Hey Fa, you have always wanted to be a mum, haven’t you? Stories are told from school friends that you fantasised so much about this role. Yes, I do remember dating my now husband and telling him the names of our 4children. It still remains a running joke in our house. Two have been enough and I am so grateful for their impact and contribution to who I am today 😍
Today as the world celebrates mother’s day I would like to draw your attention to maternal mental health as well. For many of us, our children are indeed bundles of joy. Our pride and joy. Yet, sometimes that experience can be tricky. I am partnering with the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership to share my story here.
What do you do when motherhood sends you spiralling into dark tunnels and difficult roads? We do not openly talk about these experiences enough for a number of reasons. Personally, I think like all things parenting/ motherhood, it’s difficult to make sense of what’s happening when things are taking place. By the time you are finally able to make sense of the drama, it’s time to move on and cover the lost ground. And sometimes, that experience isn’t yours alone to own so it becomes difficult to share other people’s experiences. How can you talk about motherhood/ parenting and leave your child/ ren/ spouse/ partner/ husband out of the equation? Many a times, african parenting experiences will also include wider extended family members because we roll like that, right? What about the shame that comes with struggling in parenting?
Our eldest and only son was born back home in Zimbabwe. Boy, was dearly loved and adored since his quick conception apart from the severe vommitting which lasted forever and I now understand to be hyperemesis gravidarum. You can read more about it here.
During this pregnancy, I was working out of town, commuting every Friday and Monday from the marital home. I hadn’t envisioned how this would take a toil on my mental and emotional well being. On taking maternity leave I went to be with my parents as per our Shona custom of kusungirwa. You can read more about this fascinating practice here
I stayed with my parents from 35weeks of my pregnancy till I gave birth. It was wonderful to be back in the family home and with the community that had known me from birth. I had an uneventful labor, although the midwife was rude (story of another day). My mum took her grandma role seriously with such diligence it was fascinating. I was taken care of, not permitted to do much apart from bathing and breastfeeding. It was bliss. I resigned from my job with the hope of finding something local.
For 6 weeks postpartum, I was ‘fattened’, waited upon and pampered as a new mom by my mum and maternal grandmother. After-all, this was their eldest great grandson. My maternal great grandmother would soon visit and all the 5 generations would gush and give thanks for Gods blessings. That did not stop our son from having colic and being the most unsettled baby in the household. My mom and grandmother used to take turns to cuddle and bhabhu him to sleep which he loved. I remember very well my late grandma laying down to sleep on her tummy with boy was on her back.
Once I returned to the marital home, I couldn’t bath, eat or do anything due to his crying. Because I was waited on for 6weeks, I wasn’t prepared for juggling motherhood and house chores. Social isolation did not help either as we moved into suburbia. My poor husband did not know how best he could help. Things kinda settled when we finally got a nanny, when son was around 3months old. On reflection, I feel I should not have suffered in silence. But how could I? I did not know or understand what was going on. Gripe water did not work and son blatantly refused formula milk.
The feeling of overwhelm and sadness was insidious. I felt lost in all the roles life required of me. This was meant to be exciting, fun and fulfilling yet here I was! Hubby tried. We started going for evening jogs together. Then, it was to shift the postpartum baby weight and sure it did. As the months progressed, we would have lunch dates 3times a week near his workplace. This was to give me something to do, create an opportunity to have a proper shower, dress up and show up at his workplace 😍. I just felt so lost. Family and friends empathised with my struggles. My parents would often comment that I missed work and all the freedom it brought ‘Wanga wajaira mari yako’ translating ‘you miss having your own money and financial independence’. That was very true. I applied everywhere for work and jobs were hard to come by.
A dear friend would invite me for play dates, coffee etc. It worked for a bit. She would have our son and the nanny on valentines just so me and hubby could have couple’s time. It was only a few years later when we met here in UK with this dear friend and we were talking about how much I struggled. It was then and when I was training as a public health nurse that it became clearer that I had suffered from postnatal depression(PND). The good news is though I struggled, I recovered. As the months progressed, it got easier and life became lighter.
There are many reasons why one may suffer postnatal depression. The Very well offer more insight on PND here very well
I am writing this to encourage other moms out there. Motherhood is challenging but there is help and resources available. Do not suffer in silence, there is help available. One of the sad things about untreated/ undiagnosed PND is the moments and time lost to love and enjoy your baby. PND can also place a strain on other relationships especially your marriage as your partner struggles to understand or is needed to step up and support you and the baby.
Friends have since commented that they didn’t know how to help. Family couldn’t understand how and why I would struggle. We ticked all the boxes for a blessed life, yet here I was. I would have loved for people to ask me, ‘are you ok?’
If someone you know is struggling, please ask. At most let them know you are available and willing to be contacted if they need anything. In this age of busyness, many people struggle on their own as they do not want to bother other people. It should not be. Look out for your family and friends. Be a sister’s keeper. Check in on loved ones. A phone call or text doesn’t cost much.
So what can one do if you feel you are struggling as a mum?
📌Talking about your feelings: Talking your feelings through with someone is a start. For most couples talking to your spouse/ partner ideally, should be the first point of call. By talking it through together, it aids the transitioning journey to be in synergy. Sometimes, he may not be the best candidate to talk to, maybe due to work pressures or lack of insight. My husband did the practical bits ( coming home on time to cook and relieve me so I could have a shower). However, he never confronted my emotions and how overwhelmed I felt and looked. He just did not know how to and so were my family and friends. Here in UK, Your GP is a point of call and s/he can signpost you to the necessary services. Midwife and health visitors are also best placed to support you.
📌Treatment: there are a variety of treatment options available. You can explore this with your GP/ health provider.
📌Community/ cultural groups. These groups, if well run, are fantastic for offering a sense of belonging and well being. The challenge from a professional point of view, is that they can be a stumbling block to cultural integration. Some of the groups do not offer parenting courses, support groups etc. The Intentional Parenting Community exists to support African migrant families who sometimes want to talk to someone who understands ‘where you are coming from’. Indeed parenting practices differ globally. Our 6am club is a faith/ prayer club for mums who want a safe place to build relationships, pray and center their day. The club runs term time only, Monday -friday 6am-6:30am GMT via zoom. Anyone is free to join. You can connect via this link. Our webinars are also a great resource to learn, ask questions and be equipped as a parent. More details coming soon for the webinar sessions.
✨Motherhood groups/ networks are key for supporting the journey. Our upcoming luncheon is one such example of mothers coming together to share, laugh, learn, network and support each other. More details here
Would love to hear if any of this resonated with you. Please do share widely with your networks.
Post Natal Depression: pnd
Perinatal Mental Health Partnership : https://perinatalmhpartnership.com/
Talking Therapy: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/talking-therapies-medicine-treatments/talking-therapies-and-counselling/nhs-talking-therapies/
Black Mind Matters https://www.blackmindsmatteruk.com/