..And the Mountain Moved..
It was a Saturday morning. The kind where you peered out the window and all things were bright and beautiful. Behind the curtain however, a storm was brewing. *Lina was in a state of euphoria. She woke up with a feeling of walking on sunshine. Soon after she started to laugh; quietly at first but it built up until she became hysterical. Amidst the laughter, she stopped and wondered what was so funny. Then she started to laugh again. She was stopped by the cries of her three month old son Arthur. She turned to him and suddenly the laughter that filled the room was replaced by a familiar feeling of anger. Without missing a beat, she put her hands around his neck and began to squeeze.
She met *Tony at a bar, four years back. ( Those of you rolling your eyes and judging let’s meet at the tent after first service). It was a chance meeting. She was nineteen and as innocent as a baby’s fart; barely three weeks old in campus. She had never seen the inside walls of a club; having grown up a good Christian girl, from a stable home with a sheltered upbringing. Thanks to her dad, she had never experienced what the world looked like after 6:40pm.
Enter university; where she discovered that the world didn’t shut it’s doors at sunset. First stop — a club. Tony spotted her and called her out from where she sat with a group of friends. They nudged her on. It was an opportunity for free drinks for them, they told her. So she obliged. When the waiter took her order, she asked for the only drink she had heard of from a TV advert. Black ice. They say that the third black ice is a panty remover. She took two. So her knickers remained in place.
She sat with him through the night and even watched over him when his drink got the better of him and he blacked out.
“Wait a minute, so you just sat there alone on a table while he slept?”
“Yeah. I felt bad leaving him alone in that state even if I barely knew him.”
When he woke up, he was astounded to find her there. This act, he later told her, pulled at his heart strings. And he decided he had to see her again. And so they met at his house a week later and she drank the third black ice. That was the debut of their whirlwind romance with a guy ten years her senior who wore his success on his sleeves. He spoiled her rotten so she lacked for nothing. She experienced a life she had never known existed. Expensive restaurants, beauty treatments, club outings and of course partying. She was even allowed to bring her friends along — all expenses paid. She was the envy of her peers.
A few months into the relationship, she got pregnant. She was shocked. She was sure in her mind that she could not handle a pregnancy in her first year of college so they mutually agreed to terminate. Besides she only had to imagine what her father would say and that was enough of a push factor to stamp her decision. The procedure was quick and inconsequential. Or so she thought. As is routine, the doctor advised on a family planning method but Tony declined. He said those ‘things’ are not advisable for girls who haven’t given birth. She believed him. He promised that it would never happen again.
The relationship continued undeterred. The small bump, quickly forgotten. Her generous boyfriend even offered to pay for an extra accounts course for her in addition to her regular degree. He was a catch this one. Exactly a year later, she got pregnant again. This time, she wasn’t as decisive on what to do as the first time. Besides they had agreed they wouldn’t do ‘that’ again. But Tony was slicker than a boiled onion. He planted seeds of doubt in her mind.
“Are you ready to be a mother? You are only in your second year. What will your dad say?”
He didn’t need to say more. So off they went, to a different town this time, and had the procedure done. It was quick like last time but more harrowing because of the side effects of the medicine they gave her. She vomited and shivered continuously, and the bleeding was so profuse he thought she was going to die. Nonetheless she stabilised but the after effect didn’t leave her as fast. The feelings lingered and unknown to her she had began to change.
Back home for the holidays, no one noticed that she had sold her halo for liquor, heels and some lingerie. She only had to put on her Jesus hat and everyone was happy. She walked the walk and talked the talk and then it was time to go back to her other life. Back at school the relationship was reignited and everything seemed normal. Two months later, she was pregnant again. This time she was adamant. She was going to keep this baby. Believing it was a girl, she even started to think up names. But her boo would have none of it. It was a push and pull. But he who pays the piper, calls the tune. He won. And took her to yet a different town for the procedure. She remembers crying all the way there and throughout the entire consultation. But she went through with it.
This time, she cracked. The weight of this loss weighed heavily on her. She withdrew from her friends and retreated inward. She even opted out of the relationship. But he pursued her with the drive of a hungry lion on a hunt. He was relentless. For a month, he beat the path to her doorstep asking for another chance. He didn’t understand what the big deal was; besides this was not the first time this was happening. They say persistence wears off resistance and after sometime she took him back. With the promise that this would never happen again and if per chance she got pregnant, she would carry the pregnancy to term.
