This is the story of my mental health journey…I woke up to a bright sunny day. I prepared breakfast for my mother who had come over to my home for a short visit over 9 years ago. At the time, I was 7 months into my fifth pregnancy. All was going well despite having been diagnosed, two years ago with bipolar affective disorder. My fifth pregnancy was my first pregnancy since the diagnosis. This pregnancy was very exciting for all of us as a family. My family and I went to the doctor in the first trimester to see the new arrival l was expecting on the scan. It was a real family affair an intimate moment we enjoyed as my daughters watched their brother wriggling in the amniotic fluid on the little screen, as the sonographer showed us different angles of the baby, during the scan.
The Joy of New Life
Earlier, l had the scan to ascertain the baby’s sex before l broke the news to my husband. Then l preferred to surprise our daughters during another hospital visit. As is our family tradition; we choose the names of a baby even before they are born. However, this was the first, time l was having a scan done to ascertain my baby’s sex. All through my other pregnancies, l checked to ensured my babies were forming well but preferred to know their sex at birth.
Sometimes, we would choose names for our babies of both sexes in case the baby turned out to be a boy or a girl!
My sister (God rest her soul in peace) and l, believed God, to have a son. All my four previous pregnancies are girls who l love dearly. The girls, my husband, and l were now excited that a boy was on the way. For this pregnancy l had to pay more attention to my health unlike before. Before l conceived l had been taking psychotic meds for about 2 years.
Mental Health: Coping after the diagnosis
Due to the nature of my profession as a journalist; l took a keen interest in reading about different things. Since l read widely; I confirmed that it is a medical fact that medication especially in the first trimester is not safe for the baby’s development. Medical sources, however, reveal that medication during pregnancy must always be taken under professional supervision.
I considered this fact during the first trimester of my pregnancy because it might compromise the formation of the baby. So, I called my psychiatrist as soon as l knew l was pregnant. I informed him that l had discontinued the meds immediately. In this regard; my doctor and l were on the same page. He was quick to tell me that I should never hesitate to contact him. My doctor’s number was on my husband’s speed dial.
Help In Crisis
All went well until, one bright sunny morning. Suddenly, l found myself begin to speak rapidly without the ability to control it. I had been here before so this was a manic episode coming on and it is such a draining ordeal. It drained me mentally, emotionally, and physically. This was the emergency the doctor must have talked about.
So, a good Samaritan who was in the form of my neighbor immediately called my husband to come and attend to me. My husband had gone off to work and the rest of the children were at school. He quickly got home and was able to get me to have a bath and prepare to go to the hospital. All the while as l bathed and prepared to get dressed the rapid speech had not ceased. But somehow l managed to get dressed and by this time the talking had ceased. I was calm but l felt drained and tired.
So, I went to the hospital with my husband. He drove me there and dropped off my mother, on our way to the hospital. When we got to finally see the doctor, my husband was frantic and insisted that l get back on medication. Thankfully, my doctor looked directly at me and included me in the conversation. He asked me whether l should get back on the medication. My reluctant response; “Only if my baby’s safety is guaranteed. But if my baby’s safety is compromised l would rather not take the medication.”
My doctor gave me the assurance that the medication l was going to take was safe. However, he advised that l, “Discontinue the medication 3 weeks before you give birth so that your baby is not lethargic,” the doctor revealed.
I was able to sleep soundly that night. And I stuck to the treatment regimen as prescribed by the doctor. I was able to have our 4-kilogram healthy baby boy two months later.
Global situation of Maternal Mental Health in numbers
According to WHO, the global population of mothers with mental disorders is 10% of the pregnant women, and 13% of women who have given birth experience a mental disorder primarily depression. In developing countries, it’s higher at 15.6% during pregnancy and 19.8% after childbirth.
Mental Wellness tips during pregnancy
To keep mentally well, l ensured that l had adequate sleep. At one point l actually did not have much choice because the medication left me heavily sedated. I paid extra attention to my diet by eating more fresh vegetables and fruits. Drinking more water to keep hydrated is now my lifestyle.
Reading the Bible often is something that became a lifestyle and still is. I learned to be my own prophet; l prayed and confessed the word over myself and my unborn baby. I bought a book on conception and pregnancy with verses from the Bible to pray through during the three trimesters.
I learned to look out for ways of caring for my mental health by listening to gospel music. This gave me a soothing feeling that left me refreshed and calm. Taking walks in the neighborhood especially over the weekend is one way l managed to maintain a healthy mind as well. Exercise l found is one of the easiest ways of maintaining good mental health. It is scientifically proven that exercise releases feel-good hormones called endorphins.
A call to Action
Today, my increasing passion to support mothers with mental health disorders led me to avail information on maternal mental health through my mental health awareness-raising online. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mentalrecoverystory/
To ensure that l am able to reach out to more people, I have written a book on my bipolar recovery journey which will soon be available; BREAKING FREE. In this book, l explore this topic further because there is a lot of need for maternal mental health care.
World Maternal Mental Health Day
It is not surprising that now, WHO recommends Maternal Mental Health can be integrated into general healthcare including women’s health, maternal, reproductive health, child healthcare among other services.
It is against this background that l signed a petition in March this year; on Change.org for action to be taken by the World Health Organisation to commemorate May 1st as the World Maternal Mental Health Day.
Promoting good maternal mental health consequently boosts child health care. By sharing more personal stories women can also get peer support to cope and thrive during the pre and post-partum periods in order to ensure having happier and healthier families globally.