It has been three and a half months since Vuvu gave birth to Lorato, their second child. Today is a Wednesday morning. The house is a mess, the sink, full of dishes and a worn out Vuvu is seated on the family couch breastfeeding her daughter. She no longer finds joy in the activity as she had in the beginning, she feels disconnected from her baby and this particular morning, watching Lorato tugging at her right nipple, she considers ‘accidentally’ dropping her down the third floor balcony of their two-bedroomed unit in Kempton Park.
Vuselwa Mbofana, an isi Xhosa teacher by profession, has been a fulltime housewife since moving to Johannesburg from the Eastern Cape two years ago, with her husband Thabelo Mbofana and their three year old son, Mbali. They enrolled him into nursery school three months before Vuvu gave birth to Lorato, to ensure that he would be fairly adjusted before the baby arrived. This was necessary because they could not afford a nanny and Thabelo’s journalist job with Talk 702 often kept him on the road.
Things seemed to be going alright two months into the family’s becoming a foursome. Grandmother Mbofana, had gone back to the Eastern Cape after helping them settle in during the first two weeks of Lorato’s birth. Mbali was adapting alright to the new addition, Vuvu’s vaginal stitches had healed and her body was recovered from the strain of pregnancy and delivery; Thabelo was helpful with the kids whenever he was home. Vuvu had more or less settled into a workable routine of attending to Lorato’s needs, household demands and Mbali schoolruns, even though she was always tuckered out by end of day and awake often at night. It was about a fortnight before Lorato turned three months when things plumetted. Lorato started crying inconsolably for hours on end at night, depriving everyone of sleep and consequently affecting everybody’s mood and energy for the day. Vuvu was hardest hit.
Still seated on the couch, she tiredly unlatches Lorato, places her on her left shoulder and rubs her back until she has burped and places her onto the other breast. Feeling guilty about the murderous thought that has just crossed her mind, her mind trails back to the conversation she had had earlier in the morning with Thabelo.
‘Honey, what’s eating you up?’
‘How do you mean?’
‘I mean, you are not happy. I don’t remember the last time I saw you smiling.’
She looked down.
‘You now go about your daily tasks in a Zombie-like state and you are losing weight.’ He did not mention her visible unkemptness over the past month –or his sexually starved state.
‘Maybe, I’m just a little overwhelmed by Lorato’s crying.’
‘True, that is affecting all of us, even Mbali is now acting up. I think we should try and get you a part-time helper since I’m often away.’
‘You know we can’t afford one Thabelo. And uMama is not even a temporary option because of her demanding nursing duties at Aberdeen Hospital. I’ll be ok.’
‘I don’t know dear, you seem to be getting worse. I may need to take some of my annual leave days, then, to relieve you a bit. It’s November now and I have accumulated quite a few.’
She did not respond.
Vuvu became worse as the weeks rolled on, becoming more negligent with both Lorato and Mbali –never mind all her other responsibilities. Thabelo was forced to take all the annual leave days he had accumulated in order to hold fort before uMama ( mother in law) was allowed a two-week break from work to help out matters. Before returning to the Eastern Cape, uMama had ensured that Vuvu was religiously taking the anti-depressants prescribed to her on her first consulation at the local clinic, which uMama had accompanied her to, a day after her arrival. Vuvu would also be counselled once a week at the same clinic until she could cope on her own. These measures helped to bring things under control and relieved Vuvu of the burden of guilt; life for the Mbofanas gradually changed for the better. Lorato’s colicky state phased out when she was around six months but it took a few more months before Vuvu fully recovered her joy and energy for mothering their precious baby girl.
Post partum depression is a condition that affects about 15-20% of women after childbirth and can also affect women who have had a stillbirth or a miscarriage. It is different from the common baby blues that affect 80% of women within the first two weeks of delivery. It is a more serious condition, which normally sets in about three months after delivery and could be contributed to by hormones or stress. If not treated in time, it may recede into a more dangerous condition known as post partum psychosis, where a mother can become harmful to her baby, herself or those around her.
What is important –for a woman affected by postpartum depression –is to overcome the guilt of struggling to connect with her baby by opening up about what she is going through so as to get timely intervention before things turn for the worse.