Black with Postnatal Depression: My Therapist Had Never Treated A Black Woman

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postpartum depression, Warrior Moms of ColorLebogang, a South African mother, has blessed us today with another story for our series Warrior Moms of Color, where we focus on Asian-American, Latin-American and African-American — and today, African — moms with postpartum depression or postnatal depression as it’s called elsewhere around the world and their experiences with the illness. I’m so happy to have her at Postpartum Progress!

Apparently I fit the bill to the T, and I didn’t know it.

I remember at the psychiatrist office, how confused and scared I was.

Have you had anxiety before?

A bit, through my divorce.

Have you had a loss prior to this pregnancy?

Yes, an ectopic pregnancy three months prior to conceiving our son.

Have you been on slimming pills, erratic diets, etc?

Errhm, yes, all my life. In fact I might have been anorexic, but we are black so such issues are never diagnosed/discussed.

Have you had a fertility treatment?

Yes, an IUI after a long year of trying to conceive.

Are you a perfectionist?

I have always been.

Did you deliver via C-section?

YES, YES, YES! What’s wrong with me?!

You definitely have postnatal depression.

Postnatal depression! Everything was a blur from that statement onwards.  All I do remember is thinking for sure that I was dying, my heart was pounding so hard I could literally hear every beat, I was shaking like a leaf.

I don’t think this doctor understands what I’m going through. What the hell does this have to do with postnatal depression? I’m having a heart attack people! Hell I’d take depression anyday over this.

Well that’s what I thought at the time, and boy was I wrong.  I was prescribed the lowest dose of antidepressant and something to control my tremendous anxiety, and within hours I could breathe without counting my heartbeats.  But then things got progressively worse.  By Tuesday I couldn’t concentrate, Wednesday I was living through a glass (few people would understand this phenomena), Thursday I saw my son dying in 101 scenarios, by Friday I wanted to run … and by Sunday I wanted to jump.  My mind was racing, I was in a deep hole.  I pleaded with God to keep me alive and did as much research as possible.

My family did not understand this — I don’t blame them as I didn’t believe in postnatal depression myself — but they were supportive.  My husband did his research and held my hand and I am lucky in that regard.  I lived on Postpartum Progress, searching for hope stories and hanging onto them with dear life.  My meds were adjusted, changed, and adjusted again.

I tried looking for more black women who had gone through this. I found three on Twitter. Three … that’s it.  I talked to anyone who cared to listen, and many made me feel insecure, like I was the only black woman to ever go through this.  I was told to smile, pray more, suck it up and enjoy my baby.  Why are you on meds? Don’t you know you’ll be dependant for life?  My very close cousin was scared of me, she told me I was going crazy.  See I love how the black community is the same all over the world … like Addye said:

  1.  We don’t do therapy, at all.
  2. Any mental illness means you are losing your marbles, hence we keep it a secret.
  3. Women are meant to be hard as a rock; we are somehow supernatural beings.
  4. If anything goes wrong in your life, it’s because God is punishing you for something and you are just not worthy of Him.

I made a choice to reach out. I owed it to myself to get better, to my kids, to my family.  The white community in South Africa welcomed me with open arms. They all knew someone who’d gone through postnatal depression.  My therapist had never ever treated a black woman.  Our support group had, well, no women of colour.  But I made it my mission to find more of us, and what better way to do that than sharing my experiences. I wrote to all baby magazines, and started a blog. And one day, when I least expected it, my pastor at church called me to the side and told me that she went through PPD.  Two of my distant friends had gone through it, but kept it a secret.  I also received two emails from strangers who had gone through this.

When my son hit  three months, things got much better, by the time he was five months I had the right treatment plan, and now at ten months postpartum I feel so much like my old self.   And so I share my story in hope to help a new mom out there, black, white, it really doesn’t matter … You are not alone, you are not the only one to go through this, and please please hang on, it does get better.   I’m Lebo, a black South African mother and a postpartum depression and postpartum OCD survivor.

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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  1. Sometimes it’s hard to be black. My family has people with education and working experience in psychology and mental illness, but outside of my family, well, there’s a lot of stuff I would never talk about with my people. If you are already feeling down, being told that getting help what “they” do is not helpful. Anyway, my kids are big now. I talked to my doctor about PPD and got some help, though decided against meds while I was pregnant and breastfeeding. It lifted at about 6 months after the birth each time, not totally, but there was light at the end of the tunnel. I would encourage women of color to speak to professionals, that you don’t necessarily have to share the issue with friends and family that do not understand — and they may not. I’m all for bringing the issue out of the dark, but individuals currently suffering from PPD are not always strong enough to carry the banner. So I’d say get help. No one has to know and when you feel better you can talk about it and encourage others to get help as well. When a woman is already overwhelmed it is not the time to take on the black and religious community.

  2. Kris Acker says:

    Lebo,

    Thank you so much for being so honest! You wrote, “I was living through a glass (few people would understand this phenomena)” ……Unfortunately, I understand- It’s been a very trying year- my daughter turned 1 on Sunday- Still seeking help for feeling like I’m looking through the glass. I am so glad you wrote about a symptom so specific to me- I feel a bit less alone -that means a lot right now! Many thanks!!! Kris

    • Hi Kris, with any symptoms you feel there’s thousands of mothers out there who have felt the same. Trust me, you are not alone. I’m glad you are seeking help, you ae on the right track.

  3. Lebo this is so beautiful. You’re so brave for sharing. Thank you.

    • Thank you Erin. When I was obsessed with this website, reading survival every single day, I never ever thought I’d get to this point. But I told myself, if ever I get to feel even a bit like myself, I will share my experience, those fighting need to know they are not alone.

  4. I couldn’t be more proud of you.
    It is so important to speak up, and by speaking up, we let others know, that it’s alright to seek for help, instead of staying silent and carrying the load all by ourselves.

  5. The mentality in the Caribbean is the very same. I had heard of it but throughout my whole prenatal care, going to clinic and whatnot, I saw not leaflets on this illness. I think I even had a bout of psychosis with it because I can vividly remember thinking there was a conspiracy to keep my child and I in the hospital to kill us. I said nothing to my family about it . It was only when my daughter’s umbilical stump got infected two days later and she was hospitalized did depression really set in and I could no longer hide my fears and overwhelming feelings . Still going through some motions but getting better.