“I had this intense fear and dreadful feeling of death,” Morenike Johnson said.
The birth of a baby is a thing of joy but could often result in other emotions or conditions, especially for the mother, one among which is postpartum depression. For some women, the period after the birth of a child may be characterised by sleeplessness, mood swings, anxiety, decreased interest in sex and general sadness.
Also called baby blues, this condition takes effect soon after the child is born and may go on for up to two weeks or longer. The longer-lasting form of this condition is called post-partum depression and is often diagnosed in hospital and treated by psychiatrists or therapy by psychologists.
This is what Johnson had to deal with, soon after the birth of her first child. She said after the birth of her first child, she suffered severe insomnia for three months and was always afraid, especially of death.
“I started having this terrifying feeling of death and great fear. I was always afraid, my heart would pound painfully in my chest as if something was about to get me. Even when my baby was asleep, I couldn’t sleep. It lasted for about 3 months”
Her family thought it was some sort of spiritual attack.
In a society like Nigeria, where mental health issues are not taken seriously and those who show any sign of same are often stigmatised, called mad, labelled witches or wizards and said to be under spiritual attacks, issues such as postpartum depression are seldom spoken about and not given due attention . Worse still, many people go through it without knowing it. Women are expected to be strong and bear whatever comes with childbirth as a price for motherhood and there isn’t much support for new mothers in this regard, as those around them also do not know better.
Like many women out there, Johnson was not prepared for this by way of counseling, just as it never came up during her antenatal care hospital visits.
For Uche Onunkwo, who suffered postpartum depression many years ago, before her experience, her knowledge of the condition was scanty, so she didn’t even realise that was what was wrong with her.
She traced the origin to a faulty relationship with her spouse while symptoms were sleeplessness and constant headaches from the lack of sleep, which continued for seven months, to the extent she attempted to take her life.
“It is almost two decades now but I still marvel when I am able to fall asleep in the afternoon,” she said.
“It was the hardest time of my life…One day I left my son on the bed and crawled under a table to cry. Then, I made a post on Facebook that had concerned friends calling and offering help,” Kesiena (not real name), a 36-year-old mother of two, recalled, while narrating her experience.
“It started when my second child was born. The first few weeks of childbirth were traumatic for me because I had preeclampsia and almost died. I was hospitalised and my baby and devices were taken from me.
“When I returned from hospital, I had to look after the older child and the baby and the home front. It was just overwhelming. It started with me feeling sorry for myself. Then, I would judge myself for not being strong enough and needing help all the time. I was always crying. My husband didn’t understand why I would always cry. I also didn’t understand it. I struggled with dark thoughts too. I would fantasise about abandoning my kids and running away.”
Kesiena said help came her way after she spoke to a friend who is a psychiatrist and he was the one who first mentioned to her that she could be having postpartum depression and was able to take her through therapy.
Another survivor of postpartum depression, Blessing 0., a 36-year-old mother of 3, said it all began in March, 2018, three months after the birth of her last child.
“It started with unnecessary fears, mostly fear of dying,” she said.
She said she also had severe panic attacks triggered by even the slightest noise and even though she was going to hospital, doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
“I had no joy of even seeing my kids especially the little boy; I lost the zeal to live as nothing made sense to me anymore. At this point, we all thought it was a spiritual attack and started going to churches.”
Blessing said she was unable to breastfeed her son while the ordeal lasted, as she became very sick. She was eventually advised by a woman who had experienced same to see a psychiatrist and that was when she got some respite.