Updated: Oct 5, 2021
My dear friend Manal Khalife shared these gems with me before she passed away from cancer. I want to honour her struggle by sharing these words with you. May Allah reward her for the good she did.
I struggled with postpartum depression after the birth of three of my four children. It was one of the loneliest, darkest times in my life. I felt so alone in my feelings, which would swallow me whole and keep me from socializing or leaving the house. I was consumed with thoughts about how depressed I was, how hard life was and how I’d never stop feeling this way. I sought help from doctors and all of them recommended antidepressants, which I was adamant on not taking because I was nursing. Looking back, I’d probably take them at a certain point if I had no other inner resources to get me through.
What I learned through my journey with postpartum depression was that there is a lot of stigma around it. I found that within the Muslim community it was more pronounced. I found people saying things like “Muslims don’t get depression”, “Just pray more” (ironically, no one says this to someone with diabetes or heart disease) or “Depression is due to low imaan.”
While I recognize the positive intent behind statements like these, they can be damaging to someone whose inner world is so dark and lonely. To a Muslim with postpartum depression, statements like the ones above, can be further ‘proof’ that they are a bad person, worthless and alone in the world. But let’s put that behind us and look at five gems Muslim mothers should know about PPD:
There is nothing ‘Wrong’ with you…
You are not broken, defective, or insane. You are a normal human being, having a normal response to an abnormally huge amount of stress, chaos surrounding birth, hormones, colic, lack of support and sleep, nutritional deficiencies etc.
You are a perfectly imperfect woman, with her own needs, wants and desires, up against this completely dependent human being who has no sense of whether you’ve eaten or not, whether you’ve slept or not, whether you’ve had a chance to take a shower or not.
You will have that thought at times. “Something is wrong with me.” Stop it. Don’t let it get bigger. Challenge it.
Byron Katie has an excellent set of questions that helps you to challenge beliefs like this. Is that really true that something is wrong with you? Can you know with absolute certainty that something is wrong with you? How do you react when you think the thought, “Something is wrong with me?” Who would you be without that thought? Ask yourself these questions out loud and allow the answers to come to the surface. The truth is, there is a lot *right* with you. ❤
You are a good mother…
Yes. You. You are a good mother. The fact that you are sitting here reading an article about what moms should know about PPD, makes you a good mother. The fact that you care about how you feel, care to learn more, to research, to see your doctor, to let someone know you are having intrusive thoughts, to just battle your internal thoughts even…that shows you are a good mother. A good mother isn’t the one that keeps the house the most spotless or bakes the best chocolate chip cookies. A good mother is one that cares enough about her children that she’s willing to take a long hard look at herself. She is willing to reach out for help, whether in the form of research on PPD, or researching the best antidepressant, or the best foods to eat to alleviate depression, or even just thinking that you want a better life. That’s a good mother. That’s someone who cares deeply enough that she’s willing to be uncomfortable in order to create a better life for themselves and their child.
You need support. Stop trying to do it alone…
Did you know in many eastern cultures, the mother doesn’t even leave her bed for the first 40 days after the child is born? She is pampered, taken care of, revered, and her only job is to feed that baby. As society has moved away from a multigenerational family system, we are often left to fend for ourselves. No support, no social network, no one to cook for us or tidy up the house. The more that we’ve moved away from that, the more isolated we have become and the more afraid we have become in asking for help. Nowadays, we may not even have family close by. Get support anyway. Even if you have to pay for it. A housekeeper that comes in and tidies up weekly, a nutritionist, a naturopathic doctor, a life coach. It helps to have a caring professional on your side, someone to bounce ideas off of, to help guide you, to see the situation without the emotion and just to be there for you. We were not meant to do this alone.
PPD has nothing to do with your state of imaan…
Again, well-meaning friends and family may insinuate that if you would just pray, fast, make duaa more, then this will all go away. This is all great, but we need to use ‘and’ thinking. Pray, fast, make dua AND seek help and support. When you are going through PPD, your energy levels are often so low, and you feel so down, that it takes monumental effort to do even the basics. How do I know PPD has nothing to do with low iman? Because the Prophet sallalahu alayhi wasalam taught the sahaba a duaa for depression and anxiety. If they were not experiencing depression and anxiety and sorrow and grief at times, then he would have no reason to teach them this duaa. And who’s imaan was more strong than that of the sahaba?
Get to the root of negative thinking…
Seek support. Get help with the health side of things. Get on your supplements and herbs and whatever else your doctor or health care team has determined is going to get you better physically. AND, while you do that, figure out what negative thoughts and beliefs are keeping you feeling stuck and miserable and depressed. For example, with myself, a recurring thought I had was that “Being a mom sucks. This is too hard. I shouldn’t even be a mom.” Now, looking at motherhood through this filter is going to create that reality. If I’m constantly telling myself motherhood is hard and I’m not fit to be a mother, I’m going to handle life very differently than someone who says and believes that being a mother can be challenging but I get to raise this amazing little being. Right? So, examine what beliefs are showing up and get help to change those deeply ingrained beliefs and thoughts.