Sometimes having a baby isn't that euphoric


Parent24 published an extract from Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille's new book Not Without a Fight

A reader shares her thoughts in response to the article, Helen Zille on her postnatal depression: "How could having a baby be so hard?"

"Wow, Helen's story really hit a nerve, as it is so close to my own.

Young, naïve and pregnant:

"At the tender age of 22, I was pregnant with my first child. I did attend antenatal classes and read up a lot (this was in 1983). I did not get any practical advice from my mom or mom-in-law at all.

"My mom-in-law had one mantra and that was 'you must breastfeed until 18 months - that is the only thing that counts'. My mom, on the other hand, was of the opinion that it did not matter, as my two siblings and I had been introduced to the bottle very early in life and we were all fine!

"Pregnancy went well and labour was not very intense or long. Contractions weren't very strong so the magic pill was inserted and suddenly I was in full-blown labour. I had a healthy little 3.4kg boy, who was only slightly jaundiced. Back then, we stayed in hospital for seven days and were 'nurtured' - baby was only brought to me on schedule.

"It was like Heaven. 

"Then you are sent home. Suddenly, I had a screaming baby, who was pooping non-stop - the most vile, yellow poo. It turned out he has a lactose intolerance and I had to stop feeding him immediately and put him on to soya bean milk at two weeks old. 

"Back then we did not have disposable nappies and the Sterinappy service was too expensive, so I spent every day washing and Jik-ing nappies. My mom and dad were very supportive, but my mom-in-law was another story and made me feel so guilty for not being able to breastfeed him.

The traumatic premature birth of my second baby:

"Then along came baby number 2 - who from my 6th month of pregnancy gave me grief and then arrived 6 weeks prematurely. Weighed in at 2.4kgs, which was a good weight, but no one gave us any advice as to what a prem baby was going to do to our lives.

"I had a very fast and violent delivery with him - I wasn't even in the delivery room and this baby was just coming - they're telling me to stop pushing and I have no control over my body. MY blood pressure shot up to over 200, so I was having injections shoved into my thighs and I had no idea what was going on.

"I was shown my baby's face for a second and then he was whisked away to neo-natal. The next morning, when I went through to see him and they told me to go ahead, I told them that I didn't know which baby was mine and what a feeling of disassociation and hollowness that followed.

"Fortunately, he began to suck within 48 hours and although he had bad jaundice, we only stayed in hospital for seven days. Of course, I had to stop breastfeeding at 6 weeks, as this baby screamed every 2 hours and tripled his birth weight in six weeks.

"Both the gynae and the paed looked at me at 6 weeks and said 'stop feeding now and put this baby on to formula'. But, of course, mom-in-law had LOTS to say and it affected our relationship, right to her death. She made me feel useless!

"But that was only the start of a very long road which involved all the complications of having a prem baby. I reiterate, NO ONE - not the gynae, paediatrician, nurses, clinic, etc. gave any practical and useful advice as to what we were in for. And so, for the next five years, I soldiered on with two kids, who were not the healthiest (grommets a dozen times for each child, bronchitis, etc.).

Reaching a breaking point:

"When I reached 30, I crashed. We had moved to a location that I was not happy with and everything just came to a head. I went on to anti-depressants until finally I was admitted to Minerva Clinic, put on to a drip (no electroshock therapy fortunately) and helped with how to deal with the trauma of the prem delivery.

"I remember looking at my eldest son, who came to visit dressed in red shorts and a lime green T-shirt (this was not fashionable in 1990) and thinking 'what is going to happen to my kids if I am not around? I have to get better'.

"And so the fight began. I did not know that PND could affect one for so long, and when we have our children close together (mine are two years and four months apart), I think it exacerbates the problem.

"People believe that pregnancy is wonderful and you should be euphoric, but for so many women, it is just the opposite. My daughter-in-law, who is Taiwanese, is 12 weeks pregnant and is going home to her parents at the end of her second trimester, as they have a very different belief about a pregnant woman.

"Apparently, they take care of you, make sure you eat all the right foods to help with the labour and then with the recovery after the birth, along with looking after the baby, so the mother can rest and bond with the child.

"I do feel sad that we won't be involved, but I believe that she is far better off there than here."

Have you suffered from postnatal depression? Did you know you were suffering from PND at the time? Did you get medical help and support from your family and friends? How and when did you overcome your depression? Share your thoughts and experience by emailing and we may publish your story.

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