When I first fell into the rabbit hole of Postpartum Mood Disorders nearly 8 years ago, I never imagined it would lead to me sitting in front of a tiny computer attempting to compile the journey of a Syrian woman now living in Austria who has also struggled through her own issues with Postpartum Mood Disorders. At a time when so many in Syria are struggling for survival, it is truly an honour to share the story of a woman who grew up in their world and has fought her own battles to survive. Nadia is still fighting but her determination to win is enviable and because of that, she has already gained a victory. What follows below is a rewrite of a timeline Nadia sent me. With her approval, I am thrilled to be sharing it with you now.
I was born in Damascus, Syria, single child to Syrian parents who were cousins. My father studied Atomic Sciences in Russia but was not allowed to work in his specialization for security reasons. My mother was analphabetic, raised in a small village in the north of Syria where a woman doesn’t have the right to decide anything. She had five sisters. Two of them were married and then divorced after they had children. They suffered from depressions and psychological illness but I am not sure exactly what. I do know her family history involved depression.
My parents divorced after a marriage full of fights. My father beat my mother as a result of losing his temper. My Uncles, my mother’s brothers, threatened her, telling her she was not allowed to ask to see her daughter. They held her responsible for destroying the marriage by getting divorced which brought shame to their family. I was automatically given to my father.
Shortly after my parent’s divorce, my father married an Austrian woman who worked for the Austrian Embassy in Damascus. She couldn’t get pregnant due to cancer which caused doctors to remove her uterus. I visited my mum in the summer holidays only for short visits. My mother fell into a deep depression.
Three years later, I moved from Syria with my step-mother and father to Libya where my step-mother worked for the Austrian Embassy in Tripoli. I lost contact with my mother. My father’s temper flared. He beat me and his relationship with my step-mother began to fail. Within the next few years, my father was badly burned in a fire accident at home when our washing machine exploded. After three months in the hospital, he passed away.
After my father’s death, I was given the choice to stay with my step-mother or go back to Syria to my mother. I stayed with my step-mother because I was afraid if I returned to Syria the family may force me to marry or nobody would want to care for me. I moved to Austria with my step-mother because I knew it was the only way to help my mother. As I approached puberty, my step-mother and I did not get along very well. I was sent to a boarding school and she left Austria to work for the embassy in Turkey.
A short year later, I found myself longing for Arabic food, company, tradition, and language. I opened the phone book and searched for an Arabic restaurant. I went to eat there with a friend of mine. I met my husband at this restaurant. He was and still is my great love.
Two years later, after working very hard through summer holiday, my husband and I traveled to Syria to fulfill our dream of getting married. Our families both attended and our wedding was amazing. We returned to Austria, managing to get a one room flat. For five months, we didn’t have a bed to sleep on due to tight finances. But our love was more than enough to live on and we were sure things would improve.
In 2002, the same year we were married, I became pregnant. My pregnancy interrupted my schooling but I wasn’t concerned because here in Austria, when you give birth, the government pays you a monthly income for two years so finances were not a concern.
Our first son was born in 2003 when I was 19 years old. He cried without ceasing after birth. I was so sad as well. I did not know at the time of Postpartum Depression. It disappeared by itself although I still struggled with sadness and sometimes crying as my husband worked as a waiter all night long and I was alone with the baby quite often.
Three years later, we had a daughter, desired very much by my husband and myself. I struggled psychologically during pregnancy and was again crying and sad after giving birth but less than after my son. Again, I was still unaware of Postpartum Depression and thought this crying and sadness after giving birth was normal for me. I got Austrian citizenship and this allowed my husband to have working papers. He began working two jobs as a waiter and I was again alone at home for long periods of time.
In 2008, doctors discovered through blood tests my thyroid was hyperactive. They told me this might have caused my sadness during and after pregnancy. My thyroid was removed a year later and I began to take hormones. My mother had also had issues with thyroid and hers was removed as well. I knew I did not want to become pregnant again even though my husband always wanted to have four kids. I wanted to do something for me such as a job or return to school.
With both kids in school, I began taking courses in ICDL and secretary classes. I got a great offer for a job at the Embassy with a good salary. My boss and colleagues showed a lot of appreciation for me and for the first time, I had a feeling of success. My life felt so nice.
In November of the same year as finally starting my job, I found out that despite my copper IUD, abnormal thyroid results, and no desire to be pregnant, I was pregnant. My husband was very happy and offered to leave his job when I gave birth to stay with the baby so I could stay at my job. I was still sad because I knew I would experience yet another difficult psychological situation. But abortion was not an option.
This pregnancy however, proved to be one filled with additional difficulties.
In January of 2011, discovered my mother had Leukemia. In February, I went for one week to Syria to visit her. In March of 2011, my mother died in Syria. I was unable to go due to work, pregnancy, and the political situation in Syria.
My third child was born in August of 2011. He spent a month at the hospital due to jaundice. The doctors searched and searched for a reason. We were told at one time he didn’t have bile to get rid of the bilirubin. Then they suggested perhaps I was infected with Hepatitis in Syria when I visited my mother and the infection transferred to him. After the doctors confronted me with these suspicions, they discovered our son was a carrier of a disease called Alpha 1 Antitrypsin deficiency. He will not be able to drink alcohol or smoke when he is an adult as a result. Apha 1 Antitrypsin deficiency is genetic and perhaps my husband or I are carriers as well. We have both smoked for 10 years at this point.
Once my youngest son was home for two weeks, my older son’s eyelid began to twitch. The doctors again jumped to conclusions and stated it might be a facial paralysis. I became terrified and anxious about my son. He was treated with magnet resonance but all tests pointed to simple sinusitis. He was given antibiotics and healed just fine.
One week later, my husband traveled to Syria for his sister’s wedding. During the week he was gone, my daughter got worms again, went into the hospital, was given medication, and was able to come back home. Two days before my husband returned home, I felt as if I didn’t need to sleep. I couldn’t sit still. Adrenaline took over my body as I worried for no reason at all. I began to think this was because I was alone and tired.
My husband returned home and I did not get better. It got worse. Panic attack after panic attack hit me. No sleep, no food, just coffee and cigarettes. I finally sought help at the hospital and was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression. I have been on medication since November. My panic attacks have disappeared. I am working again and it’s been better since starting Psychotherapy and attending a support group here in Vienna as well. I’ve been in touch with the wonderful Wendy Davis, whom I highly appreciate and love, at Postpartum Support International as well. I have been reading this blog (My Postpartum Voice) and have greatly appreciated your help for other Mums and feel like you wrote what I always needed to be reassured that it goes away. Your words moved something inside of me and I decided to write to you.
Personal statement from Nadia:
I am a 28 year old mother of three kids, I’m proud of myself and my family and what I reached in my life. I’m living with terrible thoughts. They come and go. Once I have cancer in the kidney, once I start thinking my daughter has Leukemia because she looks so white in her face and so on. They thoughts almost disappeared. On a scale from 1-10 they were a 12 but now they are at a 3 but 3 is still making me anxious when they come. They start to convince me my daughter or son don’t look well, maybe they have this sickness, maybe I should do a blood test but I don’t even manage to do a blood test for them because the fear doesn’t want me to do it because the result might be really bad. I know it will get better. I know now what Postpartum Depression is and that I have it and I swear to god should I ever come out of this illness, I am going to start a project in the Arabic world to help any woman who gets involved with this illness.
اكتئاب ما بعد الولادة PostPartum Depression is the Facebook Page Nadia has created to support Arabic families struggling with Postpartum Mood Disorders. Please visit it and add it to your list of resources.