My name is Samoina Wangui. I was eight months pregnant when I got fired from my job. I had seen it coming. My job as a sales representative in a pharmaceutical company required a lot of travelling and since I was on probation, a maternity leave was highly unlikely. The day after I was fired, I walked around Nairobi’s city centre with tears streaming freely down my cheeks while I sobbed loudly. My inability to contain my despondency caused quite a stir among passers-by who probably thought I was insane.
The public display of dejection was a culmination of a period of depression that had started as soon as I had discovered I was pregnant.
I still recall the flurry of emotions that had engulfed me the day I took a pregnancy test and it came out positive. I was 22 then, having recently graduated with a degree in Biochemistry and just getting settled in my second job. I gave a call to the father of my unborn child as soon as I saw the two red lines on the pregnancy test kit. He was supportive at the onset of the pregnancy, but this would wane as the pregnancy advanced.
I was angry at myself for having let the pregnancy ‘happen’ to me. There goes my promising career out the window! How on earth was I going to provide for my child? How will I explain to my parents that I got pregnant out of wedlock? Ooh, the shame among my friends to whom I was a role model!
Over the next few months after discovering I was pregnant, I retreated into my own shell and avoided making contact with any of my friends and family, only dragging myself to work half-heartedly. I could not drink, so food became my only solace as I resorted to over-eating.
I almost had a miscarriage three months into my pregnancy. I woke up one morning and realized I was bleeding. I was so scared. I rushed to hospital for checkup. The doctor asked me how I was doing emotionally and I let him know about my anxiety and emotions. “What you’ve just had is a missed abortion,” he said before prescribing bed rest and asking me to keep stress at bay.
After the missed abortion, I was even more frightened. I had nightmares that I was losing my baby and the thoughts of a miscarriage nearly drove me to the edge. All that while, I had no one to talk to, no one to hold my hand and reassure me that it will all be okay. After losing my job, I moved back in with my parents who, contrary to what I had previously imagined, were overly supportive. I will forever be grateful for the love and affection that they have shown me during my trying times.
I gave birth to baby Jayden Mbuguah on January 10, 2012. He was, by all means, the most beautiful child. Unfortunately, I had thought that once the baby was born and I held it in my arms, my negative emotions would end and a new chapter, one filled with nothing but happiness, would open in my life. That was not to be the case.
That day at the hospital, the feeling of pure bliss that engulfs new mothers never struck me. Conversely, when the baby cried for the first time, I didn’t even want to hear it. I was exhausted, naturally, and wanted to get out of the hospital as soon as possible. I could not understand what was happening to me. I wanted to bond with my baby; I genuinely wanted to be happy—but I just couldn’t. I attributed my blasé feelings to the fact that I was in immense pain as I had had to undergo an episiotomy to facilitate the delivery. It took me two months to recover fully from the episiotomy.
ON THE EDGE
For a long period after my baby’s birth, I was at my worst when it came to managing my emotions. I was constantly tired, irritable and angry.
Like all babies, he cried a lot especially at nights. However, to me, the baby was out to get me. Thus, when he cried out at night, I got hot under the collar and shouted at him. This only made the baby more restless, and he fussed even the more, which aggravated my anger further. I hated the baby. I couldn’t understand why.
I flew off the handle with everyone I interacted with. My mother could not understand why I was ever shouting at Jayden and she reprimanded me a couple of times. I was constantly on the edge and even the smallest of inconveniences would cause me to brew storms around the house. I would throw things at the wall and remain very irritable even over seemingly minor issues. I was quickly turning into an animal I couldn’t recognise.
One morning I tried to put him to sleep but he instead kept crying continuously. I got worked up and slapped five-month-old Jayden on his cheeks. That was a new low. I have never been known as the type of person to physically assault someone, but I had just assaulted an innocent defenceless baby -my own flesh and blood.
I started to have horrible intrusive thoughts. I never thought I would get to a place of wondering how to harm my baby and myself. I figured I’d die a painless death from carbon monoxide poisoning if I used a charcoal jiko. I had vivid images of stabbing my son, so much so that I stayed out of the kitchen when I was home alone.
