Postpartum depression has recently become a hot topic…not because women want it and it is ‘hot’ to have it, but because too many women are suffering from it; we need to make it un-hot (if that is even a word).
I read stories of women who contemplate committing suicide during the postpartum period and sadly many women who do.
What is happening in the world, that a new mother, feels that she has no where to turn except in her grave?
It has also become a hot topic to talk about villages and how it takes a village to raise a child…yet where is everyone?
Growing up in Morocco, visiting yearly (being originally Moroccan) and having the privilege and honor to sit with elders and learn from traditional qablas (midwives), I have witnessed first-hand the utter and sheer importance of the nafsa (new mothers). One lovely midwife, Rahma, told me that the new mother was treated like a new bride; if you have ever been to a Moroccan wedding or know about the Moroccan preparations and rituals for new brides, then OH MY, you would know that a new mother would then be treated like a total queen and the center of all attention for months on end.
It is funny.
So many people dismiss people who have had no formal education, they do not listen to them, call them old-school and think they are talking nonsense.
I remember as a young girl…my mother and grandmother (both formally uneducated at school) would tell me not to sit on cold floors, not to go out with my hair wet and so many other things; I never listened…but now I know what they were saying does have importance and we do have to take care of ourselves from early on.
Traditional qablas (midwives) luckily still exist in Morocco. They are few, but they are there, mainly in the countryside where women from lower-income families tend to give birth at home.
Traditional Moroccan midwives are declining. Their daughters and grand-daughters do not want to carry on the knowledge. The work provides low-to-zero income and long hours… can we blame them?
It is easy for me to say I want to revive, reclaim and restore sacred postpartum Moroccan knowledge because I am living a different life to the traditional midwives, but it is from my place that I want to share and give back.
Going back to dismissing people with no formal education…
I said it is funny, but it is actually sad.
The traditional midwives I learned with and so many elders have told me that the new mothers grave is open for the first forty days after birth.
Why 40 days?
Because in Morocco, generally, this is the minimum amount of time a mother gets and needs support for…it also generally coincides with mothers having ended their postpartum bleed (lochia) and starting intimate relations with their husbands (if they want to).
Morocco, also has a lot of cultural traditions that revolve around 40 days.
Now, that does not literally mean her grave is prepared and open; it is an analogy.
The new mother is vulnerable in so many ways and she needs to be welcomed, honoured, nurtured, nourished, closed and celebrated. I am not saying that she must go through all those stages, but the more support, rest and nourishment/nurturing she gets, the better she will feel, recover and it will be less likely to get postpartum depression.
One elder on our ‘Mothers of Morocco’ episodes (click here to watch them) mentioned the same Moroccan saying and said that new mothers are in danger and need support. Who would not need support after growing a real human and bringing it to the world?!
You see, people may say that this analogy sounds stupid or is just an old wives tale, but how many stories have you heard and will you hear of new mothers having postpartum depression and many sadly taking their own lives… and sometimes of their babies too? How many?
Can you even imagine what emotional state the new mother must be in to have to take that decision?
I remember when I gave birth to my first baby in England. I had a horrible birth experience at my local hospital. I was ‘hoping’ for a natural birth, I thought it would come naturally, as I believe birth is, in most cases, a natural affair, but going into hospital without educating myself was the biggest mistake and I was the one who paid the price. Episiotomy, epidural, drugs, IV, vomiting, catheter and not feeling empowered at all; I was left feeling sick, like I was in an accident and not in the mood to take care of a new crying baby when I needed to take care of myself first.
How many women can relate to this story? How many have had birth stories they did not want, stories they wanted to re-tell?
Then after all that, and after carrying your baby for 9-10 months, after growing your baby and birthing it (whichever way)… you do not feel the way you expected to feel, the way you are told you should feel.
The baby is healthy, that is what matters…
Yes it does matter that the baby is healthy, but what about the woman that brought the baby to life?
Shall we let her suffer alone, cry alone, do everything alone until she reaches breaking point and may end up in her grave, which is open for 40 days?
I do appreciate that some countries like England have some after birth care, but we need to do more, we all need to do more.
One of the many things I love about Morocco is the community and sisterhood. Now do not get me wrong, we are just normal people too, so one minute the family can be gossiping about each other (which I do not encourage) but as soon as a woman is pregnant and about to give birth, they have her back. That is the real village and sadly so many cultures (especially in the West) have lost that. The most beautiful thing about it is that the new mother’s family (usually the mother) is usually preparing to support her daughter and not waiting to be asked.
Regardless of the woman; rich, poor, educated, formally uneducated, living in the city, living in the countryside… generally, when a Moroccan woman is pregnant, her mother (or other female relatives) stay with her from about the last month of pregnancy. They normally help with household duties, cooking nourishing meals, preparing for the baby and anything else needed. When the pregnant woman becomes a new mother, their is someone to welcome and honour her, someone to nourish her from the moment she gives birth (whether in hospital or at home), someone to nurture her and to celebrate her. When birthing at home with traditional midwives, women may also get their bones ‘closed’ using a traditional cloth called ‘korziya’ and/or ‘mendil/fouta’ which is used for wrapping the hips and womb.
I pray that no matter how modern and how much more developed Morocco and other countries become, they hold on to these traditions, because they are important for the new mother, for her baby and for the whole society.
I have no doubt that all western societies had their own traditions of mothering the new mother, but slowly and unfortunately they have died down or became extinct.
I believe we need to bring it back!
Going back to my story. I had my mother and father with me through most of my pregnancy. Even though I live in Dubai and they live in Morocco we were traveling back and forth between Morocco, England and the UAE in order for me to have their much needed and appreciated support. They also stayed with me for about 3 months after birth and it still was not easy.
Imagine, the new mother, with nobody! Possibly a partner who has to return to work… no one to cook nourishing meals, no one to talk to, no one to help in the home, no one to celebrate and honour you with your grave still open!
I feel for these women as motherhood is not a walk in the park (maybe for some women it is) and support makes all the difference. New mothers give birth, it is no longer a big deal in many cultures and the mother is expected to get back to her normal life, back to her usual body, her usual self and get on with things.
As I mentioned, even with my parents, I still needed lots of support with breastfeeding, support with my other children, support to rest and recover, support to eat good food, time for my hips to stop aching, time to even lose 1 kilo of weight, time to adjust.
When I lived in England I started volunteering with a charity to visit an elder woman once per week to keep her company. She was then a lovely 86 year old woman called Katy. I used to visit her weekly and she used to tell about her life while smoking endless amounts of cigarettes (she told me this was because she was bored). I thought that she had no family and no one to care for her (although she could do everything herself and had no medical conditions); I was shocked to find out that Katy had a son and grandchildren in the same city, not even far away, however they only ever visited her once per week. One day while I was visiting, her elder son came to the home and thanked me for keeping his mother company. It is not my place to judge him and why he was not the one there instead of me, however it saddens me that so many cultures have lost that sense of caring for one another, be it new mothers, older grandmothers or anyone else.
So, what I am trying to say is that we need to mother the new mother. Take care of the other women around you, lend a helping hand when you can and remember the grave of the new mother is open for 40 days after birth.
Myth, fairytale, old wives tale, or whatever you think it is…
According to postpartumdepression.org there is about 20% of women in the USA alone who suffer from postpartum depression and the number can go up to 65% in some Asian countries. These are actually modest numbers and the organisation believes they are much higher globally.
Many of you reading this will already know the stats on postpartum depression and heard the stories about it, so I do not need to provide the scientific research as we know it is there, the grave is ‘open’ and we can do something to help.