And she did. The fourth time. After a wild night and failed P2. (Wale watu wa tent, ‘Postinor 2' is an emergency contraceptive). No amount of threats, sweet words and persuasion moved her. No more, she decided. When he saw she was dead serious, he gave her the speech.
“ If you choose this path, I will not walk you through it. I will support you financially but that’s it.”
Words, she thought, they were just words. He loved her and he would come around. Right?
And so she carried the pregnancy which was largely uneventful, with pride. She glowed. Interesting enough she managed to keep her head above the water regarding her studies. Throughout the pregnancy, Tony provided. Generously at first but as her belly protruded the coffers began to run dry. She got by however, from the returns of a small business he had opened for her and from the pocket money she still received from her dad.
That was the other thing. Her folks. How would she tell them. She decided to start with the weak link- her mum- and hoped she would pass the news to Goliath. You know, take one for the team. Her plan failed. Her mum was livid and spewed venom.
“I will not risk my marriage for you. I will be blamed for this. You did these deeds on your own, so carry your cross.”
So she took her phone, wrote two similar texts and sent them to her folks and waited.
Her dad called her immediately to verify that her phone had not been stolen. On hearing that it was her and she was of sound mind, he hung up. Hours later, intoxicated and disinhibited, he called back. He was very clinical about his approach.
“Who is responsible? What does he do? What is the plan? Will you continue with school?” The questions came hard and fast. Questions she had no answer to; so she mumbled.
He continued, “What tribe is he?”
“Kisii.” Suddenly the pregnancy took a back seat. He went on and on about what this meant because they were Kikuyu and eventually he hung up. He later stopped paying fees and sending her pocket money. They never spoke again.
Delivery time came. She called Tony. He didn’t come. He reminded her about his speech. And that was that. She gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. Braved it — alone. Except for her doula who stayed with her, no one came. Not a single visitor. Not a family member, not a friend. She tried Tony again to inform him that his son was finally here. He sent money for the bill and a cab. The end.
Back at home, she called her mom to give her the good news.
“What is his name?” Her mom asked.
“Huh! You know very well, according to culture, you are supposed to name him after your dad. But if that is the direction you have decided to take, carry on.” They never spoke after that. She chose to forget the conversation and carry on with life. But the cracks widened.
She fast realised this baby had no return address. There was a new meaning to the word fatigue. He would cry endlessly and she had no idea what to do. Her mom’s younger sister came to help her for a while and instead of resting at home, she chose to use this opportunity to resume her classes and catch up on school.
She devised a routine. She would wake up early in the morning, go to the market then come back prepare and go to school. In between lectures she would rush home, breastfeed, express and go back. That became her life. She was on auto pilot and piling up sacks of fatigue and sleeplessness. Something else that started to happen was her bouts of anger. She would be ecstatic to be leaving home but would get angry when she got back. The sight of Arthur began to make her angry. When he cried she would beat him or just feel enraged by him. She tried to sleep train him and chose the most brutal method to do it- just so that he would suffer. She didn’t realise she was going down a slippery slope until that Saturday morning when she strangled him. She had devised a plan. Kill him and then kill herself because if she killed herself, no one would take care of him. No one wanted him. Not his dad, not her parents; so she would put them both out of their misery.
She squeezed his neck hard all the while thinking about how he had messed her life. He was the reason she was stressed and unable to cope. He was the reason Tony left her and her parents wanted nothing to do with her. When she noticed his eyes looked like they would pop out of their sockets, she stopped. She knew then, that something was wrong. She called her doula who was by now a friend. Her doula took the baby and referred her for psychiatric care.
When you hear of postpartum depression, it sounds like something out of a horror movie that happens to other people. People who don’t have coping mechanisms. She didn’t know that the weight of her circumstances had become too heavy to bear. She had been putting up a brave face mostly to show the world that she was going to make it despite her circumstances. It was the equivalent of treating skin cancer by putting makeup over the lesion.
“Sue I paid 6k for the psych consult and I ended up feeling lectured. He said my singlehood was the sole reason for my illness. He felt I was so far gone so he prescribed a cocktail of anti psychotic drugs and gave me a review date and told me not to be alone with the baby.”
