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Healing through the haze of postnatal depression

As the festive season approaches, I cannot help but marvel at the fact that in my son’s almost four years, this is the first Christmas I will be spending, away from the haziness that is postnatal depression. It is as amazing as it is surreal. It brings tears to my eyes, but not the kind of tears that I shed last Christmas. Instead, it is tears of joy, of gratitude, of hope.

Let’s back track a little to 2011. Somewhere at the back of my mind, I knew I’d have loved to be a mom, but it never really crossed my mind that this desire would manifest less than one year later. When I realised I was pregnant, a myriad of thoughts crossed my mind. Part of me was ecstatic at the thought of bringing forth new life. But many of my thoughts revolved around fear and worry. Fear of the unknown, fear that this was the wrong time, worry about how I would provide for him and how I would cope with the demands of motherhood.

At about 5 months of pregnancy, it became apparent that I would be a single parent. The financial implications of this new reality sent my world into a spin. I was still on probation at my new place of work then; they were less likely to grant paid maternity leave. To say that my distorted dreams of sailing through motherhood were a grim reality is understating it. All the while, dealing with the changes that came with pregnancy while trying to comprehend how I would cope.

I am a stickler for plans, the kind of person who likes to have details beforehand, so I can plan accordingly. But here I was, my thoughts seemingly spiraling out of control. This fear of the unknown would later morph into Postnatal Depression (PND). At the time, I had no idea why I had a bad feeling about the whole experience. I attended my anti-natal clinics faithfully. In many Kenyan hospitals, these clinic sessions largely revolve around the mom-to-be’s physical health – blood pressure, position of the baby, heart rate, weight and the EDD.

“In retrospect, my mental health was a non-entity.”

My mental health at the time was not of much importance, and even when it came up, it was not a screening process as such. It was merely a by the way, a casual ‘How do you feel?’ To which I’d answer okay and move on swiftly to the next procedure. Deep down, I kept hoping the nurse taking me through my clinic sessions would seek to delve deeper, find out whether I was facing any challenges as my due date approached. I hoped she would ask whether I had any fears pre-partum, and consequently assure me it would be okay. But this did not happen. For the most part, I felt alone.

Things did not change much post natal as the checkups shifted focus to my new bundle of joy (although my new bundle came with more tears and confusion than it did joy). In my case, it has been a struggle, a constant uphill task to come to terms with loving my son because he was never a bad child; mommy suffered from a bad mental condition. He was never a mistake, but I admit I did find it hard to enjoy a healthy loving relationship with him. I lost it on many occasions, the frustration, the sleeplessness, the new loneliness that most moms suffer from, the hopelessness, all these culminated in a relationship that placed both my son and I in jeopardy.

“The intrusive thoughts of killing my son, my own suicidal thoughts, it was too much to handle.”

One of the most persistent traits of living with PND for three years was waking up with absolutely no zeal. It was hazy. Living seemed to have lost meaning, and all I did was exist, mechanically shuffling between soiled diapers, dirty bibs and tear-soaked pillows. The worst aspect, admittedly, was feeling alone. The thought that no other mom could possibly want to harm their child like I did haunted me. In its vice-like grip, this loneliness prevented me from enjoying my son’s milestones, from appreciating the beautiful moments that we had.

I had the internet, and that is where I got help (albeit virtually). I was so overwhelmed and frustrated that all I could think of, that fine day, was Google ‘Why do I hate my son so much?’

“I was more than overjoyed to find out that, at the very least, I was not the only mom who suffered from this condition. Many others did too.”

I read, amid loud sobs, stories of hope, of courage and of conquering PND. This gave me the boldness to ask for help. While I am grateful I got help online, and I am now on the path of healing, I write this with the hope that research will shed more light on the impact of PND on mother-child relationship, as well as how this mental condition affects children later in their lives.

Looking back, I wish that screening for depression during antenatal clinics would be more stringent. Perhaps researchers can delve deeper into this field and help come up with multiple screening tools for expectant women who are at risk of postnatal depression. It would be comforting to know that there are ways in which the likelihood of PPD can be diagnosed before moms find themselves caught up in this hazy stage. Aside from the questionnaires used presently, it is my hope that reliable techniques can also be incorporated into this screening process. More importantly perhaps, medical practitioners can be more equipped to handle women diagnosed to be at risk of PND.

Research has steered strides in the mental health department, no doubt, but I am hopeful that improved techniques can make it easier for screening during antenatal clinics. I imagine that new moms would be better placed to deal with PND if it is diagnosed during the pregnancy. This way, moms will be better equipped to handle the challenges of motherhood in case they are predisposed to PND.

I am doing my part to change things, and I will continue to raise my voice, creating awareness for PND in Kenya through my blog; reaching out to new moms who may feel alone in this journey, one post at a time.

Samoina blogs at PPD Island about her motherhood journey, one that was fraught with Post-Partum Depression (PPD), finding grace amid the chaos of the depression. She shares he experiences in the hopes that a mum somewhere will be encouraged to know that they are not alone in the quest for grace.

Last updated: 2 June 2016

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