It all started when I got married at a very young age, quite innocent and oblivious to the road bumps ahead. I got pregnant right away, and seven days after giving birth to my beautiful child, I had an attack of postpartum psychosis. It came as a shock to me, a shock to the whole family that ruined the overwhelming happiness and excitement of receiving their first grandchild. Of course, nothing happens without a valid reason; it didn’t just happen. You see, I had been very optimistic, very well-read on giving birth and child care that I never imagined for a second that one thing would go wrong. Full of confidence of delivering naturally and breastfeeding my baby exclusively, the huge disappointment hit me as I had an unexpected C-section and then was forced to stop breastfeeding due to the antidepressants and medications I was on. In addition, I knew four years later that I am “bipolar”, which put everything in place, since it’s normal to get an occasional psychotic attack with the bipolar disorder.
I battled with postpartum depression for quite some time… At first, I was on sleep medications for a number of days after which I was awake for a couple of hours at night and was on a lot of medications. Therefore, for about a month, I was in bed for the whole 24 hours, only getting up to either use the bathroom or pray. When I started “getting back to life”, I wondered whether I’d ever be the same person again. I was both mentally and physically drained since I was still recovering from an operation. For 6 months, I was on a regular dose of a medication that required me to sleep for the entire night (which means I couldn’t be up for my daughter’s night feedings). It also left me with little energy during the day I had to use someone’s help all the time. Wracked with guilt over having negative feelings towards my newborn and having felt like I didn’t want to have her at times, I wished I could move back in time and just do it all my own way. I constantly thought to myself, “Maybe I wouldn’t have had to face all this had I listened to what I really wanted not what everyone else wanted me to do… maybe I would have had a vaginal birth and would now be breastfeeding”. You can see I was so obsessed with breastfeeding to a hazardous degree and you know what? I didn’t really get over the fact that I haven’t breastfed her until she turned four, that’s when I started going to psychotherapy sessions.
Other than the guilt of not breastfeeding my baby, I felt guilty over not being her sole caregiver. How can my mom help me out when I should be the one who’s in charge of everything? How can I not cook, clean, take care of myself, my husband and my baby all at the same time while being depressed? This sounds crazy to me now having realized how depression literally burns you out but back then, God was that a serious issue! There were days where I just did not want to wake up and face the world. I wanted so desperately to die, thinking that when I die I’d get rid of all of this heartache. In a society which erases your personal, individual identity the moment you become a mother, I was slowly losing heart. All I saw was darkness at the end of a blocked tunnel. I obviously couldn’t slightly accept the whole situation. What was once a cheerful, passionately creative writer and translator, successful in all aspects of her life, has become a lifeless person, forgetting about her hopes & dreams and falling into depths of despair.
It was not until five years later, a year after I had my second baby that I have come to terms with my illness. During my second pregnancy, I have been trying to convince myself that everything will be fine and that all I need to have is a healthy baby. I had learnt from my previous experience that expectation is the root cause of all heartache so I kind of decided to ‘expect the worst’. Thankfully, I had a drug-free, natural delivery and was able to breastfeed my son successfully for the first month and a half. Then, I think it just had to happen… The mixed-up hormonal mess postpartum led to unrelenting insomnia and postpartum anxiety. It all had to happen and has always been happening because I’m bipolar. I’m ever grateful that this time around, though, I received much better medical care and was educated on what the whole “bipolar disorder” is all about.
Among the most valuable lessons I derived from this experience is that neither depression nor anxiety make me a bad person, not even a bad mother. The realization that I am not a bad mother after all was my first step towards survival, thanks to the great emotional support I received from family and friends. I was blessed with some of the best friends and doctors, who believed in me, helped me regain my positive approach to life and who have succeeded in removing the stigma from mental illness. After my first child, I was in awful shame that I got postpartum depression I couldn’t speak a word about it to anyone in fear of being rejected. Avoiding contact with many people, I chose to suffer in silence out of fear of being judged. After having my second child, however, I decided I don’t need to face it all alone anymore. Staying close to my supportive friends made me realize I wasn’t alone and that several other moms have treaded the same path, too. Dealing with other moms of different backgrounds also taught me to never let others’ words weigh me down; I should do what I feel is right. Everyone has their own circumstances which may be hardly obvious to others, that’s why I started doing what I believe is the right thing for me and my family. For instance, when my daughter was only a year old, I started sending her to daycare. This raised the eyebrows of some members of family and friends and it made me doubt my emotions for some time. Then I asked myself, “Why do I give them the right to get into my parental decisions? As long as my husband, daughter and I are fine, why bother?” Another issue I used to have is excessive mommy guilt. I found out that no amount of guilt will change reality nor will it make you a good mother. Use it sparingly. Having gone through this whole experience, guilt hurt none but me and almost drove me crazy sometimes.
So, you see, some of the most experiences in life that we had thought would break us turn out for the best. Being a bipolar patient taught me to be more empathetic towards others and never to judge anyone’s psyche based on how they look. I used to receive comments from close family members such as “But you don’t look depressed now, you seem to us to be getting better.” They knew nothing. I learned that no matter how much a person ‘looks fine’ to you, they may be carrying a mountain of worries and struggling a lot on the inside.
I decided to get up and be my own leader instead of waiting for someone else to take me under their arms and feel for me. There’s no such thing as super hero who knows no fear and no struggle. I believe courage is not the absence of fear; it’s the ability to speak up and take action despite the existence of fear.
At the end, I must say postpartum depression has given me plenty of “reflection time”. It has given me the opportunity to dig in, to know who I really am and what I want to do with my life. Now I am embracing life once again, trying to use my potential to the fullest. I’m able to take care of both kids, do sports and memorize Qur’an once again. I continue to seek my passion in writing and translation. Most importantly, I’ve learned to accept myself as I am and to accept the illness Allah has blessed me with.