Postnatal depression vs. suffering: an anthropological approach to South Asian migrant women's postnatal feelings

Manonita Ghosh

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis

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This thesis is an ethnography of the postnatal experiences of South Asian migrant women in Perth, Western Australia. I examine cultural differences relating to mothering and argue that the South Asian culture in which these migrant women were socialized can impact greatly on how they experience the feelings of what is called “postnatal depression” in the Western medical arena. I carried out ethnographic research among the members of the Bangladeshi and Indian communities in Perth. The main focus group of this study is first time mothers who gave birth in Australia, but I also worked with other women who had grown up children. Due to migration the South Asian women and their families experienced social isolation, cultural differences, language difficulties, economic hardship and low job satisfaction. Moreover, when these women gave birth in Perth they were faced with a lack of physical and emotional support, and also distress at not being able to perform their traditional birth rituals. Their difficult situations led the women to cry, feel despondent, to suffer and to experience a sense of hopelessness. Their painful postnatal feelings can be defined as an illness - depression - by the Western medicine. However, I found these women did not perceive their negative postnatal feelings as an illness, but accepted them as a part of life. I analysed these women’s postnatal psychological understandings about “postnatal depression” by examining the South Asian convention of female virtue which is practiced through restrictions on female behaviour. The migrant women in my study, having internalizing the South Asian cultural schema of womanhood, articulate their negative postnatal feelings as a prerequisite of motherhood. In this thesis I argue that feelings are not the totality of experience, rather, experience is also formulated by the particular sociocultural perspective of the individual who is having the experience. The culture a person belongs to, defines how that person will experience his or her feelings. I also suggest that it is possible to modify dysphoric affect by altering the meaning of feelings
Original languageEnglish
  • Baldassar, Loretta, Supervisor
  • Burbank, Victoria, Supervisor
Publication statusUnpublished - 2005


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