x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dealing with baby blues in the UAE

The arrival of a baby is expected to bring joy, but those expectations can bring post-partum depression and lead to tragic consequences for first-time mothers who struggle to cope with caring for a newborn.

ABU DHABI // Despite the happiness babies bring there are great pressures to being a new mum and, for some, they can be overwhelming.

For Erin, an American expatriate, her baby meant crushing depression, which led her to consider adopting out her firstborn and even suicide. When her son was about eight weeks, she began to feel she could not cope.

"I was so upset that I wasn't enjoying motherhood and that I felt so bad at it," the Abu Dhabi resident said. "I had horrible thoughts.

"I thought someone should adopt him because they would be able to do a much better job of taking care of him, because I was not a good mum. I started to hate my life."

Erin was suffering from postpartum depression, which affects about one in 10 mothers, according to the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology in Abu Dhabi.

"The first month or so, I was fine," she said. "I knew a new baby would be difficult so I thought I was mentally prepared. However, my little boy was not easy.

"Breastfeeding took 45 minutes to an hour every time and he would feed every two hours. People kept saying he would get faster and more efficient, but he didn't.

"Then people kept commenting on how skinny my little man was and the worrying began. He was a bad napper and I started to think maybe it was that he was starving.

"I was petrified I was doing everything wrong."

When her son was two months old, Erin began to experience panic attacks, insomnia and paranoia.

"Even when our little boy was sleeping fine in the bassinet next to our bed, I couldn't sleep," she said. "I was scared to move for fear that he would wake up. I began to stress about everything I did."

The thoughts of suicide drove Erin to finally seek help. Her doctor prescribed anti-depressants and things started to improve.

Forcing herself to leave the house and meet other mothers, Erin realised she was not alone in her feelings of helplessness.

"I heard that other mums struggled too, which helped me feel that it wasn't just me," she said, "and exposing my boy to outside stimulus was great for him. He loved it and it tired him out and he would go down for naps easier."

When her son was seven months old he began to change, Erin said. Being older and being able to sit up and reach for things and communicate in different ways made him a happier baby.

"He had just needed more time to mature," she said. "However, he was my first and I just didn't know."

Erin said there is great need for a mothers' support group, to help reassure others suffering as she did.

"I love him more and more every day. I realise now how sick I was and how out of my control the post-partum truly was," Erin said.

"Abu Dhabi needs a support group. You need to know that it does get better and you will enjoy motherhood."

Dr Veena Luthra of the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology welcomed the idea.

"Only 50 per cent of women with post-partum depression get treatment. There is stigma and shame about being depressed after a joyous event of having a baby," Dr Luthra said.

"A support group would decrease feelings of isolation, provide support and make depressed new mothers realise they are not alone in their suffering."

jbell@thenational.ae