James Ngugi had a blissful marriage for a decade or so until their son Jayden was born. The arrival of baby Jayden sent his wife down into a path she never recovered from. She committed suicide due to postpartum depression. He shares his story with us.
It is nearly 36 months since I lost my wife to postpartum depression, but every night I lay on our bed, I can’t help but blame myself for her death. I have never come to terms with her death but it is even harder bidding her bye till we meet again.
It has been almost three years of mental torture on why I didn’t figure out how deep Margaret’s problem was. Things started going south three months after our son Jayden was born. Margaret became overly sensitive and touchy. A mere question like whether she had seen my handkerchief would turn into a nasty fight and I would always apologise for ‘bothering her’.
Margaret was no longer the woman I knew before our son’s birth, she would most of the times refuse to have dinner with the rest of the family as was our tradition and instead spend most of her time in the bedroom with Jayden. Having lived with her for over 11 years, I started sensing something was amiss but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was or what to do. When she was in a good mood which was unlikely, I would try to hint at seeking help maybe by seeing a counsellor but she was not keen and would always dismiss me and insist she would get better as Jayden continued to gain some independence.
Every day was different, sometimes Margaret would be extremely happy, the next minute she would be sulking and these moments were hard to predict. Since I thought she acted this way due to the pressure that comes with dealing with an infant as well as other household stuff, I got her an extra nanny but a day scholar since we already had a live-in one whom we had lived with since our daughter was three.
The extra nanny didn’t help either, in fact Margaret released her a week into the job and instead opted to resign from work - she was a banker. Having gone through four months of torture, I gave in to every of her suggestions. So when she said she wanted to quit work, I pledged to support her and promised to establish a business for her maybe after Jayden turned one. Her assignment now was to come up with an idea for the business. When our son turned six months, the situation worsened. Margaret became withdrawn and somehow started directing her anger to the kids, if not me.
I shared our life for the last six months with her elder sister whom she was close to. To my surprise, she also mentioned to have noted the change in Margaret but like me, she thought it was the usual pressure of juggling work and home life which wasn’t easy with a toddler in the picture. Her sister visited us one weekend, but this time she got Margaret in her former element - jovial and friendly. She actually prepared the family’s meals throughout the weekend.
I decided to take advantage of the moment and took them out on Sunday afternoon but also decided to share my predicament with her sister in her presence. She admitted to having been a bit mean to me for the last few days but said now that she doesn’t have to worry about meeting deadlines at work, she would get back to her usual self and assured us nothing was stressing her. Barely a week later, we went back to where we were and this time it was worse, she for the first time slapped our daughter for not finishing her dinner, something she had never done before.
When I returned home that evening, our daughter was so sad, she shared what had happened but to pacify the situation, I told her at times mums are allowed to discipline their children especially when they are in the wrong. That night I had a chat with Margaret over the matter and during our conversation, I realised she wasn’t her normal self but I couldn’t figure out what it is that was eating her up.
The following morning I woke up and left for work and left her sleeping. I called her around 11 am and from the other side of the call, I knew this is the Margaret I had been living with for the last 11 years. She was very happy and upbeat. She even promised to make me my favourite meal for dinner. That call left me confused and lost. I had endless questions with no answers. I turned to google and poured my heart out. I came across postpartum depression but that was it. I didn’t want to take that direction; I was in denial and could never want to imagine that’s what Margaret was going through.
I talked to a female colleague and asked her if she knew anything about postpartum depression or anyone who had suffered from such. When I told her I was asking on behalf of my wife, she dismissed me and wondered why I was suddenly asking about postpartum depression yet my son was almost eight months.
I thought it was silly on my part to have thought along those lines and I closed this case. The dilemma was now to point out where the problem was. I started wondering whether Margaret was protesting over my busy schedule and resolved to spend every of my free minute with her and our children.
This didn’t help either, in fact, the more we spent time together, the more she became agitated. I shared my story with one of my friends who also had a family. His advice didn’t help the situation; he thought Margaret was just a spoilt wife and the kind who thrive on drama. Deep down I knew my Margaret wasn’t that kind of a woman but I didn’t know what to do.
Having tried my best to restore her happiness, I resigned to fate and resolved to live in the moment. I continued to support Margaret as much as I could. Things got worse two months to Jayden turning one. Margaret’s anger spiralled out of control at times. There’s this time she threw a hot cup of tea she was having one morning to me when I joked that I wished I was her I didn’t have to bare the morning cold going to work.
After this incidence, the writing was on the wall, all wasn’t well with Margaret. In our 11-year-old marriage, she had never gone to such extremes. The worst she had ever done was deny me sex which I believe is normal to any man living with a woman. I embarked on a search for a marriage counsellor and two sessions into our new journey, Margaret committed suicide in our kitchen.
Autopsy reports showed that Margaret had suffered a worst case of postpartum depression. It has been three years of mourning but it is a road I would never wish anyone else out there to take. Mourning with two little children isn’t easy. My daughter has never come to terms with her mum’s death but I have
tried my best to make this less painful. My son is still too young to understand but I know one day I will have this conversation with him. What has worsened my situation is the fact that my late wife’s family think I could have prevented her death. This has been my feeling too since every day passed with me knowing she wasn’t well but I took too long to figure out, maybe if I had trusted my guts the first time I came across postpartum depression, I would have saved her life.