What you need to know:
- Postpartum depression is characterised by problems bonding with the child, loss of appetite, insomnia, and high levels of irritability.
- Certain factors such as the possibility of raising the child alone, unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, financial instability, or lack of social support during pregnancy increase the risk of postpartum depression.
“How long does postpartum depression last?” asked popular blogger Wanja Kavengi on social media. What followed was a heartbreaking confession about her struggle with postpartum depression. “I have never established a connection with my eight-year-old son. I was depressed throughout his pregnancy; I didn't want him. I was depressed after his birth; I didn't want him. I was depressed while raising him; I didn't want him. He felt like a bother, like a burden, like an unwanted guest in my house, a painful thorn under my sole. I wasn't able to love him like a parent should love their child,” she said. Wanja concluded by saying that she was tired of hurting her son. “I ignored him from the day he was born. I have been unkind to him, treated everyone else kindly, but been mean to him. I have kept a great distance from him. He does not even call me ‘mum’ anymore. I don’t love my son and I’m tired of hurting him,” she said.
Wanja is one of many women who struggle with postpartum depression.
What is it?
Postpartum depression is a condition that affects mothers after childbirth. It is characterised by problems bonding with the child, loss of appetite, insomnia, and high levels of irritability. According to clinical psychologist Joseph Njue, certain factors increase the risk of postpartum depression. “These include the possibility of raising the child alone, unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, financial instability or lack of social support during pregnancy,” he says. Although not many women will openly confess struggling with postpartum depression, many have problems accepting motherhood and their newborn after delivery. Postpartum depression can last for as long as three years. According to the United Kingdom’s National Institute of Health, at least one in four women will experience high levels of postpartum depression three years after giving birth. Women with underlying conditions such as gestational diabetes and mood disorders are more likely to suffer longer bouts of depression.
What to do
There is so much you can do to help your spouse cope with depressive feelings after childbirth. Karen Kielman, the author of The Postpartum Husband says that your spouse’s depression will ease if you show consistent emotional and physical support. Pretending that she’s in a phase that will go away on its own, making demands and criticising her motherhood will sink her deeper into the dark hole of depression. Ms. Kielman says that as depression intensifies, she will hardly be moved by the fond words you used to tell her. “If you tell her she’s beautiful or that you love her, she may think you’re only saying it to make her feel good. If you tell her she’s a good mother, she may think you’re just lying to avoid making her feel bad about herself. If you tell her not to worry, she may think you don’t care what she’s actually feeling,” says Kielman. She recommends that you should let your spouse know that you understand it is difficult, but reassure her that she will pull through. “Let her know that you are aware of how bad she feels and that she is doing the right things such as counseling, therapy, and medication to get better. Let her know that she’s a good mother even if she feels terrible about her motherhood. Also, assure her that it is okay to make mistakes and that motherhood doesn’t need to be perfect,” says Kielman.
What not to do
There are things that you can say or do which will dent your relationship with your spouse and her relationship with your baby irredeemably. For example, Ms. Kielman says you should not tell your spouse that she needs to lose weight, or that she should just get over her blues, or that all new mothers feel the same way. “Acknowledge that her situation and feelings are unique to her. Don’t tell her that’s the price she must pay to be a mother, or condemn her for being unhappy when she just received a new bundle of joy,” she says. “Don’t blast her off by saying that you miss the woman she was before she became a mother.” Also, postpone important decisions in your relationship or marriage until such a time when she is feeling better. If she is going back to work, help her figure out how she will juggle motherhood and her career. A simple activity such as breastfeeding can feel like a mountain in the middle of postpartum depression.
Njue says that some of the activities she loved doing may no longer tickle her fancy. Take over the mantle. Help at home by making dinner, cleaning the house, or doing chores. This is echoed by Kielman who adds that you must set boundaries against family and friends until when your spouse feels better. “Over this period, you should spend as much time as you can with her, and regularly check on her at home or at work,” she says.