I had my first child in Nigeria. I can testify that postnatal home-care in Nigeria is amazing. As a new mother, your family, friends and even neighbours can’t do enough for you. “Omugwo” (postnatal care where I come from) is wonderful. Your mother or any mother figure stays with you for a few months after birth. You are bathed, cooked for, and pampered. You are cared for endlessly. I unapologetically utilised my omugwo days. It was the personification of bliss. I was taught everything about motherhood; but what they didn’t tell me though, was that postnatal depression exists. I believe that no one mentioned it because, there is a general belief that you get what you say. To them it’s either madness or a spiritual problem. The stigma associated with it can’t be imagined.
My second child was born in England. She died soon after birth (I will discuss bereavement after the death of an infant on a later date). Anyway, I got pregnant soon after. Throughout the forty weeks, I’m sure my doctors saw me more than they could count. I was the midwives nightmare. It worsened as I approached my due date. I developed this great fear for childbirth, but I didn’t tell anyone. Finally, I had the baby. A healthy baby girl. Everything seemed fine. “Your child has been replaced”…they said. “The birth certificates didn’t indicate that”…I thought.
Anyway, my expectation was that I would be very happy. After all, I went from loss to birth so quickly; but I didn’t feel that joy. That was irrespective of the fact that I had my England version of postnatal care. Family, friends, midwives and health visitors all supported me. I just didn’t feel right. I felt like a robot. I breastfed my baby, she was clean, and well cared for. I practiced everything I learnt from my first birth as well as all I learnt in England. I was the picture of a perfect mum, but I cried a lot. I wasn’t eating well, which was a big deal because I love food. I wasn’t going out. I had no motivation at all. I was the covet unhappy mother. I wasn’t a nurse then, so I had no idea what was happening to me.
I mentioned my sadness to a few trusted family members and friends. I was told each time not to mention it to any health professional. “They will brand you a mad woman”, I was told. I was reminded of those women who “went mad” after birth. Part of the myth was that antidepressants made you “mad”. I suffered in silence for about six months. That went on until my GP (in an unrelated consultation), asked me how I was. I broke down, and just talked a lot. I basically told her everything.
What I found out…
My fear and anxiety during pregnancy weren’t unusual and may have been as a result of my bereavement. My irrational fear for childbirth may have been…wait for it…Tokophobia! It is a form of anxiety disorder which causes an extreme fear of childbirth. In my case it was never confirmed. Tokophobia is sometimes resolved by an expert discussing the cause of fear with the woman (NICE). More so, I had Postnatal Depression and I was not mad!
Postnatal depression is common and can happen to any new mother. It doesn’t have any geographical boundaries and can affect women from all ethnic groups. In fact recent reports show that new fathers can have postnatal depression (NCT: Postnatal Depression in Dads). Signs may develop within the first six weeks of giving birth, but is usually not evident until around six months. Symptoms include low mood, fatigue, insomnia and irritability. It is common for a new mother to have ‘baby blues’ which may clear after a few weeks. Persistent symptoms may be postnatal depression. Find more info on: (NHS Choices: Postnatal Depression).
A diagnosis allowed me understand myself and my baby more. I can say that, for the first time, I saw my daughter as the gift that she was (and still is). Her voice became more musical than noisy. I received counselling and didn’t have to go on antidepressants. If I needed it, I would have taken it! So ladies, if you develop any signs of postnatal depression, please seek medical care immediately. Read all about the condition. Talk about it. It’s not your fault and it doesn’t mean you are not a good mother. More importantly, please steer your thoughts towards the person and not the perceived stigma associated with postnatal depression.