Compassion Beats Love: Muslim Mums Get Honest About Postpartum Depression
The Issue

Compassion Beats Love: Muslim Mums Get Honest About Postpartum Depression

My mother failed to understand how someone who’d been blessed with a healthy baby could have postpartum depression. She asked me to stop taking any medication and resort to prayer only.

– Arwa Akhtar

When asked about the realities of pregnancy and motherhood, many women are quick to paint a picture-perfect scenario where childbirth becomes a magical time for the mother. “Upon sighting your newborn baby, you will forget all the pain you’ve been through“, many young women are told. However, women who struggle with postpartum depression after having their child and do not experience this magical moment are not only enveloped by feelings of disappointment but are also quick to write themselves off as abnormal, keeping their feelings to themselves and dying slowly inside.

Postpartum Depression (PPD) is quite common amongst new mothers. It is a type of mood disorder associated with childbirth, Women who develop Postpartum depression have feelings of intense sadness, worry and exhaustion following childbirth. Approximately one in seven women can expect to experience depression following childbirth. Seven Muslim women shared their PPD experiences with TMWT. Here’s what each of them had to say.

Arwa Akhtar

Other young mums I spoke to would often hit me with clichés such as “everyone feels like this, it gets better with time“. I never truly felt like I was supported in any way by my family.

– Arwa Akhtar

TMWT: At what point after childbirth did you realise that you had postpartum depression? What were some of your symptoms?

Arwa Akhtar: I was sure I had PPD around 7 months after birth. I had symptoms beforehand but kept brushing them off as normal first-time mum behaviour. Symptoms included intrusive thoughts about harming myself or my baby, constant anxiety, crying and breaking down several times a day.

TMWT: How did people react to this?

Arwa Akhtar: I hid it from everyone, even my husband. I only came clean and confided in my husband around 10 months after birth. He was supportive and understanding. He did not make me feel like a bad mother or an alien. Slowly, I told my mother who had the complete opposite reaction. She failed to understand how someone who’d been blessed with a healthy baby could be in such a state. My mother asked me to stop taking any medication and resort to prayer only. Though I hadn’t officially told my mother in law about my depression and anxiety, she sensed something wrong and often made remarks about my “sensitivity” towards things. I think in South Asian society, mental health is generally not discussed. I’d even go as far as to say that many don’t even believe it exists.

TMWT: How did you manage your depression with your baby’s need for maternal care?

Arwa Akhtar: In the beginning, I pushed it to the side until I’d break. I’d often have hour-long crying sessions when the baby was asleep. I was lucky enough to stay with my mother for 6 months after birth, so passing on responsibility to her helped. After telling my husband, he suggested I talk to the GP. The GP was able to prescribe me medication to help the depressive episodes.

TMWT: Did you get support? If you did, in what ways did you get support?

Arwa Akhtar: I was able to seek medical support from the GP. In terms of emotional support, I received this from my husband. Other young mums I spoke to would often hit me with clichés such as “everyone feels like this, it gets better with time” etc. I never truly felt like I was supported in any way by my family. However, there was an app called Peanut that I used which was the closest thing to support. It’s an app set up by women for women to share thoughts/ideas etc without judgement. Through using that app anonymously, I was able to actually self diagnose and realise that the feelings I was experiencing were of depression.



Aisha El-Hawag

Generally, mums get thoughts of killing their child but I had never heard of intrusive sexual thoughts and I was terrified that something was wrong with me

– Aisha El-Hawag

TMWT: At what point after childbirth did you realise that you had postpartum depression? What were some of your symptoms?

Aisha El-Hawag: I’ve always suffered from depression and it got worse during my pregnancy because of HG (Hyperemesis Gravidarum – a pregnancy complication that is characterized by severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and possibly dehydration), so I didn’t expect that to change. But at 3 weeks postpartum, I started getting intrusive thoughts about sexually harming my baby. This triggered anxiety and panic attacks. My morbid anxiety and doomsday anxiety were severely heightened whilst also developing a fear of sleeping. This eventually led to severe OCD & suicidal ideations. I almost acted on my suicidal thoughts.

TMWT: How did people react to this?

