A young mother can think of killing her own baby and it is not as unusual as you think. A highly dangerous phase, postnatal depression is often ignored by both, the families and the doctors. This article shatters the myths around post-birth care of mothers and is a one-stop information provider for all that you need to know about PND.
|Born||Andrea Pia Kennedy
July 2, 1964 (age 50)
|Spouse(s)||Rusty Yates (1993–2004)(divorced)|
|Children||Noah Jacob, b. February 26, 1994
(aged 7 at death)
John Samuel, b. December 15, 1995
(aged 5 at death)
Paul Abraham, b. September 13, 1997
(aged 3 at death)
Luke David, b. February 15, 1999
(aged 2 at death)
Mary Deborah, b. November 30, 2000
(aged 6 months at death)All children killed June 20, 2001
|Conviction(s)||Acquitted reason of insanity|
|Date||June 20, 2001|
Search Wikipedia for ‘Andrea Yates’ and it shall list her 5 children, saying that they were all killed on 20th June, 2001 by her, a woman who was acquitted later on grounds of insanity. Andrea, a resident of Houston, Texas, confessed to drowning her five children in the bathtub. She had been suffering, for quite some time, from severe postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis.
A happy person and a professionally qualified nurse, she was, as her husband said, a very loving mother. Then what was it that transformed her into becoming the brutal killer of her own children?
Andrea was diagnosed with bipolar and postnatal depression after the birth of their fourth baby and was warned against having another child. The couple, however, still went ahead and had their fifth child, Mary, because their religious beliefs did not allow them to either use contraceptives or abort a foetus. Mary was killed by her own mother just 6 months after her birth. The Yates lived in a bus, in accordance with their religious belief that they should give up the comforts of life. Can you imagine life with 5 children inside a bus? Wouldn’t that be enough to drive one insane?
Manisha (name changed, because postnatal depression is still seen as a social stigma) is mother of a lovely five-year-old girl. Her life was perfect, with a good social status, a good financial status and a loving husband. However, she still admits that she has been through postnatal depression.
“Everything was just perfect. We planned my pregnancy and were a happy couple. It was suggested that I take complete bed rest due to some complications, so I spent the last trimester in a room without watching T.V. or speaking to anyone. I just had one book in my hand – ‘What To Expect When You Are Expecting’, but the book had no chapter on how this could lead to depression.
Once I delivered the baby, I was again put into confinement, which was worse. I couldn’t sleep in the day and the baby did not let me sleep at night. I felt hungry all the time but was given only ‘daal’ and chapati, as the elders believed that any other food might upset the baby’s stomach. I was supposed to take care of the baby as if I should know it instinctively. I was new to this responsibility and made mistakes. Each mistake was criticized and made me feel guilty.
I was not allowed to take a bath until the 11th day, then the 21st day and then the 40th day. I felt disgusted with all the oil in my body and on my head. I had no sense of what I was wearing or how I was looking.
Sometimes I hated my baby for all this. I craved for my old life, but was afraid to tell this to anyone as I thought they would label me as a bad parent.
Photo for representation purpose only. Credit: babycenter.com
By the end of a year, I had thoughts of harming my baby and myself. Luckily at this point, I went to a different doctor as my period kept getting irregular. He diagnosed the reason as stress and gave me proper medication. But during all this time, my husband and my baby were the victims of my mood swings and irritability. And I… I did not even know what was happening to me!”
Usha Banerjee (name changed), now a grandmother, still recalls those horrifying days when she had postpartum blues.
“I kept getting these hallucinations that a huge black shadow is snatching away my son from me. I held him tightly to my chest while sleeping. When I told this to the elders in the house, they said it might just be a nightmare and I’m exaggerating things. But it was true for me; the existence of the black shadow was as true as my son’s for me. I kept crying in the confinement all alone,” recalls Usha.
In many countries, such as Malaysia, China and India, there are numerous myths related to the postnatal period. Though many believe that the confinement period is pure bliss for the mothers, the rituals involved, however, make it a horrible experience. So horrible, in fact, that the beautiful experience of having a baby has the potential of becoming the ugliest one of a mother’s life.
