Last week, a new mother jumped to her death from the 16th floor of her high-rise apartment.
She had a 10-day old baby and the reason she jumped? She was pressured to breastfeed her baby, but wasn’t able to produce much supply.
This news shook me as well as angers me because she was pressured to believe that a newborn should only be fed with breast milk. The age-old debate about breast milk vs. formula is turning ugly day by day. All-natural mothers are quite vocal and expressive in making formula-feeding mothers feel insulted, shunned, and embarrassed over their feeding choice.
There wasn’t much information in the news about the mother’s background, mental state, financial situation and other telling factors, but the only thing I can think of is how a mother who has just given birth 10 days prior is a delicate person and she could be suffering from postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression happens not because a mother is too emotional or full of herself.
Due to significant drop of hormones in a mother’s body after delivery, it can affect their mood, temperament, and mental acuteness, among other things.
There are many women who suffer in silence because everyone expected her to be a glowing, happy mother. Many mothers bottled up her emotions because she doesn’t want to let anyone down or let them know she doesn’t know how to be a mother. Many women feel helpless and hopeless because this is her own baby, but she doesn’t even know how to take care of him or her. Many mothers, especially new mothers, feel pressured to perform, as though breastfeeding, changing diapers, burping, soothing a newborn, going through engorged breasts, feeling messy and ugly, should make sense to her the moment she returns from the hospital.
I know these because I suffered from postpartum depression 6 years ago.
What’s worse than feeling like a hopeless and useless mother, I was made to feel ashamed of how I feel, as though I didn’t want to be a mother, as though I only know how to procreate but ignore its responsibilities after that. I was made to feel incompetent because instead of taking care of my firstborn, I chose to ignore him when he cries.
The breaking point for me was when I felt everyone was right, that I was too pathetic to be a mother. I felt that everyone was right when they think I didn’t deserve to be a mother. I did feel like there was no reason for me to be my son’s mother anymore if I can’t even take care of him. I also felt that it was because of him that I felt this way. I harbored the utmost resentment towards my son. I felt that if I didn’t have him, I would still be me, I would still have my husband’s attention, I would still be able to figure out what I want instead of having this spewing, mewling creature shoved in my face.
That was when I had thoughts of harming him.
I wrote everything down about how I felt, what my thoughts were because I didn’t want to leave without any explanation should anything happen to either me or him because deep, deep down, I know this isn’t me. I know I could be a much better person. Because at that point, I hated myself. I hated for being so weak and not knowing what to do despite going to antenatal classes, reading and taking notes from countless parenting books and magazines.
I thought PPD wouldn’t happen to me.
I was looking forward to having a son. I was looking forward to decorate his nursery, I was looking forward to see him breastfeed, I was excited to start him on solid. But when I finally had him, it was different. I know I wasn’t too naive to think that everything would be pretty and butterflies, and taking care of a newborn would be as easy as breathing. But what I didn’t expect was the dark, sinister feeling clutching me.
One day when I thought I might really harm my baby, I decided to tell my husband. I thought he was going to laugh it off, telling me that I was being too emotional, that it was all in my head because I thought I wasn’t ready to be a mother. But when I told him everything I felt, his face changed and he knew we needed help right away.
Recovery wasn’t easy because I still feel inadequate.
I still feel embarrassed because I threw away what thousands of childless mothers would want. I still feel that others were judging me because what I ” really wanted” was to be one of those glossy magazines mom where she has perfect hair, Ray Ban shades, skinny jeans, cute floral blouse and pushing a stroller as though her life was a walk in the park. I didn’t want to face the ugly, nasty, dirty, smelly part of being a mother.
I lost the first 6 months of my firstborn’s life.
And knowing that nothing in this world could bring that back was what made recovery really difficult. I guess that’s why now I try so hard to be a good mom. Somewhere in me kept telling that I still wouldn’t do a good enough job to make up for the 6 months that I lost. But I’m no longer afraid of this feeling. It shakes me up every once in a while because I know what it feels like to be sucked into that black hole that all you want to do is curl into a ball and cry your eyes out.
My husband has been a great support. Where I expected him to be conventional and get me to do everything, he took charge and looked after our son. Where I expected him to laugh and tell me to get over it, he listened to me and held my hands, telling me we’ll get through it together.
This is why I take new mother’s woes and laments very seriously. I knew exactly what it felt like to feel alone, I knew exactly how it felt like to feel no one understands, I knew exactly how frustrating it can be when everyone sneered about how you should know how to be a mother.
My advice is, stop making fun of mothers who are struggling to make sense of motherhood. Stop comparing her to other mothers or your mother or your grandmother about how “last time they don’t have all this because they suck it up and do their job.”
Because what you really should do is stop and listen.
Bring her to a doctor or pray together or meditate together or anything that could make her feel less alone. Tell her that while you don’t understand how she is feeling and you probably would never understand, you’re there for her because you’re learning to be a parent as well. It’s okay to tell her that you’re afraid too, that you can’t figure out what to do as well. Because when she feels like she has a team, she will try to get better and share more feelings with you so you could prevent unwanted things before it’s too late.
Being a mother could be hard for some people.
Because they give you drugs to ease the pain when you’re in labor.
They don’t have drugs to make you understand motherhood.