Aisha El-Hawag: My husband was an absolute gem when I voiced out my thoughts, I couldn’t look at myself but he reassured me that I wouldn’t do such a thing. My sisters were wonderful, and I shared my story on social media and received a lot of positive feedback for sharing. Other important/close family members judged me for being so explicit about the nature of the thoughts. Generally, mums get thoughts of killing their child but I had never heard of intrusive sexual thoughts and I was terrified that something was wrong with me as I have child molesters in the family and those family members thought that I brought shame to the family by sharing the nature of my symptoms since my close relatives were known as a child molesters.

TMWT: How did you manage your depression with your baby’s need for maternal care?

Aisha El-Hawag: I couldn’t manage my depression. My mental health deteriorated very quickly but I have an amazing support system. My husband and my sisters are my rock. They were able to babysit at the drop of a hat so I could get some time to clear my head & get a decent night of sleep

TMWT: Did you get support? If you did, in what ways did you get support?

Aisha El-Hawag: I didn’t get help until 3 months into motherhood. I contacted my GP when I was going to act on suicide. They rushed me to the A&E and was I admitted into a mother and baby unit. I received therapy there and the staff looked after my daughter during the night. After self-discharging a few weeks later, I continued to see a home treatment team (HTT), an intensive support system that requires crisis support whilst seeing psychiatric care and therapy. I saw the HTT every day to discuss my suicidal ideations and keep an eye out on whether I wanted to act on them. I was eventually discharged from them but continued to receive psychiatric treatment & therapy. I continued seeing a therapist for 3 years, during which I fell pregnant again and was seen by a specialist maternal mental health midwife. After I had my second, I started seeing the HTT as I flagged my suicidal ideations again and eventually started getting antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs prescribed to go hand in hand with the therapy.


Tahara Al-Amin

I didn’t receive a good reaction from my mother. She sent me a list of things I should keep in mind to improve my life and my state.. most of which were focused around making my in-laws happier.

– Tahara Al-Amin

TMWT: At what point after childbirth did you realise that you had postpartum depression? What were some of your symptoms?

Tahara Al-Amin: I experienced postpartum depression after the birth of my first child. At that point, my impression of PPD was an illness in which a mother wants to bring harm to her newborn baby. So in my mind, what I was undergoing wasn’t PPD but rather the result of the expected hormonal fluctuation that occurs after childbirth. The first time it even occurred to me as a possibility was during my 6 weeks postpartum visit at the OBGYN office. My provider had given me a survey to fill out to assay the risk of PPD. When I read through and answered the questions, I realized that I was showing a lot of its signs. I remember actually going back and changing some answers to appear more ‘normal’ just so I didn’t get asked about anything. I now regret that of course.. but at the time, it was a scary thought to be labelled with that condition.

The symptoms I experienced were in line with some typical symptoms of depression such as a low drive to do day-to-day tasks and keep up with my personal upkeep. I felt no will to do anything besides stay in bed. I also experienced an overwhelming amount of rage and anger that was triggered by just about anything. The rage would overtake me to such an extent that I began to fear being alone with myself. The overall confusion of my state left me with a guilt-ridden emptiness. I felt so far from who I was and this severely impacted my bond with my newborn.

TMWT: How did people react to this?

Tahara Al-Amin: I actually didn’t tell anyone what I was going through until after my 6-week postpartum check-up. I told my husband first and he didn’t have too much of a reaction but I think he realized why I was acting so off for the past few weeks at that moment. I feel like he would take steps to try to help me out but being a new parent himself, he was also lost. In retrospect, there were many efforts on his part that I overlooked at the time and I know that if I was more open he would have definitely been a great support.

The other person I confided in was my mother but I didn’t receive a good reaction from her. She sent me a list of things I should keep in mind to improve my life and my state.. most of which were focused around making my in-laws happier. In the end, I was told to just be strong and get over it because becoming a mother is something almost every woman does. My friends were more understanding and supportive but I didn’t share anything with them until after I had fully recovered.

TMWT: How did you manage your depression with your baby’s need for maternal care?

Tahara Al-Amin: Looking back, I don’t think I was doing well at managing my depression at all. I thought my own feelings and state didn’t matter and my sole purpose was now to look after the needs of my new baby. This was a mistake on my part. Ideally, I should have been actively seeking help for my condition while doing as much as I could for my baby. The most I would do is pray and take solace in knowing that God is with me despite how lonely I feel. This did provide some relief but I needed much more. I finally got therapy for my postpartum depression when my baby was already one year old. It was then that I realised how much healing I still had to do and how much my trauma was keeping me from being the best parent that I could be. I guess there was a stigma I had in my own mind towards seeking mental health support and acknowledging conditions like PPD.

