Lifting The Lid On Postpartum Depression

For the most part, Samoina Wangui’s life had been a wild ride, with its ups and downs as is the case for all of us. Years before her son was born, post-campus, she was the typical party animal, hopping from one place to another, basically ‘turning it up’ or enjoying life because it was ‘lit’. Then she found out she was pregnant. “Growing up, I knew motherhood was ‘supposed’ to be a blissful experience. I mean, what could be better in life other than creating life itself? Bringing a sweet little baby into the world? I envisioned motherhood as a beautiful experience.” This was not to be for Samoina because all that bliss disappeared like a mirage as she faced the reality of what was happening to her during pregnancy and after giving birth.

About 5 months into her pregnancy, Samoina realized that she was going to be a single mom. That reality shook her. ” I struggled with the emotions that come along with pregnancy as well as the reality of the financial responsibilities that lay ahead of me. It was tough. When I was around 7/8 months pregnant, I lost my job which spurned me into sadness, hopelessness and great despair. I remember how I felt so defeated with the turn of events. Many days I’d walk in town, tears streaming down my face. I experienced many nightmares where I would wake up sweating, shaking, hearing unrelenting baby screams and all-night crying. This, in addition to having gross visions of a bloodied mess, marked the beginning of a life-changing journey for me. Many times I toyed with random ideas of ending it all, but the thought of loving someone I was yet to meet kept me grounded, after a threatened abortion.”

Her son Jayden was born in January 2012. The labour pain were nothing like Samoina had ever experienced before; intense, searing and excruciating. “I knew it would be painful, I just didn’t have an idea how painful it would be. I had a safe delivery a few hours later, thankfully. Holding my son in my hands gave me mixed feelings. Part of me was excited at this new chapter in my life, but a larger part of me was anxious about how things would pan out.” Jayden’s birth, while bringing lots of joy and the new lease of life in motherhood to her also brought with it a dark cloud that would continue to loom over my head for a couple more years.

The trauma of labor and child delivery would leave in her mind harrowing memories which made it even harder to cope with her new motherhood status. The first two weeks were a haze of sleep deprivation, colic, yellow-mustard like diapers and a lot of exhaustion. Worst of all perhaps, was the fact that her newborn son slept in intervals of 15 minutes, which left Samoina at the brink of going crazy. ” I was actually going crazy, I just didn’t know it. This is not what I had signed up for. Where were all the perfect happiness moms were supposed to experience in the wake of their baby’s arrival? When would I experience the magic charm of motherhood? I despaired. Not only couldn’t I bond with my son, I slowly started growing resentful.” She resented her son, motherhood and all of society’s norms and nuances for the same. “My train of thoughts revolved around the idea that, if he weren’t here… if his biological father was present…if I weren’t jobless…if I hadn’t gotten pregnant… so many ifs”.

At that time, Samoina didn’t know that there was a name for what she was feeling, postpartum depression (PPD). Research by the Centers for Disease Control finds that one in seven women experience PPD. It’s estimated that up to 15% of new moms get this roller coaster experience, a condition marked by feelings of extreme depression, trouble bonding with your baby or fear that you’re not a good mother, severe anxiety or anger, and even thoughts of harming yourself or your baby. There’s no one single cause, but it’s often triggered by the hormonal and emotional imbalance that new moms experience in the weeks and months after giving birth.

Dr. Pius Kagwama a psychiatrist says that 85% new mothers have maternity baby blues in the first two weeks while 5 % later develop postnatal depression which lasts longer, is recurrent and persistent weighing heavily on patients. Psychologist Rhoda Mutiso says PPD onset is immediately after child birth and is caused by the rise of hormones before birth and sudden drop after childbirth leaving new mothers both fatigued and depressed. Triggers according to Rhoda could be as a cause of trauma during and after pregnancy, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, sudden illness, having a deformed child or difficulty in breastfeeding among others. A mom with depression or family history of the condition, poor socioeconomic status as well as stress, perhaps due to rejection are all conditions for being predisposed.

