It’s difficult to look at our mothers as monsters. Be it the cultural background we’re brought up in, or the morally high standard that a patriarchal system such as ours holds motherhood to, nothing really allows us to look at our mothers as anything other than a saint.
Or, sometimes, just as humans.
Instead, we’re taught from day one to hold our mothers to the standard of saints, as a gateway to the heavens, as holy beings who cannot be wronged and who definitely can do wrong.
That’s where the problem lies. In the past few months, the media has been ripe with stories of mothers killing their newborn children in different parts of Bangladesh. And this is nothing new. It’s happened before and it will happen again. What’s concerning is that our reaction to these incidents have remained the same over time: Demonising the mother.
Nothing justifies the murders. No child should have to die such horrific deaths -- least of all by someone they should be able to trust, in a place they call home. But there is an entire conversation missing when, upon reading these news stories, we jump to the conclusion and blame the mothers instead of understanding the complications of motherhood, the biggest of which is post-partum depression.
Postpartum depression is defined by the National Institute of Health as a “moderate to severe depression in a woman after she has given birth. It may occur soon after delivery or up to a year later. Most of the time, it occurs within the first three months after delivery.”
There was a time when it was thought to be prevalent in Western nations, but recent research has revealed rising symptoms in this part of the world. Post-partum depression can vary in length, level of severity, and even in its time of occurrence. While many mothers experience it immediately after birth, many have reported experiencing it at a much later stage.
While many mothers experience moderate to severe mood swings, for some mothers it can go to the extent of irrational fear or imagination such as seeing the child as a devilish (or supernatural) entity. This can often lead to violence on the mother’s part, as is seen in the cases of the murders reported.
When these incidents take place, they put our traditional views of motherhood in conflict, causing us to lash out at the only people we’re conditioned to easily blame in our society: The woman. Following these incidents mentioned above, stories spread on social media with captions that -- rather comfortably -- assigned hellish nicknames to the mothers in question: “Satan” or “devil” or the likes were used by many, both mothers and non-mothers.
While the mothers are at fault of committing the crimes, it is vital for us to view the issue through the lens of post-partum depression instead of jumping to conclusions. When these stories of mothers killing their children spread like wildfire on social media, we’re doing little justice by attributing the whole blame to mothers.
It is as much our flawed understanding of motherhood -- one that allows a mother to make no mistake and holds her to impossibly high moral grounds -- as our lack of awareness of post-partum depression that can drive a mother to eventually pull the trigger.
Research has shown that post-partum depression can be worsened without proper support from the community and/or one’s partner. And that’s where we, as a society, as a community, have a role to play. To not necessarily condone mothers who murder, but to understand the complex system behind it.
In Bangladesh, there is little data available on the issue -- once again reaffirming our lack of knowledge on this topic. Mental health itself being a rather tabooed issue doesn’t help the case either. The thing about mental health is that it exists in every society, every household and, in some capacity, almost in every individual.
When we raise our mothers to god-like standards, we take them out of the realm of humans -- attributing these holy roles to them automatically negates the possibility in our mindset that mothers, too, can err. Mothers, too, have their demons. Mothers, too, are humans.
So, this Mother’s Day, when you celebrate your mother and her journey, remember and honour her struggles as well -- both physical and mental. Because, to celebrate motherhood without understanding the physical and mental challenges our mothers go through during and post childbirth, is an incomplete celebration, a half-acknowledgement of their entire journey.
Because, motherhood isn’t just umbilical cords and purple roses and boasting about your mom’s-cooking -- it’s about way more.
And it's about time, we as a society, start seeing that.