Real life – Postnatal depression
Postnatal depression knows no boundaries and affects all, irrespective of social standing, creed or colour – even celebrities, writes Pearl Rantsekeng
FROM THE OUTSIDE looking in internationally acclaimed Cape Townbased model Lisa Cowley (pictured left) seemingly had everything a girl could ever want.
She lived a life some girls could only dream of – jetting off all over the world on work assignments. And then, a week after breaking up with her fiancé, Lisa discovered that she was pregnant.
“I didn’t want to get back together just for the sake of the child. So I just braced myself for the hard road ahead of being a single mom even though I knew it wouldn’t be easy,” she says.
That was to be the beginning of a rollercoaster ride of almost two years in which Lisa had to figure out what was wrong and learn how to embrace it in order to find complete healing.
Lisa recalls how it was only recently, after months of seeing different doctors and psychiatrists, as well as a lot of research and reading on her part, that she finally was able to self-diagnose what was wrong with her.
“It dawned on me that I wasn’t crazy. I was suffering from postnatal depression,” she says.
IT’S MORE COMMON IN SA
Postnatal depression, or PND, is a common problem, affecting more than one in every 10 women within a year of giving birth. It can also affect fathers and partners, although this is less common.
According to the World Health Organisation, about 10 to 13% of women experience antenatal and postnatal depression globally.
While in most developing countries the condition affects 20% of mothers, in stark contrast, more than 40% of South African women suffer from the condition.
It is normal after giving birth for women to suffer from a mild form of sadness, fear, anger, or anxiety, and more than 80% of women do.
However, if the baby blues don’t go away after a week or two, says WHO, it may signal a more serious problem.
According to Lisa, initially she associated her mood swings, depression and anxiety with pregnancy blues and the break-up of her relationship with the baby daddy.
“I thought I had prepared myself well to deal with the rollercoaster ride of emotions and even did placental encapsulation,” she says.
Placental encapsulation is the practice of ingesting the placenta by the mother after it has been steamed, dehydrated, ground and placed into pills, as it is believed to impart numerous health benefits.
However, says Lisa, when the depression lingered long after the birth of her beautiful baby boy Noah Cowley (now three years old) she realised there was more to this than just baby blues.
“Instead of being excited I was crying all the time, I became more depressed and was unable to bond with my little boy,” she recalls.
“What made matters worse was that I was going through this all alone. I did not have the support I needed from my family. I don’t even think Noah’s dad was aware that I was suffering from this,” she recalls.
Mental health portfolio manager for Pharma Dynamics, Shouqat Mugjenker, says no woman is immune to ante- or postnatal depression.
“Depression can affect new mothers in many different ways and can start a few months before giving birth or at any time within the first year after childbirth and may develop suddenly or over time,” says Mugjenker.
She says most of the women feel tearful and anxious within the first few weeks after giving birth which, she adds, is normal and referred to as baby blues.
“However, if those feelings of sadness and low mood last longer than two to three weeks, it might be postnatal depression,” she says.
IT’S OFTEN NOT SPOTTED
Mugjenker adds that PND often goes undiagnosed as symptoms such as loss of interest in life, lack of energy, increased irritability, persistent feelings of sadness, guilt and hopelessness are often dismissed or overlooked.
This is something that Lisa can attest to as she says it took her more than a year and endless visits to different doctors to finally figure out on her own that she had PND.
DEPRESSION CAN AFFECT NEW MOTHERS IN MANY DIFFERENT WAYS AND CAN START A FEW MONTHS BEFORE GIVING BIRTH OR AT ANY TIME WITHIN THE FIRST YEAR AFTER CHILDBIRTH AND MAY DEVELOP SUDDENLY OR OVER TIME
“My family just didn’t get me. They associated my lack of energy, anxiety, mood swings and depression to lack of sleep and being a new mom,” she adds.
Lisa says it was after researching on the subject and talking to other people that she realised that she was not alone.
“Suddenly I felt more empowered and went to see a doctor who specialises in PND who then put me on antidepressants. After some time she changed and put me on anti-anxiety meds as I started to feel better.”
She says she also started to find ways of healing by doing the things that she loves, which, she adds, is the best medication one can take.
“I gave myself a lot of self-care by doing the things that I love. I would do yoga, go for a massage, go for walks and at times just take a rest,” she says.
She decided to speak about her experience in order to raise awareness and also help other mothers who might be going through something similar.
“Women don’t talk about these things and act as if all is well because they are afraid of being judged or seen as failures or that they hate their own child. We need to talk more and stop masking things,” she adds.
Lisa is free to answer questions or available to talk to about PND and can be reached on her Instagram handle “@Cowleylisa”. YB