Motherhood is always, and rather unquestioningly, painted as a blissful, wondrous and magical experience. Indian popular culture does its fair bit to deify mothers to such an extent that the very real, excruciatingly painful physical experience is often wiped out of motherhood narratives. This is also true of our socio-cultural fabric, in which motherhood is elevated to such heights that a woman is considered "incomplete" without it.
Such romanticised notions of motherhood contribute to a range of post-partum illnesses, most commonly post-partum depression. This is not only as a result of various hormonal and chemical changes in women's bodies due to pregnancy and childbirth. The huge psychological and physical impact of childbirth is only exacerbated by a host of social, cultural and economic factors. According to the National Mental Health Survey of 2015-2016, women in their child-bearing years showed more vulnerability to depression. This is because societies have still not evolved enough to engage with women's bodies in a healthy manner. It sometimes fails to recognise women's autonomy over their own bodies.
Soon after childbirth, the focus shifts away almost completely from the new mother, to child-rearing. The mother's health is important only to ensure the health of the child.
What is often missing in our motherhood narratives is a wholesome engagement with what pregnancy and childbirth do to a woman's body. It is not just about coping with several cosmetic changes, but also dealing with various aches, pains, stitches and a whole lot of other hormonal tumult. But it is not the norm for women to dwell on the tremendous stress their bodies just went through.
Soon after childbirth, the focus shifts away almost completely from the new mother, to child-rearing. The mother's health is then important only to ensure the health of the child. The "bad mother" guilt is easy to assign, if women are unable to immediately play the role of the perfect nurturing mother. While mothers and mothers-in-law constantly register their presence, it is almost never with a focus on the mew mother's mental health.
Women are not allowed to have moments of doubt or weakness, or simply a moment to feel overwhelmed. Their mental health is almost always brushed under the carpet because women are considered "natural mothers", so no further questions are permissible. Expressions of anxiety are often reduced as temporary "baby blues", which they might well be, but these issues often crystallise into depression if not attended to. They cannot be anything but full of smiles and courtesies in response to the baby, and the stream of visitors. Wanting rest or simply some time for oneself is not only difficult but also viewed as contrary to the established notions of the self-sacrificing mother.
Since there is such a premium on motherhood, and not so much on fathers, in many cases women have a rather lonely time of child-rearing, especially if they are home-makers. The loneliness can often lead to depression.
Motherhood in India needs to be demystified. We attribute goddess-like status to mothers in our lives, but we need to move beyond the tokenism in our tributes, and do our mothers one huge favour—of viewing them as persons, as individuals whose massively painful experience of childbirth should not be subsumed under the rhetoric of "blissful motherhood."