A calm sea surface often hides violent currents underneath.
The same can be said of people who suffer from emotional turmoil, such as suicidal thoughts and postnatal depression.
Our nation is envied by others for the quality of our healthcare, education and marriage and parenthood financial perks. Why do mothers in Singapore still suffer from postnatal depression?
I am writing this in tribute to all the mothers who have suffered too long in silence of struggling with a life they want to treasure, but simultaneously hate at times.
This is NOT an article to complain about motherhood. This is a walkthrough of the processes and experiences of motherhood to help you empathize with new mothers. I hope to shine some light on why we sometimes behave in a manner that seems abnormal to the typical person. Many experiences are my own, a few are from mummy friends.
1. Pregnancy sucks
Regardless whether you want to be pregnant or not, going through 3 trimesters is really not a walk in the park.
Trimester 1: The extreme tiredness, nausea and vomiting makes you feel like you need a medical chit every single day, except you have to go back to work because if you get fired before you’re 3 months along, you can’t claim maternity benefits under the Employment Act.
Trimester 2: You don’t feel like vomiting every day, but you can’t hide your growing belly so you finally announce your pregnancy formally to your colleagues. Sometimes you get hurtful remarks such as “Mothers are a liability. Now I have to do your work too. Better to hire a single woman next time. Your performance will definitely drop once you come back to work as all working mothers I know are lazy.”.
Trimester 3: Your belly is so big you can’t see your feet. You can’t sleep well because the weight of the baby crushes the nerves in your back. People nonchalantly elbow your belly in the train. No one gives up their seat to you because they are waiting for another sucker to do it first. You freak out because the boss plans an important project that begins near your delivery date, and your colleagues are too busy to take on your role. You go into labour when your husband is busy with work, or worse, as I’ve heard from a few friends, with his mistress.
2. Giving birth is like dying and being reborn into hell
You’re having contractions 100 times more insanely painful than your period cramps ever were. The hospital won’t admit you into the delivery ward because your cervix has not widened to at least 4cm, and asks you to wait in another room because all the seats in the delivery ward area are taken up by family members of other people. You are finally admitted an excruciatingly painful one hour later due to lack of beds.
The laughing gas makes you nauseous, the anaesthetist has to stick the needle into your back a few times because he can’t find the right spot, and you have a drip inserted under the skin of your hand which feeds your body with oxytocin to make your cervix widen to 10cm.
Your belly convulses every time the contraction arrives, and although you can’t feel the pain, you know when the doctor takes a scissors and cuts the bottom part of your vagina a few centimetres so that the baby’s head can come out. If your cervix doesn’t dilate enough, you are wheeled into emergency caesarean and your belly is cut open to deliver the baby.
You feel a sense of relief when you see your baby move, and count his ten fingers and toes. The doctor comes with a needle and thick thread, and sews your torn, bleeding vagina up in front of you, needle going up and down as she chats to the intern about the latest movie. You wonder if she is able to sew it up nicely such that the hole is not too small, but not too big either. You suddenly think of Edward Scissorhands.
You vomit everything out because the epidural made you feel extremely seasick. You’re wheeled into a 5 room ward where the effects of the epidural wears off, and your uterus contracts, causing you painful cramps and your vagina stitches hurt like hell.
You really need to shit but you hold it in because you don’t want your stitches to burst. You finally convince the nurse to give you 2 painkiller pills before you fall asleep in exhaustion, with the taste of vomit in your mouth and the stench of blood between your legs.
3. Going home to an uncertain future
You’re happy that you can take your baby home, but the immensity of being a mother is overwhelming. All those hours of prenatal classes were pretty much lip service to the demands of being the main caregiver.
You are still really really tired and cannot stand up for more than 10 minutes. Every pee you take, every shit you make, is another 10 minutes of raging hell for your raw, bloody, stitched vagina. Every time you sit or stand, you can feel your stitches straining against your flesh, pulling it apart.
You will have an extended period of non-stop postpartum bleeding for as long as a few months, and stain your bedsheets often. You can’t use a tampon or silicone cup. You smell of blood all the time, and your belly is still distended with a lot of gas in your uterus. Your family members comment why your belly is still so big, and you feel defensive.