When I logged onto Facebook, I saw my friends proudly displaying pictures and videos of their children portraying happy families. I could not comprehend why the jolly feelings of having a baby had not struck me. I wept for many days and nights, trying to comprehend what was wrong with me. I resorted to finding help from Google search and I typed, “Why do I hate my baby so much?”
My search introduced me to the term postpartum depression, or PPD. Suddenly, it all fell in place as I realized that I was not alone. I came across statistics that said one in every seven women experience depression for a time after giving birth.
I could not afford the cost of therapy at the time, so I relied mostly on the Internet for information on how to manage the condition. In late 2015, I got the chance to attend therapy sessions. And even though a long period had elapsed, I still felt it was necessary to address the risk factors that predisposed me to postpartum depression. It did help to realize what these factors are, and how they were intertwined with the challenges of motherhood.
I am thankful for the support I still receive from my partner and family. I have since learned to fall in love with my son who is now almost 6-years-old. There are very few support groups for women suffering from PPD in Kenya.
I have since formed a network of other women who are courageous enough to speak about their PPD experiences and together we strive to spread awareness throughout the country.
Becoming aware of the condition is important for new mothers as it helps them get help and bond with their babies before it is too late. I also run a blog, www.ppdisland.com, where I encourage moms to reach out for help if they are struggling with depression.
It is my hope that one day everyone in Kenya will know that PPD is a mental health disorder like any other, and for which there is help available.”
HOW TO COPE WITH STRESSFUL CONDITIONS AFTER CHILD BIRTH
Dr John Ng’ang’a, a Clinical Psychologist at Sunrise Solutions & Psychotherapy Centre, defines postpartum depression (PPD) as a mood disorder associated with childbirth.
“When a mother gives birth, hormones like progesterone and oestrogen are greatly lowered in the woman’s body thus causing a hormonal imbalance. This hormonal imbalance has been thought to be the cause of postpartum depression,” says Dr Ng’ang’a.
The psychologist further notes that there are several factors that might increase a woman’s risk factor of experiencing PPD after birth. Such factors may include facing the possibility of raising the child as a single mother, unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, financial instability or lack of social support during and after pregnancy.
According to Dr Ng’ang’a, other risk factors are domestic violence, stressful life events during pregnancy and prior history of depression.
A major problem with PPD, he says, is that sometimes those suffering from depression may not even know that they have an underlying condition. It is thus necessary to look out for symptoms of PPD such as sudden appetite loss and rapid mood swings and irritability.
“In some cases, a woman may develop postpartum psychosis, which is a much more dangerous condition when compared to postpartum depression. An individual experiencing postpartum psychosis will exhibit all the symptoms of postpartum depression alongside more severe symptoms such as hallucinations and developing disturbing thoughts about bringing harm to themselves and the baby. Postpartum psychosis is what causes mothers to murder their own infants. If detected, the mother should be examined by a medical doctor as soon as possible,” explains Dr Ng’ang’a, who also teaches clinical psychology at the Technical University of Kenya.
“Whenever we receive cases of postpartum depression, our first line of treatment usually involves administering drugs to the affected mother in order to help her stabilise her moods. With depression, no amount of talk therapy and behaviour modification will bear fruit unless drugs are administered to correct the hormonal imbalance inside the woman’s body,” he says. “It is only after treatment that psycho-social support and therapy are recommended to the mother.”
He says when a mother is experiencing PPD, the hormones in her body might be passed to her newborn while breastfeeding, thus causing the baby to be irritable as well.
Husbands too bear the brunt of PPD, as many of them often don’t understand their wives’ frequent mood swings. Dr Ng’ang’a narrates an experience where one of his patients, suffering from PPD, got furious at her husband and hacked him to death with a machete.
“Because husbands are not usually well-informed about PPD, many of them end up throwing out their wives or resort to using violence against them as a manner of ‘disciplining’ them,” the psychologist observes. “I have seen cases where women have been taken to witchdoctors by their husbands for treatment towards their postpartum depression,” he adds.
Dr Ng’ang’a says it is crucial for husbands to understand PPD and offer support to their wives by ensuring that they get the required medication from a health professional.