TMWT: Did you get support and in what ways did you get support?

Tahara Al-Amin: I received a lot of support when I sought therapy for PPD. This was over a year after I had my baby. Therapy helped me work through my sources of trauma and triggers and guided me through techniques to manage stress and anger. It also made me realize that it’s ok and necessary to reach out for help when needed. I wish I knew these things before my firstborn but I’m grateful I learned before I had my other children.


Ramat Dawood

I often thought about running away from my life. I thought that my baby hated me, that I was a bad mum and that my husband would leave me.

– Ramat Dawood

TMWT: At what point after childbirth did you realise that you had postpartum depression? What were some of your symptoms?

Ramat Dawood: I realised something was wrong when my daughter was 3 months old. I did speak to the GP at 6 weeks but I was told those symptoms were normal and would get better. The symptoms I experienced were extremely low mood, I didn’t want to do anything eat, go out, socialize. I isolated myself from others and feared judgement. I had intrusive thoughts and my baby dying, I often thought about running away from my life. I thought that my baby hated me, that I was a bad mum and that my husband would leave me.

TMWT: How did people react to this?

Ramat Dawood: I didn’t tell anyone other than my husband until I had a better grip on things. The first family member I told was my brother who was more concerned about me taking antidepressants than anything else. This put me off telling other members of my family fearing for a worse reaction.

TMWT: How did you manage your depression with your baby’s need for maternal care?

Ramat Dawood: I managed in the beginning by only focusing on my baby’s needs and neglecting my own. Once I started receiving treatment I was able to take some time for myself.

TMWT: Did you get support and in what ways did you get support?

Ramat Dawood: I was able to speak to a GP who took my needs more seriously and was referred to the prenatal team. From there I was put on antidepressants and started therapy to deal with my birth trauma. However, the most helpful thing for me was group therapy with other mums which really helped with my sense of shame around depression. Hearing their stories and sharing mine was a massive part of my recovery.


Jasmine Jafar

Nobody told me I was going to literally lose my mind. I thought I was tough and resilient until I dealt with this.

– Jasmine Jafar

TMWT: At what point after childbirth did you realise that you had postpartum depression? What were some of your symptoms?

Jasmine Jafar: I realized I had postpartum depression during my second week after birth. At first, it was the combination of sleep deprivation, the trouble I had breastfeeding and the realization that my life has been changed for good now that I have a baby. I was so overwhelmed. I had suicidal thoughts, crying for hours and the feeling of being trapped, unable to escape. Sometimes, I experienced rage and frustration because the baby would not stop crying or had trouble feeding or would not sleep and I was just too exhausted to deal with it, so I would put her down in her bassinet and punch the wall, or scream in a pillow or crying hysterically (sometimes all three).

Also, I hated the way I looked. I felt like my husband would no longer find me desirable. The underlying medical conditions I had dealt with before pregnancy and during got much worse. I have a thyroid condition and I dealt with postpartum thyroiditis which caused an overactive thyroid which destroyed my sleep and made me shake.

TMWT: How did people react to this?

Jasmine Jafar: I spoke to many mothers before giving birth and they all said it would be hard but nobody told me I was going to be literally losing my mind. I thought I was tough and resilient until I dealt with this. I felt something was wrong with me and since I did not have my mother or my mother-in-law present to help out (I was only able to speak to them over the phone, and they both said I was going to be okay and one day I will laugh at how hard it was) I didn’t have much support. My husband worked long hours and he was too tired to help much. Occasionally he would take the baby on his day off or cook a meal but he was not able to understand what I was going through in the same way a woman would so it was difficult. I felt I had nowhere to go to vent because my own thoughts scared me. Sometimes my mother would tell me I just needed to tough it out, this didn’t help.

TMWT: How did you manage your depression with your baby’s need for maternal care?

Jasmine Jafar: I managed by just forcing myself to take it literally one moment at a time. I allowed myself to cry and scream, sometimes while holding my baby. At times I felt like I wasn’t going to make it through but I didn’t have an option but to sit through those thoughts and feelings until things began to gradually get easier. I would compartmentalize how I was feeling and the baby’s needs so that they were separate. I would feed the baby or rock the baby to sleep or calm her down and then I would deal with the feelings. If I felt I was going to lose it, I would put her down and let her cry so I could take a breather. Sometimes I would feel guilty about this but then I realized that letting her cry for a couple of minutes is better than me hurting myself or doing something more destructive.

