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New Motherhood: When Mom Is Sad

Becoming a new mother can be one the most rewarding experiences a woman can have in life, but it can also be incredibly challenging and overwhelming. New motherhood is typically associated with feeling incredibly blessed, a new sense of fulfillment and family bonding. There is a general expectation that new mothers should be happy and when they are not everyone is left bewildered as to why. What is a new mom supposed to do when there is a piercing angst wedged deep within her chest that won’t go away? Or when mixed clouds of frustration and sadness follow her everywhere she goes? How can a new mom tell anyone about her difficult feelings when she is supposed to be joyful? Well, the answer is- she doesn’t. New mothers often times keep their struggles to themselves and some end up falling into Postpartum Depression.

Getting help for depression has become more acceptable in the Muslim community over the past few years, however, Postpartum Depression (PPD) still flies mostly under the radar because of lack of knowledge about the subject and the associated shame. Myths about what causes PPD lead women to isolate and not reach out for help when family and community support can be exactly what new mothers need.

What is Postpartum Disorder?

Postpartum disorder is when a new mother experiences clinical levels of depression after having a baby; such as sadness, crying, major changes in appetite, sleep, irritability, feelings of no motivation, and hopelessness. Many research articles quote that depression affects 11% of women during pregnancy and 10-14% of women postpartum[1], but the range can be anywhere from 9-25% depending on risk factors and circumstances[2]. Women from minority backgrounds, which many Muslim women fall into, can have postpartum rates as high as 23%.[3]

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It is assumed that PPD is caused by a woman not wanting to have a child, however, for the majority of women, it’s caused by a combination of physiological changes (e.g. falling hormone levels), being overwhelmed and not enough support. PPD doesn’t just happen for new mothers but can happen after any pregnancy or even during pregnancy (Perinatal Depression).

One of the biggest reasons PPD is not talked about by new mothers is shame and guilt. Around the world, and especially in Muslim communities, having a baby is expected to be a time of joy and celebration. It’s an encouraged sunnah, rite of passage and expected social norm- there is an expectation of experiencing a “magical feeling” due to the birth of this wonderful gift. When a woman feels that everyone around her expects her to be happy and she isn’t, that can cause shame, guilt, and self-doubt.

No woman wants to be labeled as ungrateful, unhappy or incompetent, and when a woman feels like she can’t talk to anyone about her vulnerable feelings without being shamed or belittled, her negative feelings are further compounded. A woman might be accused of being unappreciative for her child or life in general when she brings up her thoughts of PPD to family members. Confused spouses may grossly misunderstand PPD and turn on their wife calling her lazy or indoctrinated by Western or feminist values when the new mom says she needs a break from the house. When the new mother has nowhere to turn, she suffers alone in silence. Sometimes this suffering is well hidden behind fake smiles and at other times the pain cannot be contained and results in outbursts, chronic agitation or a complete emotional shutdown.

PPD symptoms are also many times overlooked because people have a hard time recognizing what symptoms are. A woman is expected to behave and feel differently when pregnant or after having a baby, but what is the difference between normal adjustment issues and clinical Adjustment Disorder? Does a mother have high agitation because her baby wakes up at all hours of the night, or because she is depressed? Does a first-time mother have a normal amount of anxiety because she isn’t experienced, or because she might have clinical Postpartum Anxiety?

When the new mother doesn’t know what signs to look out for then she misses opportunities to identify and address potential issues. Here are some signs to look for concerning PPD:

  1. Persistent sadness, anxiety, agitation, or distress for chunks of time throughout the week that lasts at least a couple weeks.
  2. Impaired functioning. This is tricky because many new moms will not be able to take care of certain aspects of her life like before, but when a new mom can’t keep up with the house, basic day to day activities, hygiene or friendships, etc. it could be a sign that she is struggling.
  3. Appearance that there is a big change in personality. Personality is innate and doesn’t tend to change over time. If someone seems like their personality has changed especially in a negative way this is likely because of a bigger issue at hand. It’s not that a once happy and social person is now pessimistic and solitary, it’s that the happy and social person is now depressed.

Why is Postpartum Depression Relevant to the Muslim Community?

Postpartum Depression is an important health and wellness issue for all communities but should be particularly noteworthy for Muslim communities as we place a lot of importance on respecting mothers and treating them well. When most people think about the significance of motherhood in Islam, immediate thoughts come up of taking care of one’s own mother – usually, the picture emerges of an old mother cared for by her now-grown children. But what about the significance of the role of motherhood itself? If we are to hold motherhood highly than we should also provide the support and resources needed for women to be able to fulfill their roles in the best way possible. When new mothers are supported, it not only helps them but also their children – the next generation of the Ummah. Healthy moms help make healthy homes and healthy communities.

