Postpartum depression (PPD), also known as postnatal depression (PND), can totally ruin the joy of both motherhood and fatherhood. Rarely does a couple expecting a baby discuss the probability of depression after pregnancy. In fact many are unaware of it; they do not know that one can take measures to avoid it. Many women and men become victims of postpartum depression because the symptoms are not obvious to all.
We had visited one of my friends, Joy, who was hosting thirty of us for a baby shower. Sophy, one of Joy’s closest friends shared with us her experience with postpartum depression.
She was all alone with her husband when their baby arrived, she narrated. Her husband was very kind; he took paternity leave for 2 weeks and for the first 5 days he helped with the baby and took care of Sophy. He gave them a lot of support and although it was still hard for Sophy, the presence and support of the husband gave her hope.
Then from the 6th to the 14th day, he left the house to spend time with friends and came home late and very drunk. Sophy on the other hand felt she had lost herself ever since her baby’s delivery. She had almost lost the child due to what she considered doctor’s negligence. She had also stayed in labour for so long that she just wished to die afterwards. These were early signs of vulnerability to postpartum depression.
After delivery, Sophy had no strength to take care of the baby or herself. Her husband’s help meant the world to her. So when he left and she didn’t feel supported, she felt completely overwhelmed and didn’t see any reason to live. She was lost, double disappointed and hated her husband real bad. Sophy explained that even after one year lapsed, she was not been able to forgive him. She had many postpartum depression signs but had no clue.
More ladies spoke after she did, expressing sympathy over Sophy’s encounter with postpartum depression and what it put her through.
Unanimously, they condemned the “irresponsible husband” who disowned the wife in her time of need, when he should have helped her fight postpartum depression. One argument after another followed with the assertion that, “men like to be babied like the new born child”; that they do not understand that they need to help and support the ladies in their lives as they did not go through the birth process. They should give support and presence.
There were divergent views with a few ladies expressing disbelief over the fact that a mother can be unable to help her own child. They did not understand postpartum depression and its ability to subdue the victim, sometimes absolutely.
They indicated belief that one should shake the dust off and rise up to the occasion. Some cited that in the olden times there was no such thing as PPD. Nobody ‘got stuck” after birth.
Evidently there was harsh judgment on people who get depressed after child birth; worse still if they are men.
The truth is that postpartum depression is a severe form of clinical depression which affects the victim’s daily functioning – emotionally, mentally and behaviorally. It is real and common.
Take the case of two ladies, my acquiantances Mary and Terry… Mary was a single lady. Her baby daddy abandoned her when she was 3 months pregnant. When she gave birth she refused to hold the baby, breastfeed or even admit she was a mother. She exhibited clear symptoms of postpartum depression.
When she left the hospital, and because of her condition, her mom took her to her house. Family stayed around her and as she rested in bed most of the time. Relatives took care of her baby; they were there for her during this period. When postpartum depression comes calling, that is the kind of support needed . Support by family is one of the recommended strategies to succeed in postpartum depression treatment.
Terry on the other hand was married. She had conceived accidentally. Both she and her husband felt they were not ready for another baby. When she delivered her baby she attempted to leave the baby in the hospital twice. And both times she did not manage to escape. She tried to commit suicide by jumping from the 7th floor of the hospital, but again wasn’t successful. Finally she went home with the baby. She clearly had postpartum depression symptoms after birth.
She wasn’t able to eat or sleep, she felt too tired, and her baby’s crying left her sicker. Her husband came home late every day, way past midnight. Her househelp who had successfully raised her two older babies couldn’t stand Terry’s outbursts. She left. Unexplained regular crying is one of the signs of postpartum depression.
Disappointed, Terry left her two months old baby in the house and asked her neighbor to watch over the baby. She explained that she would return shortly, as she was going to a nearby shop. She returned home in the evening, six hours later, very drunk.
As I thought through what I was hearing and the story of Mary and Terry I realized that we are always well prepared in wait for the baby. We take time to choose the hospitals. Shop patiently for the baby. Do all the other things that pertains to the baby’s and mothers physical wellbeing. Yet nobody prepares us on the emotional load and the feelings that are likely to come with child bearing.
Mothers to be are ill prepared for the added responsibility. Even on how birth of the child will likely affect the marital relationship, relationship with oneself, relationship with the society. More importantly, what to do should challenges arise.The presumption is that ladies are super human beings. Anticipation is that they will handle the new responsibility without any change of emotions and behavior.
It is true that people are unique and that different people handle the same challenges differently. Some people get depressed after child bearing while others do not.
However, depression is neither a sign of weakness or failure, nor is it a sign of irresponsibility or victim playing. Treatment of the condition is possible if one admits that they are suffering from it and seeks help.
Depression is real and postpartum depression is even more real. The tragedy is that as a society we are neither fully prepared nor acutely aware of it and may not know if it is happening to us or others around us.
This realization calls for us to know and understand what it is and to identify it. Could postpartum depression have attacked you or your loved one and you had no idea?
Joanne Kirera is a practicing psychologist counselor working with teenagers, adult individuals as well as families. She can be reached via: [email protected]