The Nexus of Cultural Censure and Postpartum Depression

Geschrieben am 20.08.2020
von Marria Qibtia Sikandar Nagra

Motherhood is a beautiful experience. The first time you see your child, cradling him in your arms  is supposed to be a cherished experience. But what if postpartum depression hits hard and you do not feel utter joy at seeing your very own child? In contrast to the Western world where exists a mutual acceptance of mental ailments, for new mothers in South Asia, postpartum depression is a stigmatized reality. A moving report about the culturally aggravated postpartum depression,  South Asian mothers have to endure.

“… I don’t know how I could have changed so dramatically…my appearance changed; my mind was troubled…it is something you guys wouldn’t understand because the Indian society doesn’t fully understand postpartum depression.” These heart wrenching words, penned by California based young Indian mother Nima Bhakti, a little while before she committed suicide due to postpartum depression, sears at your very heart. You might wonder how could a new mother, just end up killing herself? How is it even remotely possible for her to decide to put an end to her life, especially when she has been blessed with one of life’s most cherished blessings? Did not she think of the little child who deserved and awaited her love? For him, his mother was all he had and yet she decided to take his life!?

The reality is, these questions stand in little value to the breath of emotional turmoil, postpartum depression affects new mothers with. Grappling with their disturbed psyches, new mothers do not know where to turn to for emotional and social support, in fear of bad judgment. Such episodes get accentuated, especially if their cultural origins and leanings do not appreciate an expose’ of disturbed mental states.

The Raw and Riveting Reality

Postpartum depression is a common mood disorder experienced by new mothers, shortly after delivering a baby. Characterized by excessive sadness, anxiety as well guilt, postpartum depression disrupts the psychic state of new mothers.  It is generally believed to be caused by hormonal changes that follow the maternal child birth journey. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Protection (CDCP), up to 20 percent of new mother’s experience one or multitude of symptoms of postpartum depression. The fact that the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression are similar to the ones experienced by patients of clinical depression displays the alarming nature of this condition.

From mothers consumed by stress and apprehension to displaying aversion towards their very own babies, postpartum depression displays itself in ugly manifestations. The mother may even be anxious to the point of excessive apprehension where she will unnecessarily worry about the future of her baby, her life. She may even exhibit a heightened display of emotions. From weeping over the smallest of things to being cranky and upset over a situation that does not exist, victims of postpartum depression have a hard time grappling with their mental state. There may be instances where some mothers may be consumed with excessive guilt. This guilt stems from the over-analyzation of the prospect of not being capable enough to understand the emotive as well as dietary needs of their child. Being highly self-critical, such mothers blame themselves for any inconvenience caused. This blame transpires point where they believe themselves to be failing their little child.

Exacerbation due to Cultural Censure

Despite being hormonally caused, postpartum depression also assumes the position of situational depression in South Asian countries. This is because of the cultural censure and castigation directed towards potential victims of depression. It is a sad reality that till date, certain quarters of the South Asian society find it hard to accept the prevalence and lethality of depression. Where physical ailments are recognized and their treatments acknowledged, mental ailments are conveniently brushed off. If someone usually feels mentally disturbed and talks about the profusion of negative thoughts, he will be casually judged for a lack of spiritual foothold in life and hence instructed to seek help in prayer and worship. Other times, he may be told that he is being ungrateful and should look at life from a positive perspective.

Now a person, undergoing depression is experiencing a chemical imbalance in his brain. To rectify this, he needs an exigent medical and psychiatric treatment. To nullify his disturbed state is to believe that nothing affects him. This nullification primarily stems from the habitual labelling of psychiatric patients as mad people. Hence, seeking psychological help becomes a practice, stigmatic in itself. If we analyze the pervasion of postpartum depression against this situation, it becomes clear how South Asian societies respond to this mental condition. Usually new mothers will internalize their emotive turmoil and would not complain for fear of judgment and labelling. On the other hand, where some do express their disturbed states, they would be declared thankless, since what they do is, simply express ingratitude.

 Accepting the Concurrence of Sadness and Gratitude

Yes, motherhood is a lovely experience that fills you up with an abundance of joy. But not everyone has it easy. There are new mothers who may be overwhelmed to the point of anxiety, and hence the joy that they may be experiencing may be overshadowed. To disregard their emotive states is simply a dismissal of their situation specially when they really need someone around to listen to them and their apprehensions. It must be realized that sadness as well as gratitude can concurrently operate. When the society fails to acknowledge depressed mothers, it paves path for the growth of cognitively disturbed children. When a new mother is disturbed, she is less likely to breastfeed, read or sing to her baby. She might not even bring her baby to pediatric visits and implement infant safety practices. The detachment the baby experiences at this point tends to manifest its repercussions in adolescence, where his emotional regulation, stress reactivity and cognition may all exhibit a negative impaction.

Motherhood is a consonant experience across cultures. Where in the West new mothers are conveniently enabled to seek psychological help if diagnosed with postpartum depression, similarly in South Asia it must be recognized that postpartum depression is medical condition that demands professional attention. New mothers must be encouraged to express their mental insecurities. This will untangle them from feelings of alienation and loneliness, commonly experienced in the postpartum phase. It must be realized that the presence of a good social support system is integral in alleviating postpartum depression. Let it be the cause of the cure, than the cause of the disease itself.