You can’t have sex for another few weeks. You are freaking scared of sex now. You wonder if you will ever have decent sex again or if your husband still wants your fat, smelly, lumpy body.
You try to squeeze breastmilk out of your nipples. Your breasts are painfully swollen with milk, but your nipple ducts are blocked #fml! It has been five days since you gave birth, and you have been guiltily feeding your baby formula milk which costs $50 a week because your stupid nipples won’t unblock!
After using your fingers to press your nipples hard till you almost faint in pain, a spurt of milk oozes out. You hurriedly try to latch your baby, but he gets frustrated at the slow flow of milk after a long time chewing your sore nipples. You end up pumping your breastmilk for the next half an hour, which is tiring because you need to use your hands to manually push the milk from the back of the breasts to the nipples. The meagre amount of breastmilk you collected is less than half of what your baby normally drinks in one meal.
You put up with meals that are always cooked with red dates, ginger and sesame oil and drink a huge bottle of red date herbal soup every day. You have to bathe in hot herbal red date water. You hate red dates for the rest of your life.
The baby is an angel in the day and a terrorist at night. You don’t ever get more than 3 hours of sleep. You have to take him to the polyclinic every few days to test for jaundice, in your extremely weak state and still carry a ton of baby items in a diaper bag. Your back hurts like hell.
You think confinement is the worst, most painful part of motherhood. You’re wrong, it’s just the beginning.
4. The confinement lady leaves
Suddenly, you’re alone in the house with a baby. You have to do every thing by yourself, including cook, laundry, housework, express milk at least twice a day for half an hour each time, taking care of the baby and planning the full month party.
You cry because you really want your confinement lady back, but she isn’t ever coming back, unless you hire her for your next baby.
No one from work calls you. You wonder if your job is still yours.
You are an Amazonian soldier fighting everyday battles of baby-rearing. You are not the domestic goddess you hope to be, but a domestic slave.
Your baby poops all over himself, yourself, on the bedsheets, on the floor. You spend an hour cleaning everything up, and the house still smells of poop. He then proceeds to pee over the sofa because his diaper went out of alignment.
You manage to run a decent full month party, mission accomplished! People still ask you why you are so fat. You get many tips on how to slim down and how to take care of a baby. Someone offends you by saying your baby is too small/big/dark/red/bald/ugly/skinny/fat.
5. Surviving the maternity leave
You are now a stay at home mum, and people think you’re enjoying the good tai-tai life. It’s further from the truth.
0630 Baby wakes up at first light, feed baby milk, change diapers
0700 Playtime, breakfast
0730 Express milk time
0800 Baby bath
0830 Wash baby’s laundry (need to scrub every single piece)
0900 Feed baby milk and put him to sleep
0930 Sweep and mop floor
1000 Wipe surfaces
1030 Baby wakes up, poops, you clean his poop
1100 Playtime with you
1130 Feed baby milk
1230 Express milk time, change diapers
1300 Wash your family’s laundry
1400 Feed baby milk and put him to sleep after changing diapers
1430 Admin time (childcare arrangements, ordering diapers online etc)
1530 Miscellaneous (sterilise milk bottles, iron clothes)
1600 Prepare ingredients for dinner (or order tingkat and use this time to cut fruits for husband’s dessert and prepare his breakfast for tomorrow)
1630 Baby wakes up, feed him milk, change diapers
1700 Baby poops, bathe him and change diapers
1730 Playtime, go out for a short walk with baby
1830 Express milk
1900 Feed baby milk, change diapers
1930 Husband comes home, have dinner together, listen to his stressed day
2000 Husband entertains baby, you finally take a bath
2100 Feed baby milk, change diapers, put him to sleep, may take longer if he has colic
2200 Husband time
2300 You fall asleep
2330 Baby wakes up for milk
0200 Baby wakes up for milk, change diapers
0430 Baby wakes up for milk, refuses to sleep, needs to be carried upright to sleep
0530 Baby finally sleeps, you can sleep too
0630 Baby wakes up at first light, poops everywhere
You are tired ALL the time, but because you are a stay at home mum, you have no right to complain. You keep your frustrations inside you and pretend everything is well at home.
