Sonia Murdock: On Zulu Mothers’ Tears for New Moms

Dear Moms and Moms-to-be,

"It takes a whole village to raise a child but we need to remember that it was the mother who had the baby, and she and the entire family need our help too." ~ Jane Honikman, founder, Postpartum Support International

While I was in Cape Town, South Africa, for the first conference held on perinatal mood disorders in that country, I had an opportunity to meet women from the Zulu tribe. I was very interested to find out from them how they dealt with postpartum depression in their culture. Through an interpreter, I asked would they mind if I asked them some questions about mothers in their community.

With beautiful smiles and nodding heads, they appeared to be friendly and interested to help.

I first asked “How was postpartum depression treated in your community?”

The interpreter didn't understand what that meant. I then rephrased my question to ask about how they helped mothers who were sad, feeling down, depressed sometimes after having a baby. He then relayed something to the women.

The women didn't appear to understand the question. Knowing in some cultures there is not a term for depression, I then thought to ask about social support for mothers. “What type of support or help are women given after having a baby?”

The women shared “all babies are seen as a blessing and it didn't matter if you were blood-related or not, the community comes together and offers help for at least 6 months.”

Six months! I couldn't believe the support these mothers and families had available to them.

The women appeared curious and asked “How long are mothers and families helped in the United States?

I didn't know how to quite answer this right away. I felt a responsibility to give these women an accurate picture of my country and how families are helped with the arrival of a new baby. I thought if the woman had a mother that was available to help, she may come to help for a week. Maybe her mother-in-law would come to help for a week. Maybe the husband would take a few days off from work. This was just a very rough, general idea of how families might be helped. So I felt comfortable relaying this to the interpreter “that families in the United States may receive help for the first two weeks.”

There was then a lot of talking back and forth among the women. I was getting concerned since I had not used an interpreter before for something like this. I asked if everthing was okay with what was said to the women. The interpreter told me, “They are talking about if you meant two weeks or two months?” As I instinctively held up my hand with two fingers in a “V” shape, I reassured the interpreter that yes I had said it was two weeks … 14 days. This was relayed and the information was reconfirmed to the women.

What happened next I wish I would have captured on video to be able to best share with everyone.

The women huddled together and spoke among themselves. One woman then slowly came forward. The interpreter said they had a message for me and it was meant for me to take back and share with others.

They then motioned with their hands to each other. All of a sudden the women organized themselves to be standing side by side in front of me as if they were appearing across a stage.

I noticed their faces no longer shone smiles but heavily held sadness and seriousness.

They then each held up their hands in a fist before their own faces with then only their index fingers pointing up. They then placed each finger below each of their eyes. With their eyes turned downward towards the dried out dirt we were all standing on, they began to slowly move their hands. Very, very slowly their fingers began to move downward from their cheeks, the corners of their mouth, the edge of their chin and lightly slightly past their necks before their placing their arms by their sides.

The interpreter broke the silence with these words, “These are tears for American mothers, fathers and families.”

At that moment, I felt these women had understood what I was interested in learning from them. I don't know what their life is like or what the community looks like where they live. I felt they were not concerned about big TVs, SUVs or designer sneakers. They cared about people and family. Mothering the mother and giving a family and baby the support they need to have a good start in life.

Thank you to these Zulu women for sharing with me.

Joining in celebration of all moms and moms-to-be in how special you are today and everyday! Happy Mother's Day 2011!

Sonia Murdock's is the executive director of the Postpartum Resource Center or New York. Her mission is to help save lives and build healthy families by Building a Perinatal Mood Disorders Safety Net in Every Community Worldwide. (www.soniamurdock.com) She thanks Jane Honikman, founder of Postpartum Support International, for being there to help her family, for using her life to make the world and better place and for the opportunity to have co-presented with her in South Africa. She is also grateful to Liz and Derrick Mills for their hospitality in Africa. Liz is the founder of Post Natal Depression Support Association South Africa (PNDSA).


Donations to Postpartum Progress can be made here: http://postpartumprogress.org/donate-postpartum-depression-2/

About Katherine Stone

is the founder of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the top 20 Social Media Moms by Working Mother magazine. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

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Comments

  1. wow.
    this is amazing to me.
    what would it be like to have 6 months of support? seriously. what would that be like???? would ppd cease to exist?
    this post brought tears to my eyes and an ache in my heart. thank you.

  2. This? We need this. This country, women, NEED this.
    I'm crying while I read this because these women GET it.

  3. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    This message is so beautiful Sonia. I WISH LIKE HECK you had video of this. What a gorgeous and moving scene it must have been. It's so amazing that you are traveling the world talking about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and how to help new women. Just amazing. Wish I could go with you. Thank you for being here today!

  4. This is a beautiful story.
    When I was first diagnosed with PPOCD my family worked out various schedules so that someone could be with me every day for as long as I felt like I needed it.
    Every woman should be so lucky as I was.

  5. Liana Brooks says:

    My Caribbean neighbor is in her 80's and has five children. When we walked while I was pregnant with my third she told me all that she had a as a new mother.
    Family came to care for her and the infant. She was washed and dressed and pampered for the first three months. Someone was always there for her and the baby.
    We lived to far from family for anyone to come visit until my child was 6 months old. I had the baby, and went back to the regular schedule of caring for children with no support. To say the least, I was insanely jealous.
    So much of the baby blues comes from fatigue, and the isolation a new mother often feels because the doctors tell them to avoid people to keep the infant healthy only spurs depression.
    The Zulu way sounds beautiful.

  6. Wonderful story !!….and amazing how those cultures seem to have naturally evolved into a support system for the new mother…with a significant duration of time !! They didn't need guidebooks and research studies.
    In contrast to our "fast paced", in/out of the hospital , American way with minimal support structures. We have a lot to learn from those cultures !!

  7. this is breathtaking.
    sigh.
    we have so far to go, still.

  8. Wow. And we think we are so enlightened in north America! That must have been an amazingly beautiful moment. I wish we could be more like the Zulus!

  9. How beautiful! I have tears in my eyes.