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Gospel sensation Esther Wahome: Depression almost ended my music career

Achieving Woman
 Esther Wahome photos when she attended the wedding reception of gospel singer Daddy Owen and Farida Wambui at the Radison Blue hotel,Nairobi. April 21st,2016. Photo/Elvis Ogina (Nairobi)

"I would park my car and get into a building and when I come out, I would look for it for hours, unable to remember where I parked. Sometimes, in the course of a conversation, someone would ask me where my son school is and it would take me a while to recall," says Esther Wahome who would later realise that her memory loss, though mild and temporal, was as a result of the depression she had sank into and did not know.

"When you are depressed you never really recognise it. In any case, depression is only known to be a first world disease," she says of the depression that started three years after the birth of their son, Mureithi Wang'ondu. "The joy my son brought to my home when he was born and the favour that our good God has accorded me in the music industry prompted my husband and I to name him, Eldad, which translates to God has loved in Hebrew.

When he turned two, he was yet to speak a word. Worry kicked in since his elder sister Michelle had started speaking at that age. When I asked around, my friends advised that I should not worry for his was a case of a delayed milestone. Theories were thrown right left and centre with the most common being that boys mature slower than girls. That settled me somewhat."

Then he got to two and a half years and was yet to speak a word. That coupled with hyperactivity forced my husband and I to sleep in shifts looking after him. "It was unsettling. So we sought medical advice only to find out that he was autistic and would probably never have a normal life," she says of the diagnosis that threw her off balance as she knew little, if anything about living with autism.

The news of her son's condition should have been overshadowed by some good news that was on the way, but it in fact had the reverse effect. "I found out that I was pregnant. I was overwhelmed. I feared the child I was carrying would turn out autistic as well, so I thought I would lose it along the way. I cried myself to sleep on most nights, but looked so put together in the public eye. I became sick throughout my pregnancy that the doctors considered me a high risk patient," she says of her difficult pregnancy that bore her a son who they named Medad, yet another Hebrew word for love. "Medad was a normal child. He spoke at the age of one. It helped that as a child he repeated words that really helped Eldad with his speech."

"At the time of the autism diagnosis, I was at the peak of my career, hosting a show on Citizen TV called Shangilia, travelling on tours, releasing music, and here comes an autistic child. I had no clue what autism was since there is no much information about the condition. I imagined it would kill my son. It was the most terrible time of my life."

It was only when her son hit three years that she got enlightened on how to deal with the condition. The family had to make a lot of changes to accommodate his condition. "At the time of being enlightened on the role that diet plays, my life was crumbling.

Eldad was on a normal diet which did not help with the hyperactivity. So we had to withdraw the sugars, milk and gluten and get him on a gluten free diet, natural sugars among other things," she explains of the process that was no easy task in itself since autistic kids are inherently resistant to any kind of change. "He would pull me or the father to the fridge and kneel down begging for the milk, which he does not understand why he cannot take. It broke my heart."

Speaking of change, it is the reason why they stopped visiting relatives. "When we went visiting, he would not sleep if his bed was not facing a particular direction. Even at home I will have to be constantly on the lookout," she says adding, "there was once when I found out his hand had swollen. On having it checked out it was discovered that he had broken it, having jumped from the dining table. It was then I was told that autistic kids rarely register pain."

However, she cautions that relatives are the people who can hurt you the most in this journey. "Some do not care to understand why you do not visit anymore. They make assumptions that the limelight has gotten to your head. Others do not even make their own children understand that yours is a special kid. Others just think he is badly raised, but no one ever asks," she says of the condition that our society never really appreciates or even gives attention.

It is for this reason that just like the Biblical Esther, Esther Wahome, understands that she was put in this situation at a time like this to reach out to parents with kids with autism. "I have been in the industry for over two decades now and I am a voice that can be heard.

Through the New Horizon International foundation to be launched on May 28, 2016, for which I am the chairperson, we intend to raise autism awareness together with Susan Naipanoi Letuya, the founder and programme coordinator and Anne Gathoni Kung'u, the programme manager.

We are telling parents to accept the situation as it is and not hide behind the façade of delayed milestones, since I was in denial too. After accepting comes adjusting your surroundings so you do not punish the child, then advance towards healing.

In the journey towards recovery, she found healing in talking to God, as is in her song Kuna Dawa. "The experience has brought me closer to God."

"At nine years, Eldad has overcome most of the characteristics like hyperactivity and we have even re-introduced some foods and through therapy he is now independent and can speak English and Kiswahili," she says.

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