My blog about postnatal depression for World Mental Health Day

Farzana Khatun talks about her experience of postnatal depression

Tell us a bit about yourself

I am Farzana Khatun, a twenty eight year old British Bangladeshi woman. At the young age of twenty one, I became a wife. Despite all the joys that come with marriage, moving away from my family to a different city affected my mental health. The stark contrast in family life from a busy household to an empty one brought many negative emotions such as loneliness. I was no longer alone when I got pregnant in 2015 but as is the case with many other mothers, I was diagnosed with both postnatal and postpartum depression. Mental health is very much not recognised in the Asian community as it’s a taboo topic. Many even go as far as to be in denial as they excuse it as physical illness. It is discussed as a weakness and therefore Asian children fear for the reaction if they express their feelings. Especially amongst men, the ‘breadwinners’ of the family lock up their emotions as they believe this weakness may affect their masculinity and status in the family. Mental health is a stigma that is gossiped and laughed about within families as everybody denies the feelings of anxiety and depression they feel towards events.

What were your initial thoughts of the country going into lockdown?

For every woman, bringing a life into this world is a daunting concept. These natural nerves and fears are doubled when you are to give birth during such a vulnerable time with doctors who are overwhelmed and the possible risk of illness. My second experience with labour was the most traumatising. Only when I was in active labour was my husband given permission to stay during labour, leaving me to be completely alone with my thoughts at the beginning. Things took a turn when my baby’s heartbeat slowed down and I was sent to have an emergency c-section. All the chaos in the delivery room was so different from my first time with childbirth as it lacked the confidence and assurance my family gave me. Just the knowledge of having a family to go home to comfort me and the baby, helping me with mysterious rashes and first baths were all things I longed for. My new family of four was difficult to handle at the beginning as having to recover from the c-section and taking care of a newborn overwhelmed me.

How have you spent your time during a lockdown?

Having a baby during lockdown was a completely abnormal experience. The atmosphere at the hospital was very unwelcoming as everyone was unsure of how to deal with this new pandemic. The midwives seemed absent and I could sense the silent hesitance as I was forced to be completely independent despite struggling to move. The whole situation was out of my control as many of my requests were unanswered. One request included a female doctor but due to the pressure that the NHS was under this could not happen. Having a female doctor was an essential factor for me because throughout my whole life I have been familiarised most with women through my traditional parents and this unfamiliarity made my labour an awkward process. My baby’s first Eid was celebrated at home, with her dad at work and only the three of us at home. A time that is normally a very joyous and busy time was quiet and regular. On the other hand, this experience allowed me to grow and understand myself better as a mother. I underestimated my ability to be independent with my children to attend to their every need and the bright side of this situation is that I grew even closer to my children.

What support networks have you built up during the lockdown?

A support network that I discovered during lockdown was the Perinatal Mental Health Service, a network I am very grateful for. During the lockdown, help is difficult to find as everyone is going through their own problems with the significant number of deaths occurring every day. The Perinatal Mental Health Service is a service which allows mothers to share their worries with other people who are in the same situation. It gave me an opportunity to cope with all of the overwhelming problems which were heightened by the fact that my family were unable to visit. I kept in contact with my family through frequent FaceTime calls however they were simply an imitation of the real thing and they were unable to experience the newborn baby feelings with me. The only adult connection I had was with my husband and something that was particularly hard was feeling completely useless as my husband worked, cooked, cleaned and cared for the children.

Have you still felt well connected to the Muslim community during the lockdown?

During the lockdown, I was able to witness the strength of the Muslim community. Due to the fact that Eid was celebrated alone and Friday prayers were not taken place the Muslim community was more attentive to other families. The advice was shared around and everybody comforted each other on the unusualness of this year’s celebration. On many different platforms, the Muslim community expressed their availability to help as during lockdown especially people questioned the purpose of life as they came to a realisation that the next day is not guaranteed with many losing multiple relatives weekly. Eid is the celebration of the end of a month of fasting and this month was also very different due to Covid-19. Ramadan is normally the month that Muslims are the closest as they break their fast together and sympathise with the needy. It was particularly hard this year for many Muslims as without the constant activities, we were more aware of our hunger and it was especially hard since, for example, my mother had to break her fast alone for the first time in her life. It affected us all in little ways.

Are you aware of how Covid-19 is disproportionately affecting  Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities and how does this make you feel?

Covid-19 is affecting BAME communities to a much higher extent and I personally know of many relatives who have been affected by it. There is nothing that can be done of that fact, but if this is acknowledged by the NHS why are BAME communities not being prioritised since we are evidently more at risk? This is very frustrating as despite the progress we have made towards discrimination, there is so much still to be done.

What are your hopes for the future? 

Unfortunately, there are so many problems in society today and the first step to erasing these problems is by educating people from childhood. The older generation tends to be more stubborn about their beliefs on the sincerity of mental health but if the new generation is taught that mental health should not be a taboo and is a natural part of life society would change as we know it.  I hope for a future where I felt that society genuinely cared for my physical and mental being and not the economic gain they would receive from it. In the future, I would like to have perinatal meetings in person to have the full experience of relating with other mothers in my situation.