A woman gives birth in hospital and just a few hours later walks out of the ward carrying the baby, both wearing very little clothing. It was in the middle of winter. She and baby are later found dead, mother having jumped off a bridge. What lead to this extreme acting out? Was it impossible for this woman to become a mother? Why did she sacrifice her newborn baby?
We will not know the truth about her story, but with no shadow of a doubt she would have been diagnosed with Post Natal Depression or Puerperal Psychoses. Regardless of these diagnostic categories, and whether or not she was indeed labelled by them; they would have allowed for pharmaceutical drugs to be prescribed that don’t necessarily cure or improve wellbeing. She might have been on medication but ultimately her life and her baby’s were not saved.
Becoming a Mother is mostly related to a happy and fulfilling time in a woman’s life. She experiences her body’s incredible ability to develop, carry and deliver new life. Women experience such an intense bodily transformation: anatomical changes in the vagina and perineum; the opening of her cervix by 10cm to allow passage; the breasts engorged with milk; the stretch marks on the skin. Pregnancy and childbirth are responsible for a huge rush of hormonal changes that affect the woman’s physical wellbeing and state of mind.
It is commonly known that on the third or forth day post partum a mother’s milk will come in and the rush of prolactine and progesterone hormones can produce quite an overwhelming feeling, also known as the baby blues. Women can be tearful and feel sad for a day or two but this usually goes away at the first sight of their baby’s face, or even their smell. Post Natal Depression, on the other hand, may start off as Baby blues, but if the unexplained sadness, tearfulness, insomnia, lack of appetite and difficulties bonding with the baby persist, then there is much need for seeking therapeutic help.
So why are some women overcome by sadness when they should be happy? Women can feel incredibly elated and empowered by the experience of childbirth, or quite the opposite, they may be traumatised by it. This may have a direct consequence in how the new mother bonds with her baby and how this bond will take shape, for example if she is breastfeeding or not. Therefore, how a woman sees herself, her transformed body, and how she feels towards her baby are incredibly important factors to her wellbeing post partum. Women may be feeling like failures for not being able to birth vaginally, or not being able to breastfeed, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Needless to say that her own personal history, her childhood memories and her relationship with her own mother and her partner, have a direct link to her experience as a new mother. There may be pressure on oneself to be different or better than their own mother, and there may be anxieties and worries around patterns of behaviour that one doesn’t want to repeat. The relationship between a couple also changes dramatically after the arrival of a baby and a new dynamic is often observed.