Break the Stigma…

28 Aug 20

Every time I read a new story on Nima Bhakta, the beautiful young mother who lost her battle with postpartum depression, it just breaks my heart – breaks my heart for the beautiful woman gone too soon, the 7 month old child that will not know his mother, the devastated father who is now a single parent, and the family coping with this loss.  Nima’s story, shared in this editionbrings up a subject that we as South Asians just do not take seriously – issues pertaining to mental health.  We don’t want to talk about the negative, the scary, the uglyand would rather push all that under the rug, put on a fake smile, and pretend all is okay. 
I remember struggling with depression and post traumatic stress disorder my son, Veer, was born.  He surprised us coming early at 29.5 weeks, 1 lb 11 ounces, and 13.5 inches.   By the grace of Waheguru, he is healthy and doing well but even in those circumstances, I remember it was hard to talk about it and occasionally when I did, I was asked to stay strong, don’t cry, you are not helping the baby he will feel it if you are sad.  I remember crying many times on the way to the hospital or back after visiting my son where he would spend 10 weeks after his birth because it was the one place where I could do it without making others uncomfortable.  When someone needs to cry, why are we afraid of saying cry it out, let it out of your system, maybe it will make you feel better.  Is it because their crying makes us uncomfortable? If so, isn’t it supposed to be about the person experiencing the issues and not how it makes us feel.  
I remember months after when my son was healthy and happy, I overheard my mom talking to someone saying that she was scared and frightened for me but afraid to show it in front of me because if she broke down, she was afraid I would break down too.   I didn’t even realize the ripple effect depression creates until I heard those words.  Why was it not okay for my mother to break down or for me to break down?  It would have been a normal thing to do given the circumstance,but our society has taught us we must “stay strong” and bottle up any negativity.  How is that healthy? 
My son was 8 months old when I had a medical issue requiring medication that prevented me from nursing due to fear of it being passed to the baby.  I thought I would just pick it back up again after I was off the medication.  However, the time kept getting extended and I got put on a 10 week medication course  – it made no sense to keep dumping milk. By the time I could nurse again, my son would have been on formula for 10 weeks and closer to 1 year old.  I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted so I gave up.   I remember being at a dinner party shortly after that making a bottle for my son with formula and a friend’s mother asking me why I am not nursing.  I politely replied that I had some health issues and had to stop due to that and the response I got was – you should have at least done it for a year.  One year is a must for the baby!  Why can’t the response to that situation be – your health is just as important, don’t worry about it!
As I fought my battle with depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress, I also dealt with a constant fear of whether I was doing enough as a first-time mom of a preemie and how to protect him given he was extra vulnerable coming home a preemie in the midst of flue season.  However, those reasons weren’t enough for me to get a break from societal pressures and obligations - remembering birthdays, anniversaries, returning calls in a timely manner so as not to offend anyone, and attending social obligations are a must in our society.  I remember being at a party a short few months after my son was born where an aunt who had also had preemies saw my nervousness as I ran back and forth between the party and where my son was resting.  I will never forget her story- she told me she had preemies and was over-protective of them and did not let anyone hold or see them for months after they were born.  Family and friends called her arrogant and ridiculed her instead of respecting what she had gone through because this is what we as a society do when we cannot get our way with someone.  She told me not to worry about what people think and concentrate on my health and the baby’s health because that is all that matters.  
    While a new mother is extremely happy and grateful for the bundle of joy in her arms, she is also weighed down with a lot of stress, fear, anxiety, and a new set of responsibilities to add to her already full plate.  Instead of constantly asking her to look at the positive or being offended by her behavior whether it is an inability to attend an event or a forgotten birthday, maybe it is time we as a society started giving her a break and serving as an outlet for her negative emotions so she can release them.  You may not know who is suffering from post-partum depression but this approach will ensure that you are not doing damage to someone who is already struggling.  
    I share my story because we as a society need to start talking more about our own encounters with mental health – the more we talk about it, the more we normalize it.    I encourage all of you out there to do the same with the hashtag #BreakTheStigma4Nima, a hashtag started by NIma’s husband Deven to increase awareness around postpartum depression.  Together, we can prevent more tragedies.  
Asia Today would like to continue sharing personal stories related to postpartum depression or any other mental health issues with the hashtag #BreakTheStigma4Nima to support Deven Bhaka’s cause for promoting awareness around mental health issues in the South Asian community.   If you have a story to submit, please send it to editor@asiatodayaz.com