Looking back Samoina says the depression might have started during pregnancy “In retrospect, I actually had antenatal depression (depression in pregnancy); I just didn’t know it.” Her turning point came one day when her son 5 months old. “Having had an unsettled night, and struggling in the haze of another hopeless morning, I was at my most vulnerable.The incessant crying of my son Jayden did not help much, and the next thing I knew, I had slapped his fragile body. For a few seconds, time stood still as my mind raced to grasp the reality of what I had just done. I was undone, broken, disappointed and angry at myself for not being able to be a good mom. After this particular incident, I started toying with the idea of suicide. In my head, I kept wondering what the point of life was if I could not take care of my son and meet his emotional needs.” The worst thing about these intrusive thoughts was, that Samoina wanted out, but just did not seem to muster enough strength to do it. She shared her thoughts with a close friend who always kept checking up on her to ensure she was fine.

Despite this, the condition is highly treatable according to Rhoda. “awareness is needed to help victims because most seek help when the condition takes a toll on their bodies interfering with their normal functioning” Men too can get PPD either due to sleeping patterns of the baby or socioeconomic status, expectations both from work and at home. The symptoms are the same. Treatment varies from person to person, depending on the severity of the condition and personal health factors, but therapy and antidepressants are two primary approaches recommended by health organizations. And though everyone is different, most new moms start to feel like their old selves again within six months.

Rhoda says that maternal mental health should be a priority to health stakeholders and should be factored in when pregnant women are attending antenatal clinic. “They should be interrogated to see if they have symptoms of depression.” Dr. Kagwama says the treatment regimen for PPD is similar to that of depression; antidepressants, psychotherapy, self care through exercise and healthy eating, spirituality for peace of mind and family therapy. Samoina adds this on the importance of being a support system for one in need, “Staying masked was not out of choice as such. It was a way to survive the scrutiny and judgment that’d result if I opened up. As a result, I try as much as possible to be in a state of quiescence when interacting with a friend who is going through the motions. I learnt that being present, sometimes, is all that one can do, and all that may make the difference.”

Around people, she was the bubbly mommy, taking photos and all, smiling, eating, and for much of the first 6 months, shoving nyonyo in her son’s mouth for breastfeeding. “When they went, I got rid of the mask, and yelled, screamt, cried my heart out.” Samoina recalls how one morning of non-stop infant crying and where nothing would soothe her baby that she opened her Google tab and typed, WHY DO I HATE MY CHILD SO MUCH? “A whole new world opened up to me, providing relief and more trepidation in equal measure. There was such a thing as Postpartum Depression with statistics showing 1 in 7 moms at risk of Postpartum depression. Was I the 1 in 7? I ingested this information with gusto, because it empowered me to know I could be better. Reading through this was encouraging, in part because I somewhat had an idea of what I was going through.”

At the time, Samoina could not get medical help, largely because she was still jobless. She found herself a virtual circle of warrior moms on Postpartum Progress – moms who had been through PPD and conquered it. “I began to see some light at the end of the tunnel. A couple of friends stood with me during this time, offering a shoulder to lean on those difficult days. I would not be here had my family not supported me. These are the pillars that held me together.”

In July 2015, she took to blogging and went public about her struggles with Postpartum Depression as an outlet. “This, alongside writing a journal proved very therapeutic.” One year later, she finally managed to get therapy that was immensely helpful. “Looking back at my journey, and how difficult it was for both of us, I made up my mind to create awareness of Postpartum Depression. Most moms are suffering like I did, in silence, not sure whether their struggles are valid.”

Through her online awareness campaign, Samoina would love to have everyone know that PPD is a mental health disorder like any other, and for which there is help available. That they are not alone in the quest for normalcy as they adjust to the changes, and above all, that they matter. “One of the most fulfilling things is having moms reach out for help without feeling stigmatized, and being able to direct them to professionals for medical assistance. I am hopeful for a country where there is less stigma surrounding mental health disorders. We can change this narrative, one post, one tweet, one conversation at a time.”

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