Sunday, March 3, 2024

Mum’s the word – Batswana mothers suffering baby blues in silence

Botswana’s archtypical picture of a new mother is all sunshine and roses: A beaming faced doting over her bundle of joy, happy friends and families bearing gifts and fussing over the new addition to the clan. Often times, however, reality gets in the way of this postcard picture and things become a little gloomy. The new mom suffers some form of the “baby blues,” a mild state of sadness, fatigue and worry that may last a couple of weeks and go away on its own. Sometimes it may get worse, the depression last much longer and can interfere with a woman’s capability to care for herself or her family.

This is a mental disoder, and like all mental conditions it has a  tongue twisting scientific term, and it actually cramps your style. And that is putting it mildly.

Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University Of Botswana says, “Like with many mental health conditions, there is a stigma surrounding postpartum depression that makes mothers less likely to reach out for help. Some mothers worry that their PPD makes them a failure or that they are doing something wrong. This is not true. Depression and other mood disorders are the result of neurotransmitter imbalances, and can happen to anyone. Giving birth is a miraculous thing that is very hard on the human body. Coming out of the delivery room with some medical difficulties – including PPD – is normal. Postpartum depression is nothing to be ashamed of, nor does it make someone any less of a person or a mother. In fact, PPD is more common than you’d think: affecting 1 in 7 mothers. Women are expected to transition into motherhood seamlessly, and the inability to cope is often perceived as a character flaw, a sign of weakness and incompetence.

Many of us assume giving birth is just a normal bodily process. Some husbands refuse to participate actively in child-rearing and managing a household, leaving wives to balance their new role as a mother. There is suddenly a new routine of breastfeeding, staying up all night because of a colicky baby, child-rearing and suffering body-aches and tiredness, on top of managing work and the household. I think people delay or refuse to seek treatment for mental issues in general, not just for postpartum depression. The stigma is so damaging. Society and policy also play a role in deterring early treatment. For example, the general perception that seeking mental health treatment meant one is ‘crazy’ or ‘weak’ also scares people away.”

Recognition that mental illness is just as real as physical illness is within-group stigmatization. Some mental disorders get the short end of the stick, or are thought to be less “real” or serious than other disorders. People knock something like postpartum depression, a very real mental disorder that affects thousands of mothers every year who have just given birth to their child, and then feel overwhelmed with depression. They often are unable to do even basic child care for their newborn baby, and feel hopeless, despondent, and listless, without motivation or energy. About 50 percent of postpartum depression cases go untreated and unrecognized. There is a tendency for mothers to suffer in silence. Mothers dismiss and minimize the difficulty. There is shame and stigma.

Many women suffer from some variation of what is referred to as baby blues – you get home from the hospital, you’re exhausted, overwhelmed, feel horrible and this new little being keeps waking you up, needing to feed, crying. You’ve never been so emotionally or physically challenged, and you can’t just take a day off. This is why women cry and feel hopeless or anxious at times. But the difference between baby blues and depression is stark. The blues strike about 85 percent of new moms, but women get better in two to three weeks. Postpartum depression continues — and gets worse. PPD, despite being the most common medical complication of childbirth, carries a stigma that may be at the root of why so many women don’t share their PPD symptoms with a healthcare professional. There is a societal pressure on mothers to hide the struggles, anxieties and sadness that may accompany motherhood.

Dr Orapeleng Phuswane-Katse, physician under the ministry of Health says, “More and more women are starting to know about it, some know and some really don’t, or don’t understand it. The problem is, when a woman decides to say out loud how she is feeling she is said to be matepe.

Women are afraid of being labelled as difficult.  There is a deepening silence around these feelings and a generalized stigma surrounding PPD. approximately 10 percent of pregnant women and 13 percent of women in the postpartum period defined as up to one year after childbirth grapple with a mood disorder. Mood disorders that take place during pregnancy and in the first year after birth can take many forms. A lot of women who give birth via c-sections are more prone to postpartum depression because of the trauma of it all. It is the job of health care providers to help women with PPD and to help them. It is vital to get women to open up about their struggles, and asking questions could facilitate the process.

Most importantly, you must get enough sleep, so get someone else to care for the baby while you sleep. Make sure you have your own time for yourself. Leave the baby with the father or relative and go out with your friends once in a while. Talk and share about the difficulties you face. The thing about postpartum depression is, you get it and chances of you being fully blown depressive are high.“


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