Every now and then we hear of another one – found abandoned in the market, a lonely road, a hospital nursery, or in a basket of reeds on River Nile. Even the golden King of Dancehall knows nothing of his origins prior to being found in a garbage dump as a newborn albino.
“The mother of a five-day-old baby boy, who was found in a plastic bag on Sergany Drive yesterday, has been charged with abandonment of a child.”Jamaica Observer
“The police are awaiting DNA test results to confirm whether a 20-year-old woman is the biological mother of a baby girl that was found abandoned at the Coronation Market in downtown Kingston earlier this month.”Loop Jamaica
These findings are always followed by a manhunt for the
parents mother of the abandoned child, and questions… questions like:
What kind of worthless mother would turn her back on her precious bundle of joy?
Babies truly are bundles of joy, aren’t they? Adorable little cheeks, gummy smiles and contagious laughter light up the room when you visit your friend with the new baby. You double tap as you scroll past a video on a new mom’s account on Instagram. You are so absorbed in the little cherub’s coos and gurgles that you don’t even notice that the mom hasn’t posted a picture of herself since she had the baby. Why hasn’t she, though?
Her eyes are dead from a lack of sleep. It’s been a month since delivery and she still looks five months pregnant. Her sore breasts don’t seem to be making enough milk to satisfy the baby’s hunger. The nine months of periods she absconded during pregnancy all came back as one heavy flow from her aching, battered uterus down to her stitched-up perineum. Her boyfriend doesn’t even look at her anymore, let alone touch her. Why is the baby crying again? Is he too hot? Too cold? Hungry again? Gassy? She doesn’t know what else to do. She is failing as a mother already. She can’t even get her own baby to stop crying. She cries helplessly as she watches him wail from his plush baby blue blanket.
This isn’t the ‘baby blues’ that her doctor told her to expect in the weeks following childbirth. The doctor said those would go away after a few days. But this isn’t going away. This is deeper. Darker. Mild annoyance is quickly growing into thoughts of slamming the cot into the wall for the baby to shut the hell up, which, in turn, grows into an overwhelming sense of guilt for having such dark thoughts about her own child.
She cries more than the baby does these days. She can’t take a shower for five minutes without imagining that her son is suffocating in his blanket, so she rarely does. She can’t sleep without dreaming that he suddenly stopped breathing, so she rarely does.
Her friends come to visit less frequently these days – they went back to their thriving careers and raving parties without her. Who wants to talk about dirty diapers anyway? Her mother, who was upset that she had gotten pregnant at such a crucial point in her life, still hasn’t come by to see her or the baby. Her boyfriend is spending less and less time at home. She is alone.
But she isn’t exactly alone.
An estimated 15 per cent of mothers suffer from postpartum depression, which usually strikes in the first week of giving birth, but can begin anywhere in the baby’s first year, even in pregnancy, and continue indefinitely. These women suffer from severe mood swings, excessive crying, sleep disorders, eating disorders, withdrawal from family and friends, constant fatigue and loss of energy, and crippling anxiety or panic attacks. They feel inadequate, hopeless, isolated, angry, guilty, and might even think of hurting themselves or their babies. They are no longer interested in things they once loved, their appearance, or self-care.
They are everywhere. More than one in every ten women that you know have experienced, or are experiencing this mental condition – undiagnosed and untreated. She is most likely to be that mom you know who was shunned for her pregnancy, or that mom who had twins. What about the one who is raising her child alone, or the one who is working two jobs to make ends meet? Those mothers with high levels of stress and little social support are more vulnerable to become depressed after giving birth. These moms are drowning in the cold, deep, dark, blue waves of depression.
Dr Samantha Nicholson-Spence says that by definition, PPD can strike anywhere in the year following childbirth, and in some cases even before the baby is born.
“It tends to start in the third trimester in a lot of women, and then it becomes more florid after the birth of the baby. It’s more common up to the first five months after the birth of the baby.”
She said the symptoms are similar to those of depression, such as constant sadness, tearfulness, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, and disinterest in things that once interested the woman.
“But because it’s related to a baby, you find that there are other features, such as an obsessive preoccupation with the health of the baby, or the opposite, where the mother may not care about the baby’s well-being at all, such as not wanting to feed the baby, or not responding when the baby cries,” she explained. “She may also not care for herself, such as not bathing or keeping up her appearance, and not being interested in sex or her spouse.”
While postpartum depression can strike any mother, Dr Nicholson-Spence noted that women without much social support are more at risk of becoming depressed.
“For example, if there is no father around, or your mother [or an experienced relative] is not there to help you, you might have a problem,” she said. “Also if it’s twins, or a higher multiple pregnancy, or you have older children in the home, especially if those children are toddlers… That is a lot of stress, and if you don’t have help it is easy for you to become depressed.”
She added: “If you already have had depression in the past, or even pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (depression symptoms just before menstruation), if you can’t provide for yourself and the child, if you didn’t want the pregnancy in the first place, or if there is a history of abuse; those things also predispose you to having postpartum depression.”
While ‘baby blues’ mimic PPD, Dr Nicholson-Spence says they doesn’t last very long, and those symptoms are milder than those of PPD. She urged women who feel as if their symptoms are getting worse or that they might hurt themselves or their babies to seek help, as untreated PPD can develop into a more serious condition.
“Things can be so bad where you go into postpartum psychosis, where you start hearing voices and seeing things,” she warned. “The voices may tell you that you are a worthless mom, or that you should kill yourself or your baby.”
So, back to the question. What kind of mother…?
A selfless one.
A woman who realises that she is a danger to herself and her child, and the child is safer away from her. A woman who could have ended the child’s life, and even her own, but instead decided to leave her baby where a more capable stranger would find it. Come what may.
An abandoned one.
A woman who was already abandoned. Abandoned by the father of the child, who won’t be hunted down and charged like she will; abandoned by the healthcare system after six weeks postpartum; abandoned by the state that made it illegal for her to end a pregnancy she didn’t want in the first place; abandoned the community that failed to rally around her when she needed support.
A heroic one.
The same one you see putting on a brave face could be next. The one who smiles when her baby smiles, and grabs her phone to capture the moment. The one who posts pictures of her baby on Instagram and captions them ‘The Joy of my world.’ The one who will put down the phone to get back to the loneliness and depressing prison of motherhood, while you scroll by, comment “He is so adorable! Such a bundle of Joy!” and get on with your life.