6. Going back to work
Your maternity leave has ended, and you step into the office for the first time in months. You really miss your baby, but you need the money. You try to catch up with the last few months’ developments in one day, but it really takes you 2 weeks to figure out what really happened.
Every month, infantcare costs at least $800, milk powder and porridge ingredients cost $200, diapers and creams cost $100, doctor checkups and appointments cost $100, and you try to source for second hand clothes, toys and other baby items online.
You take 6 days of childcare leave and even annual leave because your baby still needs to go for vaccinations and doctor’s assessment at 4, 5, 6, 12 months old, and sometimes he gets sick for a week and cannot attend infantcare.
You are one half of a working couple, a full time employee with full time KPIs, and main caregiver to your baby after work and at night. You feel the expectation that everyone hopes you can excel at every role you play.
It is very stressful.
In your job, if you don’t perform at least as well as you previously did before maternity leave, you fit the stereotype of an incompetent new working mum.
In fact you can’t just meet standards, but you need to surpass expectations and be at the top of your game with no time for overtime, so that you are able to ask for urgent leave when your baby is sick, or flexible work arrangements to ensure you fetch your baby home before the infantcare closes.
Your milk supply dries up and you feel disappointed that you couldn’t give your baby at least 6 months of breastmilk.
People start asking you if you’re pregnant again, because your belly still sticks out unnaturally. You still wear maternity clothes and you’ve donated your favourite tight skirts and pants away.
7. Raising your child to the best of your ability
You worry that you aren’t spending enough time educating your baby because he can’t speak properly at one year old. You are devastated and completely unprepared when the school singles out your child for a special needs issue.
You are really tired after work, and you summon up all the energy and patience you have to try to teach your child good behaviour, flash cards and books in the evening. Sometimes you lose your temper when he doesn’t cooperate. You’re unsure how to make him behave like a normal child, you try to read up but it’s still a labyrinth of information that confounds you.
Your social life has been virtually non-existent. You can’t attend dinners, weekend functions or gallivant overseas anytime like you see your friends doing. You worry you’re becoming a boring housewife for your husband. If not for children, you feel your life wouldn’t be so tedious and monotonous.
8. Coping with your emotions, self-esteem and pursuing your dreams
In the middle of being tired every single day, stressed over the expectations of being a good mother, wife, daughter, employee, colleague, friend etc and ensuring your expenses are manageable, you have limited time and resources to love yourself.
When is the last time you really had a good night’s sleep? A luxurious facial? A proper massage? A relaxed afternoon reading a book at a café? Time to indulge in your favourite hobby?
Do you even have dreams for yourself? Beyond surviving day by day till your children marry and move out?
Do you feel ugly, fat, hopeless, friendless, abandoned, useless, deprived, starved of value, enslaved, unappreciated, burdened, unhappy and lonely?
How Can We Save More Mothers From Depression?
You aren’t alone, there are so many others like you, suffering in silence, killing themselves with lack of sleep, dying internally of lack of hope and not knowing if they will ever find peace, love and happiness.
The first step is acknowledging that these issues are real, and just because postnatal depression is a condition that can be treated by doctors and psychologists, doesn’t mean everyone else has no impact or responsibility towards helping a depressed mum cope with her life.
I believe postnatal depression can last for many years, even when the children are not babies anymore.
But mothers are often grossly misunderstood, shoved aside and given “practical” advice that doesn’t solve their internal turmoil, but makes them feel even more incompetent at their failures to manage their emotions and lives.
Be kinder to mothers, try to listen to understand, and not listen to formulate replies (I’m still learning how to do this effectively).
Hug her (if you’re a female), tell her she’s done a great job so far, and how no one was born knowing exactly what to do as a parent. We all started from 0%, and we climb higher slowly. Sometimes we even fall behind a few points, but if we don’t give up, we WILL improve towards being a better parent.
We shouldn’t have to wait for another tragedy to happen anymore.