As expected, the reaction to this confession will be anything but polite and yet the conclusion that any mother who would do this is a "bad mother" is precisely the feeling that drives victims of post-partum depressing deeper into turmoil. We tell a story of one woman who is helping others find answes.
The year was 2011 and 22-year old Samoina Wangui was a jovial, social person focused on building her career.
“I had just started working at my new job and was so excited for the potential it showed. I had a great social life, loved traveling, hanging out with my friends, and was the typical party animal,” she narrates in a written account of her experience.
But within a few months, this all came crashing down. She found herself a single mother, having been dumped by her boyfriend in the fifth month of her pregnancy, lost her job in the ninth month and was shunned and abandoned by close friends after the birth of her son.
“Life at 22 was great...until I saw the two lines [on the pregnancy test] that changed my life forever. ‘No, I am not ready for this. How would the sudden shift change my life’s trajectory?’ These thoughts plagued my mind with such relentless zeal. The struggle of whether to walk this journey or change it kept me at the same spot for days on end,” writes Samoina.
Like most moms, Samoina did not realise something was wrong until one day she slapped her fragile infant after a sleepless night and endless crying. “I went online to find out why I hated my baby so much,” says Samoina. The results all pointed to the likelihood of PPD.
The discovery somehow elated her. “It was bittersweet: bitter because, depression is an ugly monster, sweet because finally, I had clue as to why I was unable to cope, why I always thought I was a bad mom.”
After the bittersweet feeling upon learning of her diagnosis, Samoina did not realise there were more tough days ahead. Despite knowing that she had a mental illness, she could not gather courage to share her problem with friends or family due to the pervasive stigma associated with it. Sadly, she did not even have the resources needed to seek professional help.
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After summoning some courage she adds, “I let a couple of friends know. Not family, not parents, and no spouse, simply could not bring myself to it. So my support was largely virtual, mom blogs, resource networks such as Postpartumprogress.com, among others.”
She adds, “Family and friends eventually came to know after I went public with my blog PPD Island in July 2015. I got around to attending therapy in August 2016 due to financial constraints, four years after my first self-diagnosis.”
“I decided to start raising awareness through the blog because I realised so many mums are suffering in silence not knowing it is actually a mental health condition. The more we talk about it, the more moms get to know about it, and the more affected moms will get professional help,” she narrates in her account which was published on her blog and on citizen journalism platform www.standardmedia.co.ke/ureport.
Samoina’s experience is something many mothers go through in the months - and sometimes years - before and after giving birth.
According to a 2009 study on Postpartum Depression (PPD) published in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine, 50 to 80 per cent of new mothers suffer from a mild form of maternal depression called ‘baby blues’ which last for about two weeks and generally goes away on its own.
Those who are not so lucky get postpartum depression (PPD) and about 0.1 per cent get postpartum psychosis.
According to World Health Organization data on maternal depression, 10 per cent of pregnant women and 13 per cent of postpartum women experience maternal depression worldwide. In developing countries it is higher, - 15.6 per cent during pregnancy and 19.8 per cent after childbirth.
Dr. Catherine Gitau, a psychiatrist based at Gilgil hospital says that postpartum depression has a very long list of symptoms that torment the new mother including persistent sadness and crying, poor concentration and indecisiveness, feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy or guilt and loss of interest in caring for herself.
“The psychological impact of the financial hardships, breakdown of social support network and the sudden hormonal changes that occur after birth presents a fertile ground for the development of maternal depression. Predisposition to the condition is exacerbated by personal and family psychopathology,” she says.
Other symptoms may include hyper-insomnia, significant decrease or increase in appetite, poor bonding with the baby or complete lack of bonding altogether, and biological symptoms such as headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations, and numbness.
Since going public over a year ago, Samoina’s journey has been rewarding as she has helped many moms and PPD survivors. Today, she is a member of many postpartum depression forums and recently joined Psychiatric Disability Organization (PDO) so that she can reach a bigger audience with her important messages on PPD.
Samoina may have committed the despicable act of slapping the infant but the painful experience forced her to confront the monster that was robbing her off the joy of motherhood. She sought help and is today a model PPD survivor who has learnt good coping strategies, established a strong support network around herself and exercises regularly to keep relapse at bay.
No moms should suffer in silence due to stigma. There are many online support forums that one can join and get help in addition to visiting a psychiatrist. One of them is Trustcircle mHealth App managed by the Psychiatric Disability Organization in Kenya.
A version of this article was published on citizen journalism platform www.standardmedia.co.ke/ureport, run by Standard Digital. The author is mental health and child rights advocate and the Founder/CEO of Psychiatric Disability Organization.