It was in the middle of completing my gender studies course at university, and thoroughly enjoying being a spoken word poet on Harare’s arts scene, that a life-altering change occurred, transforming the substance of my very existence.
I had recently met a creative, charismatic and free-thinking man who managed to ignite my interests incredibly. We were spending a lot of time together and savouring the courtship process of our budding relationship. So when I found out I was pregnant, it was like a strike of lightning. We had not made any long-term plans and yet now I was carrying a child; our child.
We did not panic but instead made plans to marry as soon as we could, as we believed the pregnancy was no accident. This made us even more determined to make our little family work. My parents and siblings and were also very supportive.
We quickly found out the sex and I started making frantic preparations for his arrival, buying almost anything I could get my hands on. I was very excited and protective of the life in my womb and could not wait to meet my little bundle of joy.
My water broke before my due date and I had to be rushed to hospital and undergo an emergency Caesarean to save both my baby and me. I was traumatised as this was not how I had envisioned giving birth. But I still thankfully delivered a healthy baby boy. When I woke up from the operation, I was filled with bliss and gratitude as I cradled him in my arms. My husband and I were radiating with joy like the proud new parents we were.
The trouble began
Everything was perfect. But two days after giving birth, the trouble began.
I started feeling highly irritable for no particular reason and it seemed every tiny thing was getting on my nerves. I could not stop complaining and also became extremely talkative, rambling on semi-coherently to any available audience. This was out of character for me.
I quickly lost interest in the baby and would stare at him crying in his cot and wonder why he would not just keep quiet. I hardly breastfed him because I just could not be bothered and the nurses would bottle-feed him most of the time. I simply lacked the will to take care of him and I just could not bond with him like a mother should with her child.
At the same time, I began to harbour an irrational fear that he would roll off the bed and sustain brain damage. I wondered what might happen if someone threw the baby against the wall. The thought made me frigid with fear and I began to hide the medication I was being given in the most obvious places.
Increasingly becoming a nuisance to the nurses on duty, I would demand random things at odd hours of the day and would strip and wander round my hospital room naked. An annoying gust of wind, which no one else could feel, kept ruffling the drapes in my room. And so I became obsessed with opening and closing the door.
I became so clumsy and broke quite a few hospital utensils and was convinced that if I slept I would die. So I chose not to sleep. I became so troublesome that the nurses had to sedate me and all the while had no idea I was behaving strangely. To the hospital staff’s relief, I was discharged after a few days.
As soon as I walked into my parents’ house, I smelt something horrid, like a foul detergent, and asked my sister if she could smell it too. She said she could not. So I dismissed the smell and tried to sleep as I had not done so in three days.
But as soon as I laid my head down, I would hear strange noises and would immediately wake up. I began to tremble uncontrollably and that is when I realised something was seriously wrong. I told my mother that I was not feeling well and she said we would go to the doctor the next day.
I tried to keep myself busy the rest of the day but I could still hear sounds no one else could and started to see inexplicable images in my vision. Also, there was a manic energy in me that I could not contain, and I began packing and repacking all my clothes chaotically. I just could not fall asleep.
In the early hours of the morning, I convinced myself that everyone knew I was insane. I went to my sister and accused her and other family members of keeping my madness a secret from me. I demanded to be taken to the Parirenyatwa Hospital’s psychiatric unit and in the middle of making this demand, I began to have fits which left everyone in the house terrified. I was shouting, screaming and seeing animals that were not there and kept hearing a chorus of babies wailing along with unusual musical sounds.
As my mother put me in her car and rushed me to the emergency room, I started to believe I had been seriously burnt in a fire and was unrecognisable. When we got there, I was shouting and talking at the top of my voice. I kept asking anyone who would listen what exactly was going on. They referred me to a psychiatry specialist who wasted no time in sedating me and administering drugs. After a long time, I woke up calmer and in my right senses again. However, I could not stop crying.
The psychiatrist then told me I had postpartum psychosis which is also called puerperal psychosis. I was vaguely familiar with the condition and he told me it was an intense mental illness that affected a small section of women after childbirth.
Recoveries and relapses
I spent four days in a mother and baby unit after which I was finally discharged and sent back home. I however began to struggle with severe depression and felt so lonely, worthless and lethargic. I believed I was unfit to be a mother and suicidal thoughts crowded my mind. This scared me terribly and I told my psychiatrist; but he was unsympathetic. I also told him the drugs he had prescribed were not working for me, but he just told me to keep on taking them.
I stopped taking the drugs and before long, I was losing touch with reality again. I was so confused and on one occasion, I almost burnt down the house with the gas stove. By now, my parents and husband were in dire straits and desperate to find the right help for me. I was eventually referred to a female psychiatrist who prescribed a newer course of anti-psychotic and antidepressant drugs that instantly improved my condition.
It has been four months since my last psychotic episode and I’m still on medication. I still struggle emotionally; at times I am overwhelmed by the burden of carrying a condition that takes its toll on one’s mind. While it can get really bad and I am unable to function, the loving support of my family and the thought of my beautiful son help me to get up and keep going.
I am hopeful that I will triumph over this ruthless condition and look back on it as only a memory in the near future.
Main photograph is taken from www.healthsciencedegree.info