Dr. Swapnil Mane (M.D., DNB, FCPS, DGO, MICOG, MBBS), an obstetrician, gynecologist and President of Dr. Mane Medical Foundation and Research Centre, has helped break the following myths around the world:
Myth #1: Confinement period of 40 days
Usually, just after the delivery, the mother is expected to stay in a closed room and is not allowed to meet anyone other than her helpers, for 40 days. According to Dr. Mane, this is just an exaggeration of the idea that the mother should be given rest from all domestic chores to recover. However, not letting her meet anyone for such a long period, especially when she probably needs emotional support the most, might act as a trigger to her postnatal depression.
Myth #2: Providing only one kind of food
For 6 weeks after delivery, the mother needs Calcium and Iron, which are found in easily-digested leafy vegetables. A well-balanced diet is recommended.
Myth #3: Adding a lot of ‘ghee’ (clarified butter) to the mother’s diet
It is believed that adding ‘ghee’ or clarified butter to her diet will give the mother strength, but it only increases the fat and delays the process of recovery. Also, post delivery, the body has a tendency to gain weight; ghee will add to this weight gain.
Myth #4: Not bathing
In some families, the mother is not allowed to brush her teeth or take a bath. This just exposes the baby and the mother to a number of germs and infections. How can not bathing help heal a person? It is counter-productive and would make the situation worse, especially if the person is having postnatal depression.
Myth #5: Not having plain water (having water boiled with herbs)
Adequate fluid consumption is advised, especially if the mother is breastfeeding. The kidneys produce more urine in the first few weeks after the baby is born, in order to remove the excess fluid which accumulates during the course of the pregnancy. If the water does not taste good, the mother would be unable to consume the amount of water required for her body to heal.
Myth #6: Tying a scarf around the ears and mouth
This ritual might help protect the mother from diseases, since her immunity level would be low, but this is not recommended if she is already in confinement. If the mother is not comfortable, she might feel suffocated doing this, especially in the summer season.
Myth #7: A body massage is must to get into shape
Body massages can be given to a mother only in the case of a vaginal delivery. According to Dr. Mane, it can be given for relaxation. However, in the case of Caesarean operations, this might disturb the stitches. In either cases, a body massage does not help get the body back in shape.
All these rituals might end up adding to the frustration of the already-hassled mother and might increase the risk of depression. Having a baby is a period of huge change. It is common to feel varied emotions.
However, not everyone gets a depressive illness. Over half the population of new mothers, will experience the ‘baby blues’. This usually starts 3 to 4 days after birth. One may have mood swings, may burst into tears easily, may feel irritable, low and anxious at times. One may also over-react to things. It usually stops by the time the baby is about 10 days old. Women with baby blues do not need treatment. If it continues for more than 2 weeks, however, one must go to the GP. They can check for PND (post-natal depression).
Dr. Mane agrees that PND is the most important aspect of post delivery care, that is taught to medical students specializing in gynecology. However, 90 percent of gynecologists do not even check their patient’s mental health. Patients are only treated for physical wounds. Mental wounds, though, are far more dangerous at this time.
“PND is mentioned in each and every book of gynecology, but unfortunately, it is the issue most neglected by doctors. An early diagnosis can prevent PND. My advice to the new mother would be:
- Don’t try to be a ‘superwoman’. Try to do less and make sure that you don’t get over-tired.
- Do go to antenatal classes. If you have a partner, take him with you. If not, take a friend or a relative.
- Don’t stop anti-depressant medication during pregnancy without advice. 7 in 10 women who stop taking anti-depressants during pregnancy relapse if they stop the medication. You need to discuss the risks and benefits of continuing treatment during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- Do keep in touch with your GP and your health visitor if you have had depression before. Any signs of depression during pregnancy or PND can be recognized early.
- Do make sure that you have access to treatment for depression during pregnancy. This may be a talking therapy or medication.
- Do accept offers of help from friends and family.”
– Dr. Swapnil Mane
Watch this video to understand more about perinatal depression through real life stories:
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org to join a closed support group ‘Postnatal Depression: It’s not your fault!’ on Facebook.