SINGAPORE – Fifteen minutes of feeding followed by burping, putting the baby to sleep – and then repeating the cycle 30 minutes later.
This was what national netballer Aqilah Andin, 26, went through at times during the first two months after giving birth to her son Qaif in July 2022.
On one such occasion, she wept tears of frustration after a malfunction with her breast pump caused milk to drip onto the floor.
It was only after watching content related to post-partum depression on social media that she realised she might have been affected by it, though she was not officially diagnosed.
She told The Straits Times: “I was so tired and in a daze and I suddenly just started crying. I’m not usually moody but I felt like I wasn’t myself and there was something wrong. When I researched online, I realised that I was experiencing post-partum depression.
“The first four months were the hardest because... I’m new to motherhood and I had to learn to manage my time with work, netball training and the baby.”
What helped her overcome challenging periods was support from her husband and mother, as well as her netball teammates and officials.
Aqilah resumed her strength and conditioning programme a month after giving birth and returned to court training with her club Swifts Barracudas a few weeks after.
After three years without playing in a tournament, the legal coordinator, who made her international debut in 2012, made her competitive return at the Nations Cup in December. Her last competition was the 2020 Netball Super League (NSL), which ended prematurely because of the pandemic.
But the journey was not easy. Three weeks into her confinement, her slow jogs were “painful on the inside and outside”.
She said: “My stitches were healing and I could walk but, when I started running, it was so painful and you’re gasping for air. But I was really keen to come back and get back into shape as fast as I could.”
Reality struck when she did her first Yo-Yo fitness test with the national squad in September – she had dropped two levels.
“It was the worst. Before I got pregnant, I was at my fittest... When I saw my result, I was in shock because it took me so long to get there and now I have to work my way up again,’‘ she added.
“I felt really disappointed but I realised I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.
“That test was for me to gauge where I’m at and work towards improving myself for the next one.”
She also found motivation in wanting to end her netball journey on a good note by winning something for Singapore.
She will next represent the Barracudas at the Deloitte NSL 2023, which starts on Saturday, and she hopes to be selected for the national squad again ahead of a busy year.
The Netball World Cup takes place in South Africa in July, followed by the Nations Cup (October) and Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Thailand (November).
She said: “It’s like unfinished business. I’m young and, so long as my body is still capable of doing this, I want to continue playing.
“It took me a while to accept that I shouldn’t be expecting so much of myself because I just came back from my pregnancy.
“But that’s how I am and it’s just an athlete thing, to expect yourself to outdo yourself. I’m not satisfied and I know I’m still capable of giving and learning.”
The experience also taught her to have fun during every second of training as it is her “me time”, adding that she “forgets about everything” when she plays netball.
An emotional return to netball after her son’s birth saw the defender bawling her eyes out when the national anthem was played before her first match at the Nations Cup, where her family – including baby Qaif – were present to support her at the OCBC Arena.
She added: “When he’s there, I felt so much better about myself and proud for going through what I did because it’s not easy. Having my baby there is like motivation for me to keep going.”