The Veggie Wifey and KrisP share their experience of postpartum depression and reflect on the reality of being a new mum
I cried everyday for a month after giving birth. As a new mum experiencing postpartum depression, I did not feel like myself. I felt scared, lonely, ugly, heavy and weak. I felt extremely tired, and I felt so much pressure to be the ‘perfect’ mother.
I spent the first three months of motherhood recovering from the two-hour surgery I had after giving birth; learning how to move this new, over-stretched body of mine that was 25kg heavier; learning how to feed, bathe, and rest this tiny beautiful human that came out of me. I also spent that time letting go of the woman I was, because as soon as you become a mother, your life is no longer the same.
I remember the unsolicited advice, the comments on how tired I looked, how much weight I had gained, and the overload of ‘baby’ information unleashed on me. It was exhausting and isolating. There were several instances where I felt forgotten; the child was now the centre of not only my universe, but also everyone else’s. “How is the baby?” people would constantly ask. I would reply with a rehearsed smile, but what I wanted them to ask is, “How are you really doing?” I never felt confident enough to blurt out what I desperately wanted to say: “This is so hard and I don’t know what I am doing.”
There is not enough encouragement for women to talk about the way we feel after we give birth, the way our relationship changes with our partners, and how disconnected we may feel when we look at our newborn. Taking care of a newborn child is one of the most demanding jobs. Mothers often forget to take care of themselves, as well as the baby; they need to be reminded to do basic things like eat and sleep. This is why so many women go through postpartum depression without even knowing it.
Postpartum depression is a spectrum. It ranges from mild to severe, just like many other health diagnoses. The most important thing is to be able to recognize the sign before the depression snowballs.
For a long time, I felt like I was going to be judged for sharing stories of my anxiety after my miscarriages, weak pelvic floor, postpartum hives, and uncontrollable hair-loss. However, little did I know, there were many other women who were also suffering through the same thing in silence. So many women were also unable to tell the truth about their experience of motherhood; stories of infertility, loss, and depression—not to mention the daily grind of keeping a tiny, helpless human being alive. Mothers need a safe space to tell their stories, to share their hopes, dreams, and fears; to be vulnerable, to admit weakness, to ask for help, to share their strengths, and to give help to others.
I sat down for a chat with Kristina Pakhomova, an actress, writer, producer, artistic director of KrisP Production, and also a new mother. She recently created the audio play Thief, which was inspired by her personal journal that she kept in the early days of new motherhood. Thief also includes the candid stories of four other anonymous postpartum women. The audio play is a short 30-minute exploration of the deep, and dark places women mentally visit during their journey through motherhood.
DB: Your play is focused on change. Can you share what changes you personally experienced after becoming a mother?
KP: There was a lot of frustration, misunderstandings between me and my husband. Like my husband wanted me to be better, he wanted me to be stronger, and he told me, “Come on Kristina you are stronger than this, pull yourself together.” For me, it felt like a betrayal. He did not support me in my weakest moments.
There is a moment in the play when the mother tells the daughter “Don’t say such words.” That was me. I said to my mother, “Motherhood is not for me. I look at this child, everyday is boring, everyday is tough. I don’t know what to do. I look fat, my nipples are sore. I really do not enjoy this. Maybe this was not meant for me.”
My mother said don’t say that. God has blessed you with this child, don’t say that. I felt if I can’t say this to my mom, who can I talk to? Everyone says it is just a phase but it felt like nobody got it, nobody understood that it can be something bigger.
DB: But is it just a phase? At different stages of your child’s development, you continue to face new challenges as a mother.
KP: Recently I had a similar feeling, or frustration, where I thought it was so hard, AGAIN. Why is my child crying, I don’t know what to do, I want to escape. So this feeling comes back in moments. It’s not as dramatic, you already know what to do with it. The hormones immediately after birth are not there anymore, so you’re not going completely crazy.
The whole experience makes you stronger in the beginning, if you get out of it safely. That is the important thing. If you get out of it safely. If, instead, you are traumatised mentally, then you can just end up in a dark place for a very long time. Especially if you keep it to yourself.
I think I managed to survive those challenges and become stronger, maybe.
DB: What did you do?
KP: I think therapy is a must. Talking and trying really hard to articulate what is happening to you. For me, it was helpful to write everything down. But that’s me, that’s the writer in me. Putting my thoughts on paper helped me understand what I feel. It made it real. Because there is so much confusion. You’re happy, then you’re sad and frustrated, then you’re excited… If you don’t know what you’re struggling with, you don’t know how to work with it, and you don’t know how to articulate to other people what you’re struggling with.
I remember I was having a lot of guilt, and this is quite common with most mothers— guilt, self-pressure, not having enough milk, not spending enough time with your husband. I think pain, postnatal pain, really amplifies the negative experience. I was in a lot of pain. One of the characters, Natasha, in the play was actually my experience; for two weeks I was lying down. I couldn’t hold my baby. I had an emergency C-section and I had an infection, so I couldn’t go to the toilet. I was sore everywhere and heavily medicated.
So that really brings you to a dark place. Also, I felt I was missing those precious moments. I felt like I missed those ‘perfect’ moments that society, even doctors, tell you to have, like skin-to-skin. At that time I felt it was the end of the world for missing those, but upon reflection, it really does not matter because there are so many other moments as my child grows.
DB: What are your views on educating women about postpartum depression, whether it is in school or in the workplace, so they are better prepared or aware of it before they become mothers?
KP: It would be amazing to have real women talk about their experiences in the pre-pregnancy training, to be invited there to share their stories, in a positive way. To say I am alive, I am fine, I got through it. These are the tools that may help.
Pregnant women can invite their husbands, partners, and family, to learn about postpartum depression, as well. Learning how to change a diaper is well and good, but learning about postpartum depression is about survival. Because once you give birth, you don’t have time to research.
DB: Thoughts like harming the baby, wanting to leave your husband, spousal jealousy and hating breastfeeding are all taboo topics of discussion before you have a baby, but they are real and true feelings. Did you ever feel any of the above? How did you deal with that?
KP: I never had dark thoughts about harming the baby. Those women in my interview shared their stories, that they wanted to throw the baby out, they wanted to drown the baby or they were imagining that happening. That’s scary.
I think what can help in this period of time, is to tell women that it is okay for someone else to take care of the baby. That it’s okay to ask for help, and it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. The mother should not be the only one taking care of the baby all the time. There is nothing wrong if the baby spends time with someone else. Not all mothers like playing with their child for hours. I was so worried my child was going to call the helper mom. But I’d rather have that break to check in with my mental and emotional needs. After all—happy mum, happy baby.
Looking for help with postpartum depression? The following resources are available in Hong Kong: