Open Letter: My Tryst With Postpartum Depression
Let's talk postpartum depression.
You know, a condition that 1 in 7 nursing mothers experience. This is according to the Monitoring and Evaluation Team, Postpartum Support Network Africa. Let's talk about this illness that we refuse to acknowledge because it's too Western for us. And yet, the prevalence of postpartum depression is rising annually.
I won't forget in a hurry, my experience with postpartum depression.
Every new mom cannot wait to leave the hospital and begin bonding with her baby, and I was no different. So I thought nothing of my crankiness two days postpartum. I barked at the nurses, snapped at my poor mom, and refused to speak with my husband. I just wanted to go home. The next day, we were discharged. But my irritability and feelings of utter hopelessness only increased.
I was always crying. I cried because I didn't know what to do to lactate properly, and I was already failing this little human who relied on me for nutrition. Everyone told me to sleep when the baby slept, but I couldn't bring myself to sleep. What if he stopped breathing while I was asleep, I thought. I never had an appetite, so I barely ate. Everyday, I would clutch my baby to my bosom and just stare at him. Sometimes crying hot tears, sometimes just staring.
They always say new mothers should accept help so that they can rest. I refused all the help I was offered. The only thing I let my mom do was bath the baby in the mornings and evenings. And I would stand there watching her every move, like a hawk. Every other thing I insisted on doing myself. I couldn't bear to look at my husband. To this day, I don't understand why. He in turn generally did what he could and stayed away from me. Everybody walked on tiptoes around me. No one knew what could set me off at any given time. My mom encouraged my husband to be patient. These things were normal for the first few days, she told him.
Postpartum depression is real, and it's not pretty.
Problem was, I was still this way two months postpartum. Sometimes, I would sit in the living room, facing the door to the balcony. I liked to leave that door open and stare at the clouds without leaving the living room. Then I began to hear a voice in my mind tell me to jump. Just jump from the balcony, it would say. Your baby isn't gaining weight. You're a failure of a mom already. Just jump and end it all.
Just as the idea was taking root in my mind, I would see my son's face. I wondered who would take better care of him. I remembered my friend who lost his wife in childbirth, and how the baby became a prize that the family fought over. Nobody really cared what was best for the little girl. They just wanted to have her. I thought no, I wanted better for my baby. I might be failing now, but all the love in my heart was for him. Nobody could possibly love him better than me. This thought became my therapy, every time the voice came. I never shared this with anyone. I just repelled the thoughts of death with thoughts of my son. When they became unbearable, I would shut the door and avoid the balcony. But I understand not everybody is that strong.
My husband googled my symptoms without telling me. One day, we had a major row. I forget what exactly it was about. But he had had it. As he shouted at me, he mentioned the words, postpartum depression. He said I wasn't depressed, I was just mean and annoying and he was tired of it. But I walked away, to google postpartum depression. Finally I saw. All those months, I didn't now what was wrong. I couldn't help my feelings. But I was depressed. I, who told my suicidal bestie to stop being such an attention seeker and grow up. I was facing depression myself, and I was having suicidal thoughts too.
It was such a humbling revelation. Truly, when we know better, we do better. We do better to have more empathy. We do better to be patient with spouses, sisters and friends who have just had babies. As women, we do better by taking care of our bodies and paying attention to how we're feeling. We do better by being kind, first to ourselves and then everyone else.
I got help with lactation, and with the baby. And I let my family help. I began to eat. Also, I took regular naps so I wasn't always so stressed. My baby doubled his birth weight at 3 months, and with his weight my confidence. He's a beautiful 10 month old now, and his favourite word is "daddy". Why was I stressing myself again? So that's my tryst with postpartum depression.
Dear Nigerian, moms who suffer postpartum depression are not seeking attention. They're not spoiled or self indulgent. They are unwell and they need your love and support to get better.
Thank you for committing to do better.
P.S. If you or anyone you know can relate to my experience, give us a line in the comments. Having people to talk with helps a lot.