Expectant mums often day dream of the magical moment; cradling the baby our body nurtured for 9 long months, safely enclosed in a newborn bubble of bliss and harmony. We often don’t expect the worst; we assume a relatively straightforward and natural delivery, love and support from family and friends, the utmost care from midwives and nurses, and most importantly; to truly love every part of becoming a parent.
Motherhood is an inevitable path for many women. However, it’s a path underestimated by most just how challenging it can be without the adequate support. This does not take away the love and adoration us mothers have for our beautiful children. But the mental health and well-being of new mums is often overlooked, with consequences affecting both mother and child in those crucial, early days of recovery and bonding. Mental health is still a very unknown and taboo topic within the Muslim community, including Post-partum mental health. We often hear of the ‘baby blues’ period, which typically occur during the first 2 weeks after birth. Yet for a lot of mothers, this can easily spiral into something much darker and isolating, known as Post-partum Depression. Not enough is known about it within Muslim circles, yet 1 in 10 mothers suffer from post-partum depression in the first year according to the NHS. It can strike at any moment, and is triggered for different reasons.
There has always existed in various cultures and traditions, a framework of care and healing during the post-partum period not only for the new arrival, but for the mother also. Our own religion holds the post-partum period of 40 days (depending upon numerous factors and subject to debate amongst scholars), where the new mother cannot pray and fast (see this link for more info on this); her primary focus being her newborn infant and self recovery. Support during the early days and weeks cannot be emphasised enough, nor is it always gifts upon gifts of baby clothes and toys, or endless visitors at your door. Often times, everybody’s so focused on the baby that the mother is overlooked, left feeling withdrawn and alone in the process.
We assume she must be happy; after all, she’s just had an adorable baby, who wouldn’t be?
We assume she must be coping; after all, motherhood is something natural, mother’s instinct should take over.
We assume she must be over the pain and trauma of childbirth; after all, what really counts is a healthy baby at the end.
But, what if she’s not ok? Has anyone ever cared to ask? What if despair has tainted her happiness at becoming a mother, as she struggles to cope with the demands of a newborn? What if she’s still mourning the loss, of what she imagined would’ve been a beautiful right of passage into motherhood, which resulted in a traumatising, medicalised catastrophe? What if the pressure from family and friends to do everything “right” is crushing her confidence and self esteem as a mother, as in their eyes, everything she does do is wrong?
Our Muslim community can wrongly and unjustly equate negative emotions with low emaan (faith) and lack of trust in Allaah. This is not always necessarily the case. We forget that even the Prophets of Allaah (عليهم السلام), bore the pains of emotional turmoil. Did not Ya’qoob (عليه السلام), lose his eyesight from the grief of mourning his beloved Yusuf (عليه السلام)? Dealing with post-partum depression as a Muslim mother, does not mean you have lost your emaan, lack trust in His divine wisdom, or are ungrateful for the blessing of a child. And it certainly does not mean you don’t love your child, as some ignorant people may believe. As a result, many new mothers suffer alone in silence, out of fear of being labelled an unfit parent.
What mothers need is not condemnation and judgement from our community, but validation. To be told that it’s not only ok to feel this way, but that you have every right to feel this way. That it’s ok to admit you’re feeling scared and overwhelmed in this new role. That feeling this way does not mean you are a bad mother but rather, you are human. If the raw, intense emotion of a mother did not mean anything to Allaah, He never would have validated Maryam (عليها السلام) in the Qur’an, and the pain she endured delivering ‘Eesa (عليه السلام).
“And the pains of childbirth drove her (Maryam) to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, ‘Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten’.” – The Qur’an; 19:23, سورة مريم.
Did Allaah rebuke her for feeling this way? Rather, He comforted her and said; “Do not grieve”, providing fresh dates and a flowing stream to ease her pain. The fast paced world we live in, has conditioned us into believing mothers must quickly bounce back to normal, once baby is here. But it’s at that moment, where they need our comfort and support the most; especially from husbands and close relatives. When will we as a community turn to our new mothers with comfort and mercy, and say; “Do not grieve”?
To any of my sisters facing the heartache of baby blues or post-partum depression, you are not alone. This phase will come to pass, I promise. You are strong, and you will overcome this. Do not be afraid to seek help; whether it’s from your husband, family, friends or a health visitor. It is never a sign a weakness, but rather a testament to your strength as a woman and a mother. You’re doing the best you can as a new mum, and that’s all your baby expects from you.
Written by Sister Umm Abdurrahman. Check out @MusingsOfASister on Instagram for more content