I walked out of my house after I had my baby

Feb 10,2017

For the better part of 2015, my only dream was to hold my newborn, when she would come in October, and cherish every single minute that I had with her. Most of my family lives close to where I live, so I had cousins and other relatives who had had babies, and, being a close-knit family, I had spent a lot time around babies. I had seen how they could change the lives of their parents, and how all the mothers just somehow…managed…to be dressed up for weddings, cheerful at family gatherings and never really complaining ever. It was hard for me to imagine that having a baby was anything but natural at worst, and pleasant and manageable at best.

Then, on October 19, Shikha came along. Eight and half pounds, head full of hair and a wail so loud that even the doctors in the operation theatre laughed. After 31 hours of labour, I finally had a C-section. I was disappointed, but it had to be done, and by the time I recovered after the operation, I had reconciled myself to the fact that all the planning I had done for a natural birth was futile. This is how it was meant to be. After about four hours of lying in the recovery room and the surgical wound starting to hurt like a raging fire was upon it, I was wheeled into my room, where I was reunited with my baby. I searched for signs of a rush of affection but found that I felt nothing. Nothing, that is, except for utter panic. How was I supposed to take care of something so tiny? How was I going to find time to do all the things I liked to do if something so small was dependent on me? I tried to quell my rising panic, and as the breastfeeding consultant breezed into the room to pinch and pull at my nipples and teach me and the baby how to breastfeed, I started to ease off a little. Three days later we went home.

For the first week that I was home, I was still learning to take care of my newly-sutured body and the baby at the same time. Though I had enough help, I insisted I wanted to do lots of things on my own. My mother gave in and allowed me to, all the time complaining that I would know the effects of walking around doing these things when I am old and my back gives way. Completely harmless and coming from a place of concern. One such time, though, three months later, she went on about how I was ruining my back and I snapped. I went into a long tirade about how if she didn’t want to help with the baby, then she should just go back to her house. About how she never had anything encouraging to say and how I was expected to understand all the time that her complaining and telling me off was love and concern. I ranted for a bit and then broke down crying. I had no idea why I had overreacted. Everyone was careful around me that day.

It was the day after that that I started to resent the baby for wanting to be breastfed. I would bathe her, feed her, put her down for a nap and she would be up in a couple of hours rooting and wanting to be fed. And it never seemed to stop. I started to do nothing in the two-hour gaps that she slept. I would be keyed up and anxious, turning down any offers to do anything — rest, sleep, watch tv, read — in the time that she slept for fear of her waking up. After a month or so of this behaviour, I snapped and walked out of the house.

My mother-in-law chased after me and asked me to come back home. I stared at her stonily and refused to say a word. She tells me she pleaded with me for half an hour before I relented and came back home. Only to hold my head and starting to shout a series of “No”s because the baby was wailing hysterically when I got back and wouldn’t calm down with anything. That evening, my husband sat me down and asked what was happening. I told him I was finding this hard, but it would sort itself out. He offered to take some time off work and be at home, if that helped. I said that was not necessary, but he did it anyway. And I immediately knew this is what I wanted too. Except that two days after he had been at home, he became the target of my anger. In my mind, he couldn’t do anything properly. Not even hold the baby or rock it to sleep the way I did it. The first few times, he responded calmly, but after a week of my criticising everything he did, he lost his temper and decided to go back to work after the weekend. This was the last straw for me and I started to cry hard. I must have cried for hours, I don’t remember, but I knew it felt like every bit of life was being squeezed out of me. What made it worse was through all this crying (and drama) one part of me kept feeling huge guilt for not wanting to have anything to do with the baby. That day, after I came back to him with my eyes and nose swollen from the crying, I said to him, “I need help. Help me.”

I don’t know where he got inspired from or how, but he said we needed to see a gynaecologist as well as a psychiatrist. I was too weak to protest a psychiatrist, and also, I knew somewhere in my heart that this was not normal. Long story short, all the signs pointed to one thing and I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. From there started a long and arduous journey to get better. It took me 13 months of a routine that didn’t waver even by an hour. It included regular exercise, sessions with a counsellor every two weeks, medication for the first three months and mindfulness exercises that my doctor told me about. I had to do this so I could be happy. I had suffered for a good five months before I was diagnosed and it was sheer hell.

I was angry all the time. I wanted to hit anyone who was physically close to me, including the baby who demanded so much from me. I cried and refused to sleep. I constantly worried that I had grown ugly, that my child would turn out to be not intelligent, that my husband and I would stop connecting like we used to and stop living our lives. The list I was anxious about was endless and almost all of it without any evidence. And yet, with constant support from my husband, the rest of my family, and biggest of all, with my own effort, today I can say I am completely healed of this monster called postpartum depression. It makes me sad that I didn’t enjoy the first six to eight months of my child’s life, but I try not to feel guilty about that and go back to a dark space. I try and enjoy my time with her every second now.

But that’s another story. I’d like to list how you can tell if you have postpartum depression.

  1. You feel panic all the time, like you just cannot handle this and you wish someone would take the entire situation from you. If not, you feel you could explode.

  2. Crying, irrational anger, huge dollops of guilt about issues you have no control over, anxiety, fear of the child or anyone who is close to you.

  3. You don’t feel like eating anything, either loss of sleep or excessive sleep,

  4. You completely lack concentration or focus, are listless and thinking fatalistic and calamitous thoughts.

If you experience any of these, you need to see your gynaecologist as soon as you can.

My advisory for overcoming this:

Get a proper diagnosis

  1. Take medication if you have to

  2. Tell your family you need their help and support.

  3. Exercise, exercise, exercise.

  4. Listen to yourself. Don’t think this is abnormal and that it will go away. Have faith in knowing that you know your own mind.

  5. Have regular sessions with a counsellor

  6. Eating right — try and include mood-enhancing food high in antioxidants. Include plenty of curds.

Lastly, talk about it. Find a group where you can share your story. You will find that many women have gone through the same thing and will have different suggestions for coping strategies. And, best of all, you’ll make friends and feel lighter for some time.

Sharanya Karnad is a full-time mum and a hobby baker. She regular counsels women, informally, for postpartum depression.

Studies report that 25 to 30  percent of new mothers in India experience postpartum depression. It is an issue that needs urgent and relevant awareness creation. Teddyy’s joins the fight against PPD because we care about mothers just as much about their babies.