In addition to giving mothers the appropriate support they need, we as a community also need to make sure that we are not giving mixed and contradictory messages to new moms about their contribution to the Ummah. Motherhood is simultaneously one of the most treasured and disrespected roles of our time. On the one hand, Islam puts mothers on the pedestal, while on the other hand modern day society indirectly disrespects motherhood all the time- especially for those who decide to stay home and take care of their children. It’s not unusual for some people to serve their mothers in a heartbeat yet go to their wife, daughter or friend and say the following:

 

“What do you do all day with the baby (or kids)?”

“It must be nice to stay at home and not go to work.”

“Why don’t you put your college degree to use?”

“Anyone can be a mother- you don’t need an education or any special qualities.”

 

As Muslims, it’s important for us to monitor our own healthy subconscious views about motherhood as we live in a global culture that promotes the opposite. How society views motherhood contributes to how mothers feel about themselves, and how they feel about the big responsibility of raising children entrusted to them.

Addressing PPD from a Multi-Level Perspective

Addressing the issue of postpartum depression comprehensively and systematically would be better suited for a longer publication, however for the purpose of this article, here are some simple strategies on an individual, family and community level that can help address PPD.

Individual Level

New moms are overwhelmed with many physiological, psychological and logistical changes, however, there are ways to get help if it’s getting too difficult to manage day to day functioning. One of the first places a new mom can turn to is her doctor. Obstetricians are very familiar with the ins and outs of regular adjustment versus clinical depression. If a new mom is not sure about Perinatal or Postpartum Depression, she can run it by her obstetrician at one of her pregnancy check-ups, at the hospital after delivery, or at the 6 week follow up visit.

Having supportive family and friends also makes a big difference. Many new moms are uncomfortable talking about their difficult feelings in social circles because of perceptions that they may be less than their peers. If one doesn’t have supportive friends or family members there are many new mom groups that can be a good substitute. These support groups can be found online, at hospitals and through OB/GYN groups. In the absence of a supportive network, new moms can reach out to a therapist to help them sort through feelings and identify local resources.

Self-care is extremely important. There are expectations by new mothers and those around her that she has to selflessly give herself and time to her child unconditionally. Motherhood is a never-ending job, but this doesn’t mean that a new mom shouldn’t carve out time in her schedule for herself. As a psychotherapist who has worked with countless new moms over the years, I truly believe you can not take care of someone else if you can’t take care of yourself. Getting alone time, uninterrupted spiritual time, taking naps, eating healthy food, getting exercise, being in nature and spending time with friends shouldn’t be looked at as luxuries, but as necessities for long-term wellbeing.

Family Level

It’s important for a woman to look after her mental health, however, this is not her responsibility alone. Families are meant to be interdependent and so husbands, grandparents, and siblings should also keep an eye on the new mom to ensure that she is taking care of herself while she cares for the new baby. If a husband notices that his wife has not been feeling well for some time, as the shepherd of his family, it’s his responsibility to assist her in getting the help she needs; mothers of adult daughters, aunts and sisters should do the same.

Families can help by being emotionally and logistically supportive. Kind words go a long way, but so does giving a helping hand. Assistance should be given freely with no intention of making the mother feel incompetent, or that she is failing. Letting new mom take a break without baby can do wonders for her and is not “selfish” of her.

Community Level

Obstetricians provide postpartum screenings in their office, but this is not nearly enough. Prevention and intervention on a community level is needed and masajid should promote support groups for new mothers and mothers in general. Having support groups takes minimal effort or upkeep as all that is usually needed is a space where new moms can meet consistently and a person to facilitate.

Additionally, masajid should make consistent efforts to make their spaces kid friendly. A new mother who previously attended many events at the masjid can find herself completely cut-off from the community if she cannot bring her baby or kids – likely worsening her depression. Kid-friendly components to masjid activities can be critical to a new mother and form one of the key pillars of community support she needs.

In summary, Postpartum Depression can be preventable and treatable with simple interventions like providing new mothers adequate emotional, social and community support. When we open up the conversation about PPD we take away harmful assumptions about why it exists and can help address the issue from a multi-dimensional perspective. When PPD can’t be prevented or managed by community and family intervention, it’s important to help a new mother in getting the support she needs from her doctor or a psychotherapist without feeling like she is a bad mother.