She hated the drugs. They made her tired, drowsy, flat and she still couldn’t stand her son. Because she was all alone, she couldn’t avoid interacting with the baby. How was she supposed to breastfeed him anyway? She went through life in a trance. She still had to attend her classes and put on a brave face despite feeling this way. Then she started hallucinating. There was a river she would pass on her way to school but suddenly it looked like a raging sea that was going to drown her. She would pass by it and feel like the water was going to swallow her whole. And this was a battle, she fought alone. Because of this her routine did not change. Market, school, breastfeed, school and her anger had now turned to hate. She hated Arthur. But when her friends asked her about him, she would whip out his cute photos and show them then retreat to her cave afterward.
One time her mum — who had heard from someone else — called her.
“I am told you are unwell. What is it?”
“I was told I have postpartum depression.”
“That is a white man’s disease. Pray and command those demons out. Why are you accepting this? If you confess you are depressed, then you will be depressed.”
It is after this phone call that she called herself to a meeting. She had been on medication for three months now. The drugs were costly — 8k in total plus monthly consultation of 6k: all being paid by Tony. He had started to complain about the accruing bills and had never come to see the child. It is then that she had this crushing realization that forever is just a word on the front of valentine’s cards. She figured that loving someone who doesnt love you back is like hugging a cactus. The tighter you hold, the more it hurts. It was time to let go.
So she stopped her meds. She felt worse on them anyway, couldn’t concentrate and was always in a daze. She started writing positive sticky notes and sticking them all over the house. She would recite them to herself every day. She started to read books on affirmation, and she went back to the church. She began to feel human again and genuinely laugh. She finally accepted that she was a single mum and it was ok. She decided that her struggle was not going to become her identity. She started to fight back. She would wake up and affirm herself. ‘Lina you are worth fighting for. If you don’t do this for yourself no one will do it for you.’ She claimed positivity, making it part of her daily bread. She fought and she started to win.
Does she have bad days? Yes. But a bad day is not a bad life. And she can see them coming a mile away. She is ahead of this illness. It is not ahead of her. And when she senses darkness coming she arms herself. She knows when to take a break to renew her mind. She is now learning how to change the tide and love her son. She feels bad because she missed out on most of the first year of his life because she barely remembers what was going on.
Her dad still hasn’t carried her son to date. He sometimes calls him names and when she goes home with him, he leaves the house. Her mom is ambivalent. And she said she is fine. She graduated from the University without doing extra time and she has now gotten a good job where she can support herself. Largely because Tony doesn’t anymore.
Her son is now one and a half years old and they are a genuinely happy unit. When she is away from him, she misses him. When she is with him, she relishes him and can’t believe she almost lost him.
“ Doc this experience was crazy. It was hard. But I think I was assigned this mountain to show others that it can be moved.”
Postpartum depression is a kind of depression that some women get after having a baby. Most women with postpartum depression start having symptoms within a month after giving birth. But it can be up to 12 months before a woman starts having symptoms.
Postpartum blues are different from postpartum depression.
After having a baby, many women get postpartum blues. Within 2 or 3 days after giving birth, women with postpartum blues might:
●Be moody, irritable, or anxious
●Have trouble concentrating or sleeping
●Have crying spells
In women with postpartum blues, these symptoms are not severe and usually go away within 2 weeks. But in women with postpartum depression, the symptoms are more severe and last longer.
Women who have a history of depression are more likely to get postpartum depression than women who have never been depressed.
Symptoms of postpartum depression: — It can be hard to tell if a woman has postpartum depression, since some of the symptoms might also be caused by the stress of taking care of a newborn. For example, it’s normal for new mothers to:
●Sleep too much or too little
●Feel tired or lack energy
●Have changes in their appetite, weight, and desire to have sex
But women with postpartum depression might not be able to sleep even when their babies sleep. Or they might have so little energy that they cannot get out of bed for hours.
They might also feel:
●Anxious, irritable, and angry
●Guilty or overwhelmed
●Unable to care for their baby
●Like a failure as a mother/suicidal/feelings of infanticide
If you want to hurt or kill yourself, seek medical help right away.
The two main treatments for depression are:
●Taking medicines to relieve depression
●Talking with a therapist (such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse, or social worker)
What if I want to get pregnant again? — Women who have postpartum depression once are likely to get it again. If you had postpartum depression before and took a medicine that helped you feel better, your doctor might recommend that you take that medicine again after you give birth.