As my son approaches his fifth birthday I can’t help but wonder if I am or if I ever will be ready to bring another child into this world. I would love too but a few factors hold me back. One of those is the possibility of suffering from post natal depression again. My doctors told me that I have a 75% chance of having it if I am to have another child.
What is post natal depression and who does it affect?
Post natal depression is a mental health illness that is very common. It is thought to affect one in six women after giving birth to their babies. Some call it the “baby blues” but in fact they are not one of the same. Post natal or postpartum depression (PPD) is a far more serious condition which occurs two weeks to several months after delivery. Post natal depression mostly affects new mothers but can happen to not first-time mothers too. The condition causes mothers to feel exhausted and emotionally empty and can potentially destroy the bonding between a mother and her newborn baby.
Thousands of new mothers worldwide suffer from it in silence and are left alone to cope with it because it is not recognised or diagnosed. Resources in many countries do not allow for the provision of appropriate care for PPD sufferers. PPD sometimes goes beyond the so called “normal” phase and it turns into an even more serious psychiatric illness known as Puerperal Psychosis.
The causes of PPD are complex and variable. A lot of factors could trigger this illness and not known with certainty. It is thought that biological, psychological and social factors are all to blame. These include things such as history of depression, drop in certain hormones post delivery, and sleep deprivation.
I don’t know how near I was to be diagnosed with Puerperal Psychosis, but it felt like a close call. I thank my God every day for I believe I was in the right place at the right time when I had my baby. I got all the medical help that I needed to get me better. I always wonder what could have been of me if I had been back home in Rwanda when I had the illness.
Living in the West, you hear about this illness being mentioned often but I had never seen or known anyone who suffered from it before I did. Women in Rwanda and the rest of Africa also suffer from post natal depression but when this happens, it becomes a very well kept secret! Hence why I had never heard of it! If we are all aware that this illness can affect any woman anywhere in the world, why aren’t we talking about it? Is africa in denial? Being silent on the matter of PPD cannot make it disappear! Or is it because no one wants or wishes for their wife or daughter to labelled “crazy”. A generalised name that society gives to all with any form of mental health problem. “Gusara” is the word loosely translated in my mother tongue. Some communities go as far as blaming it on witch craft and black magic. What is worse is that in many parts of the sub-saharan continent, public health systems are ill-equipped to deal with postpartum depression, which means there is an absence of psychiatrists or clinical psychologists trained to help women cope with the condition.
Since my illness, I have discovered that there is a thin line between sanity and insanity. Every now and again I would read African articles/stories of desperate new mothers throwing their new born babies in the pit latrines and always wondered how this could happen. Why would you carry a foetus for forty weeks then end up killing it once it’s born? Where do the women who commit this crime end up? Suffering the women are hidden from public view until they get better. And how about those that don’t get better, what happens to them?
Even though I hid the condition from all of my family and friends (this was after my cry for help was met with a “snap out of it” tone) I don’t think I would have wanted to be kept away from people for the whole length of time it took me to feel like I could have my life back again.
Women in this situation need our help and support. I know they could be a nuisance ( I probably was) at times especially with the mood swings and all but it is not enough to justify not helping them. If they are “crazy”, so what? What are you doing about it? Would you rather keep pleasing society than your loved ones?
To the women going through this:
1.Don’t suffer in silence. Tell anyone who is willing to listen and please seek medical help. I might not have opened up to my family and friends but I sure talked to my health visitors and doctors. It helped a lot.
2.You might think it’s taking forever to get back to being your old self again but it’s not. Take things one day at a time.
The above two played a big role in me getting my health and sanity back. But most of all, it made it possible for me to be able to take care of my precious angel. Made me thankful.