Najwa Awad is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW-C) that has provided psychotherapy to individuals and families in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area for over 10 years. She obtained a Bachelors degree in Psychology at George Mason University in 2005. In 2007 she received a Masters in Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University specializing in the clinical treatment of individuals and families. Najwa also has post graduate education in the treatment of complex psychiatric trauma and telemental health (online counseling).  Her experience in the field is diverse and includes providing services at group homes, schools and in the foster cares system.  Most recently Najwa has been working and supervising in outpatient mental health settings providing psychotherapy to women, children and families. Commonly treated issues include trauma, mood disorders, behavioral disorders and anxiety. In addition to giving regular mental health workshops in the community, Najwa is also Fellow at the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research.

https://muslimmatters.org/2013/05/31/six-stories-down-when-its-more-than-just-the-baby-blues/

https://muslimmatters.org/2014/10/16/whats-the-matter-postpartum-or-more/

https://muslimmatters.org/2010/06/16/my-dear-sister-submit-for-your-babys-sake/

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768229/

[2] Gavin, N.I., Gaynes, B.N., Lohr, K.N., Meltzer-Brody, S., Gartlehner, G., Swinson, T.(2005). Perinatal depression: a systematic review of prevalence and incidence. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 106 (5, Pt 1):1071-1083

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768229/

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Najwa Awad is a psychotherapist and research fellow at Yaqeen Institute. She obtained a Bachelors degree in Psychology at George Mason University in 2005. In 2007 she received a Masters in Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University specializing in the clinical treatment of individuals and families.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Zeba Khan

    Zeba Khan

    February 26, 2019 at 12:23 PM

    So happy to see this being discussed. We brush PPD under the rug and hold motherhood up as the zenith of female accomplishment- but when you have a baby and feel awful instead of YAY all the time, that’s normal. Motherhood is worth so much in the eyes of Allah BECAUSE it’s hard. Supporting women going through hardship is a better way of setting them up for success than simply pretending it’s all good in the motherhood.

  2. Avatar

    UmmAbdurrahman

    August 26, 2019 at 3:33 PM

    assalamu alaikum,

    thank you so much for talking about PPD. It is very important to inform the muslim community about it, so that new mothers can get the attention and help they need and deserve. Until now, as it seems to me, among muslims there is hardly any knowledge about psychological problems and how to deal with them. Many people I talked to thought of psychological problems as a matter of an incomplete iman. That makes it even harder for people that suffer from depression or other problems to talk about their feelings and to seek for help.
    Therefore, barakallahufeeki, may Allah bless you and your family for writing this important and helpful article.

    a muslim sister from germany

  3. Avatar

    Zamzam Bayian

    December 31, 2019 at 12:43 PM

    Yes, I agree that PPD symptoms are also many times overlooked because people have a hard time recognizing what symptoms are.
    But I think ignorance plays an important role in this regard. Many people consider mental disorders as stigma, which they want to hide.

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#Islam

30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 10: The Dua’ of Umm Salama

Now that we have learnt about a good word, let’s talk about the dua’ of Umm Salama.

Today I’m going to share with you a story of a very important woman in Islamic history named Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her). She was a female companion, which means she was a sahaabiya (female companion)

Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was one of the first people to embrace Islam and she was one of the few Muslims who actually performed the hijrah twice. 

Question: Who can tell me what a hijrah is?

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A hijrah is when someone leaves a place they are in for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). The first hijrah was to Ethiopia, where a just Christian ruler named Najashi took in a group of Muslims and took good care of them. 

So Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) went to Ethiopia. After some time living there, they really wanted to go back to Mecca so that they could be next to the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and learn everything about Islam. As they waited patiently, news traveled all the way to Africa saying that the Muslims were no longer getting persecuted because Umar ibn al-Khattab raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) and Hamza raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), the uncle of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), had embraced Islam. 

Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) decided to return back to Mecca, and when they did, they realized that it was only a rumor and that the Muslims were still being tortured by Quraysh. So, when the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) instructed all of the Muslims of Mecca to leave to Madina for the second hijrah, they wasted no time getting ready. 

Question: Do you see how they were so active and didn’t take their Islam for granted?

As Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was about to mount her camel, her tribe, the Banu Makhzum, came and told Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) that they would not allow him to take Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) to Madina. Then Abu Salama’s tribe, the Banu Asad, takes Salama, his child, away.  Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) could not defend himself against all of these men, so he sets off to Madina.

In just one day Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) lost her husband and her child, and she suffers so much because of it. She is in a lot of pain. After some time her cousin starts to feel sorry for her and speaks to the tribes on her behalf. He is then able to reunite her with her son. Then after a year of waiting, Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) is finally able to meet her husband in Madina. 

Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) was known to be a very caring husband and courageous man. He fought in the Battle of Badr as well as in the Battle of Uhud. In Uhud, he received a wound that he wasn’t able to recover from. 

Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) was so sad the day Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) died, but the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught her to recite a beautiful dua’:

إِنَّا لله وإنا إليه راجعون اللهم أجرني في مصيبتي وأخلف لي خيرا منها 

“We belong to Allah and to Allah is our return. Oh Allah, reward me for my calamity, and replace my loss with something better.”

Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) recited this dua’, but in her mind she thought, “Who can be better than Abu Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him)?” 

After a few months passed, Umar ibn al-Khattab raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) proposed to Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), but she said no. 

Then, Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) proposed to Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her), but again she said no. 

Then, the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) proposed to Umm Salama raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and she accepted. So now, she was not only the mother of Salama, but the mother of all of the believers until the end of time! 

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This Eid And Beyond Boycott Goods Made With Enslaved Labor Of Uyghurs Even If It Is Your Favorite Brand

Bidding farewell to Ramadan, celebrating Eid?

Well, the Muslims of East Turkestan under Chinese occupation had neither Ramadan nor will they have Eid…

Not only that, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) run government has transferred Uyghurs and other ethnic minority citizens from East Turkestan to factories across the country. Under conditions that strongly suggest forced labour, Uyghurs are working in factories that are in the supply chains of at least 83 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Nike, Gap, Adidas, Ralph Lauren, Carters and others. Read Uyghurs for Sale for more information

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CCP is also pressuring governments across the world to extradite Uyghurs back to occupied East Turkestan.

Here is what you can do to help them:

Action Items

  1. Keep making dua for the oppressed of East Turkistan and the world.
  2. Boycott Chinese products! Do not be complicit in slave labour. Start with focusing on the companies in the graphic. Share it with #SewnWithtTears, #StopChina, #BoycottChina. Write to them and demand that they do better.
  3. Raise awareness on the plight of Uyghurs and the East Turkistani cause. Learn more at SaveUighur.org
  4. Work towards reducing your country’s economic dependence on China.
  5. Build alliances with all people of conscience to demand a cessation of China’s oppression of all faith groups, be it Muslim Uyghur, Hui; Chinese Christian; or Tibetan Buddhist.
  6. Encourage and promote fairer trade and commerce with Muslims and others rather than China.
  7. Inquire about Uyghur diaspora members in your area. Organize to help out orphans, widows, and students.
  8. Pressure governments to provide legal protection to Uyghur refugees-exiles by granting either citizenship or refugee/asylee status. Stop the “extradition/repatriation” of Uyghurs to China!
  9. Get your universities/endowments to divest from China. Raise awareness about Chinese espionage and hired guns in academia. Demand academic and financial support for Uyghur scholars and students. Request more academic attention and funds for Central Asian, Uyghur, Turkistani studies. 

Read a greater discussion of action items in A Response to Habib Ali Al-Jifri’s Comments on the Uyghurs, which also contains a greater discussion on East Turkistan’s history and its current situation. A condensed Arabic version of the article can be found here

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#Islam

30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 9: A Good Word

Now that we have learnt about the life of this world, let’s talk about a good word.

I want you all to close your eyes and think of a beautiful tree. 

Question: Who can tell me what their tree looks like? Is the tree big and strong? Does it have lots of branches and leaves? Does it have fruit?

Now, I want you to think of a time when someone said something really nice to you.

Question:  What are some of the nice statements you remember people telling you?

Question: How did those statements make you feel?

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Yes, they fill us up with a warm feeling. We may have felt proud of ourselves and we may have felt loved. Do you know that Allah [wt] describes a good word to a good tree? 

In Surah Ibrahim, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says:

أَلَمْ تَرَ كَيْفَ ضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا كَلِمَةً طَيِّبَةً كَشَجَرَةٍ طَيِّبَةٍ أَصْلُهَا ثَابِتٌ وَفَرْعُهَا فِي السَّمَاءِ 

تُؤْتِي أُكُلَهَا كُلَّ حِينٍ بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهَا ۗ وَيَضْرِبُ اللَّهُ الْأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ 

Have you not considered how Allah presents an example, [making] a good word like a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches [high] in the sky? [Surah Ibrahim; 24]

It produces its fruit all the time, by permission of its Lord. And Allah presents examples for the people that perhaps they will be reminded. [Surah Ibrahim; 25]

Question: Now, I want you to think of a time when someone said something mean to you. How did that make you feel?

It’s not fun to remember the mean stuff right? Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) continues in Surah Ibrahim and says:

وَمَثَلُ كَلِمَةٍ خَبِيثَةٍ كَشَجَرَةٍ خَبِيثَةٍ اجْتُثَّتْ مِن فَوْقِ الْأَرْضِ مَا لَهَا مِن قَرَارٍ

And the example of a bad word is like a bad tree, uprooted from the surface of the earth, not having any stability. [Surah Ibrahim; 26] 

Question: What do you think are good words we can use to build strong, firmly rooted trees?

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