TMWT: Did you get support and in what ways did you get support?

Jasmine Jafar: I didn’t really have support as in therapy or family or anything like that. I got plenty of advice on how to deal with certain situations but I didn’t have anyone that I could honestly speak with about what I was going through, how I felt physically and emotionally.


Badra Abir

I was told to stop crying as this would make my baby sick. Other times, I was told to stop crying as this would come off as me being ungrateful to Allah for my safe delivery.

– Badra Abir

TMWT: At what point after childbirth did you realise that you had postpartum depression? What were some of your symptoms?

Badra Abir: From week 1, I started noticing a few symptoms. My mother had to beg me before I would agree to eat anytime because I had no appetite. Most times, instead of eating, I’ll just start crying. I had serious mood swings too. On the day of aqeeqah, I was happy at first, but when it was time to put on the dress I had made for the occasion, I started crying because it wasn’t nursing-friendly. I wore it only after my mum lightly scolded me for crying about something as small as that. Also, I was tired this minute, and full of energy the next minute.

TMWT: How did people react to this?

Badra Abir: At first, when I start to cry, I would be told to stop crying as this would make my baby sick. Other times, I was told to stop crying as this would come off as me being ungrateful to Allah for my safe delivery.

TMWT: How did you manage your depression with your baby’s need for maternal care?

Badra Abir: Fortunately, it didn’t affect how I relate with my baby. I love him so much, and even when I’m unhappy, I still attend to him. I was unable to produce enough breast milk for about 14 days and my baby was growing thinner. Whenever I complained to the nurses, they’d tell me to keep breastfeeding him and be patient. On the fourteenth day, I couldn’t bear it anymore, I started to formula-feed him. My beautiful slice of Jannah is five months old now, and he’s doing well. Alhamdulillah.

TMWT: Did you get support and in what ways did you get support?

Badra Abir: My mum, elder sister, and my husband were very helpful. My elder sister helped with running errands, taking care of the baby, cooking, cleaning, putting things in order, and so on. My mum and my husband took turns in spoon-feeding me while breastfeeding. He also takes care of the baby so I can rest. They made sure not to wake me even when I had visitors. A change of environment also helped me.


Mariyam AbdulQadir

My husband has not been able to reconcile with my postpartum depression as he believes I need to continue building my Imaan in order to feel better.

– Mariyam AbdulQadir

TMWT: At what point after childbirth did you realise that you had postpartum depression? What were some of your symptoms?

Mariyam AbdulQadir: I had consistent meltdowns and it was difficult to control them. I felt a sense of dread and felt like I’m not a good mother. I didn’t have violent urges but I do experience anger, especially when I am unable to calm my baby.

TMWT: How did people react to this?

Mariyam AbdulQadir: I believe the women in my circle were understanding. However, my husband hasn’t been able to reconcile with it as he believes I need to continue building my Imaan in order to feel better.

TMWT: How did you manage your depression with your baby’s need for maternal care?

Mariyam AbdulQadir: I sometimes delegate responsibility to my partner so that I can have time for myself. I also try to engage in self-care activities during nap times or when the baby is asleep for the night.

TMWT: Did you get support and in what ways did you get support?

Mariyam AbdulQadir: I began seeing a psychotherapist to address the intense emotions I would have one day of every week. I didn’t find the sessions to be very helpful though and I suppose that’s largely on me. I haven’t been diagnosed officially but I do fall on the spectrum.

**The Names of the Women in this essay have been changed**


TMWT

TMWT is an online media platform spotlighting the stories of Muslim women of the past and present. We aim to be one of the most authoritative and informative guides to what is happening in the world of Muslim women. We hope to cover key issues, spark debates, progressive ideas and provocative topics to get the Muslim world talking. We want to set agendas and explore ideas to improve the lives and wellbeing of Muslim Women.

You may also like...

1 Comment

  1. Aisha Haydar says:

    Thank you for highlighting this and starting a discussion about these issues. I felt every mums pain. May Allah make it easy for all mums suffering and allow the comfort of a supportive spouse & family

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.