Close-up of woman and baby's face.


On Being South Asian and Having Postpartum Depression

Aug 31, 2017

Four years ago, I was in the eighth month of my pregnancy when in a prenatal class, I first heard an in depth discussion on postpartum depression and discovered that 8 to 12 per cent of women will experience it. This caused me to look around the room of a dozen or so ballooning women, and size them up for grit and strength. See, I never once considered that I could be that statistic, and was therefore unprepared for it.

I am a rarely flustered kind of bird. A woman of logic and practicality. I am as close to Tin Man as you can get without raising suspicion. Therefore, I didn’t consider myself as a likely candidate for postpartum depression. The reality is that susceptibility to depression is not about grit and strength.

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Three months later, I found myself stuck at the bottom of a dark well, and it was more sinister than a mild case of the baby blues. I cried inconsolably over everything and was deeply unhappy. I had no appetite and couldn’t fall asleep. I couldn’t process simple information and make small decisions, like what to wear or what to eat. I had no will to leave the house, couldn’t find joy in my newborn baby and was having a hard time bonding with her. I discussed it with my doctor but no one else.

“We never had that in our day. It must be a modern thing”.

One day, my mother asked me with concerned eyes: “What’s wrong? Talk to me”.

So I said very simply: “I don’t think I love my daughter”.

I cannot put into words the grief, shame and guilt behind that sentence.

To her credit, my mother didn’t wince — she didn’t react at all. She just listened to me patiently. When I told her that I had postpartum depression, she responded with: “We never had that in our day. It must be a modern thing”.

Her response was not of judgment, rather simply lack of experience and knowledge. This was astonishing to me because, while my mother hails from a traditional Pakistani family, she is an educated woman. How could she not be aware of postpartum depression?

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This got me thinking, so I talked to friends of South Asian descent. What did they know about postpartum depression? Had they experienced it? Did their mothers ever talk to them about it?

The answer to the last question was unanimously “no”. Most women knew little of postpartum depression unless they had experienced it themselves, and the ones who had, never talked about it openly. Why was there no discussion on the topic? Was it because our mothers actually hadn’t experienced postpartum depression or that it didn’t exist to the same degree in their countries of origin due to social and cultural differences?

The battle becomes easier when you know you aren’t alone.

I discovered that the root cause for lack of discussion on the topic was not that it doesn’t occur in South Asian countries, but that the stigma related to mental health issues in those cultures makes it difficult for people to be forthcoming about their struggles with depression. Postpartum depression is even more taboo since it is attributed to a normally joyous occasion in a woman’s life. Women are ashamed to discuss their negative feelings, and lack of education, prevention and treatment in women’s healthcare makes the condition go unnamed and unnoticed. This makes it less likely that a woman would even identify her suffering as something that requires attention.

This stigma carries over into South Asian communities in North America. It is therefore imperative that new mothers voice their concerns and seek help, share their experiences and normalize the conversation in their communities.

The battle becomes easier when you know you aren’t alone.

Article Author Yumna Siddiqui-Khan
Yumna Siddiqui-Khan

Read more from Yumna here.

Yumna Siddiqui-Khan is an accountant by day, and writer and amateur photographer by night. A Toronto native, she now resides in Ottawa with her spouse and their 3-year-old spawn. Her photography, musings on life and the lessons learned through parenting can be found at the Institution of Parenthood.

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