Postpartum depression has no pattern, face or time frame. Muthoni Aceda tells Christine Odeph how she discovered the truth in this and how, despite having a background in psychology, it took her family and a post on Facebook to make her realise she was a victim.
I didn’t have an initial vision of myself as a mother. I just always knew motherhood would come — like all milestones. So when I discovered I was pregnant, I just savoured each stage and downloaded every possible app that told me what to expect week on week.
I read the book ‘What To Expect When Expecting’ but I never really thought about the kind of mum I would be. But like every woman, I had dreams for my daughter and what I wanted her to learn. All that, however, went out the window when I met her. I realised she was going to teach me so much more than I would ever teach her. And she has.
Pregnancy was a beautiful thing. First, my husband and I were over the moon. Then my family — by blood and by marriage — became pregnant with me. I had the best support system filled with so much love and care and pampering.
Labour was long. You know how they say you forget the pain of child birth? I remember everything. Once my water broke at home, we waited until I was in severe pain before we went to hospital. My first check revealed I was 2cms dilated but nothing else happened from March 22 at 1pm until March 23 at 2pm. That was when we made a decision to go in for a Caesarean.
For some reason, I was completely shattered. There is this unspoken pressure we put on ourselves to have a natural delivery like we will receive trophies when we have natural delivery. Thankfully, the doctor picked up on my self-inflicted sadness and calmed me down before I went under the knife by making me laugh. He suggested that if I really wanted to push so badly then after the baby came, we could all go outside and push some cars!
Being home with the baby in the first few months was bitter sweet. I had a whole little person who depended on me pretty much all day, every day. That was scary but again I had a fantastic support system. My husband and family made sure they were there when I needed them — even when I didn’t know I did. When baby was two weeks old, my husband sent me away to get my hair done and my nails. I was in and out in a hot second. I got the bare minimum done then rushed home.
Then the self-doubt started to creep in and not being able to find a good nanny didn’t help much. I know most mums will get this; when a new baby arrives, you are essentially learning what works and what doesn’t. It’s complex when the cues from the baby seem foreign. But my hubby was the master at figuring out our little one. I would think I had tried everything then he would suggest something and it would work. I loved it and hated it all in the same space. I would wonder: Why can’t I understand my child? Why? Slowly the volume of self-doubt increased.At first I was excited about going back to work, but I quickly learnt that my heart was not there — I would leave the baby bundled up in the crib fast asleep. Finding that perfect balance between loving what I did for work and feeling guilty for being away from my baby girl seemed impossible for me. Either I felt inadequate as a mother or unproductive as an employee. It came to a head when it became impossible to do both anymore and I had to make a decision. I chose my baby.
My first degree is in Psychology so I had thought about postpartum depression before. But in the context of a type of depression, had I ever seen it first-hand? No. Did I ever think it would happen to me? Definitely no! In my head even as the symptoms slowly showed I told myself that I am a strong ambitious woman who has it all together. There was no room for “weakness”.
Postpartum depression (PPD) manifests in different ways for everyone so knowing the text book presentations I would never have thought I had it. It was in the little things. I stopped doing the things I liked. I couldn’t be bothered to have a real social life. I engaged when I had to but for the most part I just didn’t want to do anything that meant I had to interact. I didn’t have a nanny for most of this part, so I had tons to do to keep busy and hide behind.
I didn’t really take care of myself. Ordinarily, I am quite social but in that season I didn’t care. I felt mentally fatigued and dealing with feelings of failure, I was moody at times, weepy at others. But I attributed all that to being a new mom. I honestly knew I was not at my 100 per cent but I didn’t think I was depressed. My husband and family were the first to catch it and even so they came in and out for about three years of our daughter’s life.
I had never given how I felt a name. I didn’t need to. I didn’t know I was depressed. But my mum’s constant probing that I was not myself is what made me ask myself hard questions. She really knows me so if she thought something was off then maybe she was right.
I honestly do not know what triggered my depression, because if you asked, in that season, I was sure that I was not depressed. But I remember not being able to express that overwhelming loneliness that I felt even when surrounded by people. I felt stuck and I didn’t know how to fix it and I didn’t know what to say to express this feeling.
I am not a conventional story about how to deal with depression but I see myself as a voice for other women who, like me, could not even explain the debilitating darkness that is PPD. It is not that I didn’t have a great support system, but that I didn’t know how to get help or that I even needed help in the first place. So when I finally came out of my darkness, it was like a light had been switched back on in my head and I could see in colour again.
My awakening happened when my daughter became old enough for school and, for the first time in three years, I didn’t have a full day of baby and me. It completely shocked me that I didn’t know what to do just for myself. Luckily or unluckily, I got a consultancy job that kept me busy and it wasn’t until a friend of mine put out the call on Facebook for people who had gone through PPD and were willing to share did I feel strong enough to process and share my own experience.
I had never put a name to what I now know was PPD until I saw the post on Facebook. The realisation that I am not the only one who had gone through that, and was not the only one who had never shared hit me hard. In that moment, I realised the burden of being a ‘perfect mum’ still had a hold on me. I didn’t want to be that person anymore. I decided I had to be brave and so I shared my story too.
I am hoping other women in this situation will feel open enough to share how they feel. It is an incredibly scary experience to go through alone. But just saying the words ‘I have PPD’ means it has no more power over you and you can now seek help. Ideally, one should seek professional therapy but even if they start with talking to family, it helps.
There has been a lot said about PPD and depression in general. People keep saying things like, “reach out, speak up”, but depression does not allow you to do these things. Sure it sounds simple enough, but it’s really hard when you are in that darkness – first to know it and second, to ask for help. So my parting shot is not really for those feeling depressed but to those around the ones who are depressed. My message is, PERSIST.
If you can tell someone is not OK, not being themselves, please persist no matter how often they deny it or hide. You may help in ways you will never know. But don’t storm in there with your 10-step solution, asking them to just snap out of it or stop being sad.