a strong social embedded identity, there is a risk of feeling extreme pressure to meet expectations and of developing a mental health concern.
The World Health Organization has reported, â€œWorldwide about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth, experience a mental disorder, primarily depression. In developing countries, this is even higher, i.e. 15.6% during pregnancy and 19.8% after childbirth.â€_x009d_
The ripple effect of this mental health concern can be observed in the motherâ€™s and the childâ€™s life for years to come. The parent feels like a failure and the child is at risk of developing attachment problems as well as certain developmental concerns.
Let us put aside, for a brief moment, the sexist idea that child rearing is primarily a womanâ€™s God-given designation; let us not even embark down the path of the similarly sexist ideology that a woman has to be the primary caregiver; or the fact that many families in India still prefer having a male child versus a female one. Letâ€™s instead focus the fact that today in the 21st century, we as a society are failing our mothers by not providing them with a space to talk about their mental health, their concerns, their experiences. Mothers are always supposed to be besotted with their children, they are supposed to know how to handle their tears, they are supposed to glow with pride. With every â€œsupposed toâ€_x009d_ comes the underlying â€œhas toâ€_x009d_ and with that comes the pressure, the isolation, and the risk of developing pre or post natal depression.
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In a primarily patriarchal society, where community and society are often the foundations of family values and outlooks, we look at the concept of motherhood as a taken-for-granted virtue, and we look at women who struggle as abnormal or simply bad mothers.
â€œMotherhood: All love begins and ends there.â€_x009d_ (Robert Browning, 1812-1889)
Post and prenatal depression (PPND) are medically diagnosable mental health disorders whose roots are both social and biological. A common idea or myth associated with PPND is that the mother doesnâ€™t feel maternal or is incapable of affection towards the child or is simply self-centered. This is not true.
PPND suppresses a motherâ€™s ability to be able to provide care and affection, and in many cases, the constant feeling of exhaustion reduces a mothersâ€™ ability to breastfeed and bond with her infant. The toll this disability takes on mothers is incomprehensible; they judge themselves harshly sometimes, even more so than society does, and this further adds to the cycle of depression and being overwhelmed.
We must acknowledge that our society is evolving and that fathers are, in fact, taking a more hands-on role in child-rearing. Companies offer paternal leave and more fathers attend doctor’s appointments, parent-teacher events, and birthday parties. When we see an involved father, we are quick to praise and often reprimand our own partners for their limited involvement; but when we see a mother do all the above, it is still viewed as her role and responsibility, and therefore it is not exceptional.
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Every day hundreds, if not thousands of babies are born; every day at least one new or expecting mother realises something is not quite right about how she is feeling. The idea of talking about this to the family is often shameful. Sometimes the concern is pushed aside by family and friends using the often-inaccurate explanation of â€œit’s only hormones, it will pass.â€_x009d_ To mothers out there, a single or a few low days do not mean they have PPND, but consistent feelings or cycles of feeling depressed and highly anxious might.
- The first step is to know that there is help available. Talk to your gynaecologists or your general practitioners, and if you are uncomfortable with them, talk to a mental health professional. If none of these feels comforting, talk to other expecting mothers. You are not alone.
- Try keeping your partner in the loop. When pregnant, the general guidelines given to a mother are around her physical health. We need to make a movement towards holistic pre and postnatal care which includes the body and the mind.
Just remember, you are not alone. Read all about how it affects 1 in 5 Indian women here.Â
image courtesy: healthywomen.org