That Thing You Called Madness

By Ikenga Chronicles April 23, 2018

That Thing You Called Madness

– Uche Anyanwagu

Nne held her 4-day old baby in her own arms as she cried out her lungs. In her ears, she could only hear that very sleepy tune of NTA 9pm Network News.

A sense of low-self esteem, mood swings and severe depression had enveloped her. She reached out to her left arm and raised her baby as King Solomon did when he wanted to split the living baby in a baby-ownership dispute. She twisted her arm as the baby reeled out in very severe pain, screaming. Unperturbed, she went for her jaw to twist it before her sister entered and screamed.

She broke down crying. Nne felt a strange being now lives in her, and she wanted to be free. Her mind reflected back on her “lost days” of freedom. Especially, those memorable ante-natal.

It happened that Nne registered for her ante-natal care at a Teaching Hospital in a very beautiful and clean city, East of the Niger.

It’s usually a busy hospital–the only tertiary health institution that serves the state and even the adjourning anglophone communities from a neighbouring country. As a result of this, pregnant ladies thronged the busy ante-natal unit for their routine ante-natal check. It was during my postings in this clinic that I came to realise the reason behind the high rate in that locality.

I would later come to believe that ladies got pregnant with no qualms because of this. Even those on family planning, on visiting the unit, ended up changing their minds, making it seem as if contraceptives were failing.

Unknown to us, the answer to all these was right on the corridor leading to our clinic.

It happened that a lady sold a lovely delicacy made of cow liver, which was well garnished with local ingredients, spices and sauces. The lovely aroma alone the moment the lady opens her cooler could make one make a wrong diagnosis.

It was so magical that it became obvious why the ladies were never late to, nor ever missed their, clinic appointments.

I also understood why the ladies were not always so eager to enter the clinic when called up at their turn. They would neither hear nor answer their names unless they have gulped many pieces of this liver delicacy.

The affinity was so strong that the “Liver woman” commanded more authority than all the consultants in the unit combined. These preggies are not to blame because pregnancy comes at a price which takes its toll on most ladies’ appetite.

So, on getting to the clinic, these ladies would first line up to answer present at “Madam Liver’s” clinic before they answer their own surnames elsewhere.

I almost questioned GOD why I wasn’t created a woman the first day I had a few pieces of the liver delicacy. Chai, what a missed opportunity to cook up enough reasons to get pregnant as many times as possible.

As they line to eat their liver, Nne’s story comes alive as it reflects the failings of our health system in addressing important issues.

Like every other to-be mum, Nne booked early for her ante-natal sessions and waited patiently for the arrival of her bundle of joy–her very own baby.

She was blessed with the beautiful baby girl who looked so cute and true. She weighed 4.6kg as she was laid on her mother’s chest/breast.

They spent two or three more days in the hospital before going home. The following days saw her sad, bitter and depressed. She quickly sunk into low mood and her bundle of joy became a burden of sorry and anguish and regret. She became irritated and withdrawn to say the least. At a stage, this rapidly evolved into violence – not just to her but to her child.

“Nne, what’s wrong?” asked her terrified elder sister who had visited since she gave birth to help her out.

“I don’t know…” she tearfully said. “…I’m just angry and it feels like I’m missing something…”. Sadly, this continued for days.

Yes we are missing something so great in our antenatal care package when at the end of the liver meal, we fail to educate especially our young mother what postpartum depression is and the havoc it can wreck.

We are missing something when we fail to realise that postpartum depression can lead a lady to kill her own baby. This reality dawned on me when I read in a newspaper of a lady that killed her own 2-week old Baby due to postpartum depression that led to psychosis.

We are missing something when we accuse that mother of having had a covenant with the marine spirit not to have a baby but having broken the covenant by mistakenly having one, you now accuse her of trying to get rid of the baby to refresh her covenant.

We are missing something when we allege that a young mum is possessed by demons who have instructed her to sacrifice her newborn.

That lady watching her crying child with excitement like someone seeing the newly released Wakanda movie, oblivious of his cry could be passing through this.

That once cheerful and neat young mum who had suddenly become tearful and unkempt always after the birth of her baby may be another passenger.

That very soft and kind lady who now gets easily irritable to the extent of hitting her newborn may have just joined the queue.

We are missing something. Sadly, not that delicious piece of liver but the reality of postpartum depression.

That thing you called madness or evil spirit was actually postpartum depression.

It’s here! It’s real. Be real too.

I am Uche Anyanwagu. I now know postpartum depression is real.

This is the 20th (Hurray🎉) in a series of short stories on “Medical Myths – Tales by Doctors”.