Postpartum Depression: The Things Women Leave Unsaid

By Azeezat Okunlola | Aug 18, 2023

Having a child is one of the most life-altering and stressful experience any woman can have. The transition from individual to parenthood occurs simultaneously with the lack of sleep and the need to balance or modify one's life appropriately. One day you do not have a baby and boom! You do! Suddenly your identity changes and your life is on hold.

70 to 80 per cent of new mothers suffer from postpartum depression. A clinical form of postpartum depression, which is more severe and lasts longer, affects 10-20 per cent of these mothers. Research also proves that one in seven women who have recently given birth will suffer from postpartum depression during the first year. 

The fact that postpartum care is still grossly inadequate in numerous countries further adds to these difficulties. Moreover, many new moms are encouraged to "embrace this new life" and show no signs of weakness while they go through caregiving for their babies.

Women's silence on important topics like postpartum depression is perpetuated by the fear of judgment from others, especially in societies where motherhood is idolised and mental health disorders are stigmatised.

The unique experience of having a child is already overwhelming, but these cultural expectations, which are sometimes held even by health professionals, add an extra layer of difficulty.

In an interview with SELF, Megan Piper Gray, MD, an obstetrician-gynaecologist at Orlando Health (and author of The Forgotten Trimester: Navigating Self-Care After Birth) said, “The reality is that there’s a lack of postpartum care. We spend a majority of our time counseling patients about pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and we don’t see postpartum past the six-week visit. So we have to shift our minds to the importance of the postpartum period, and understand that the transitions are emotional and physical.”

Beyond this, a more pressing concern is the influence of the environment on the new mother's mental state. Everything from the people she meets and how they engage her to the reception she is given and the affection and support she receives from those closest to her are all part of this.

To amplify the voices of women who have been through one form of postpartum experience or the other, Document Women spoke to two mothers, as well as Damilola Orimogunje, the Director of Netflix hit "For Maria, Ebun Pataki".

Mrs Ogundeji Tobilola, a civil servant and event stylist, says that nothing could have prepared her for her pre- and post-natal experiences:

"My pregnancy was really stressful. I could not eat, or eat anything of my choice. I used to take three bags of sachet water everyday. For everything I tried to eat, I would vomit. I was always sick- in and out of bed. I couldn't use any cream or bathing soap. I got irritated by perfumes. I couldn't cook or warm food. I was always spitting. It was not easy on me at all. I vomited all through my pregnancy stage. It was overwhelming for me. I did not realise I was pregnant initially."

Speaking of her birth session, she said;

"I gave birth through cesarean section, and it was crazy because it was a lot of pain after the surgery. I opened my eyes to proper pain. I was begging God for my life. I didn't even care about the child because of the pain. I was praying for my life. When the pain wore off, I couldn't bath. I had to wrap nylon around myself to bath. That alone was distressing. I was placed on drips as well. I started eating after five days. Treating the injuries and recovering, and the pressure of snapping back was crazy."

She also added that she was not so lucky to have much support during the challenging time. 

"For me, I had no support system. My mother in law didn't show. My mum is a working mum so she could only spend about a week. So I had to quickly learn how to care for my baby and myself all on my own cause no one would do it for me. So the healing, adjusting to motherhood, taking care of the baby and all was hectic because I had to navigate."

"Sometimes I would wake in the morning and bathe my child and just drop her somewhere because I was not myself. Also, my husband isn't exactly one to say no. So while I was battling all these, to get back into the real world and battling with depression, he brought his family members to live with us. I had to take care of them, coming and all. So much that I fell ill. There was a day I couldn't cook for them and had to go get pepper soup for them. It stressed me. I almost turned to alcohol."

"It was also devastating that no one cared about me but the child. Even when my mum called she was always asking about whether or not I had breastfed the child. Everyone would say 'you have no other job but to take care of the child, so please do'. I remember avoiding people. All they'll do is come visiting, talk and leave. I needed someone to help make my life better but no one was doing that honestly. So I isolated myself. Thank God for a friend of mine who kept calling for hours. He is abroad. I had a female friend who really helped too. She cooked for me at times and supported me. I wish a lot of people gave me that support"

"It took a while to step out cause I had to think of how to carry my 'load'. One person told me one time that she felt like slapping me because I was using a carrier instead of a wrapper to carry my baby. A total stranger. And frankly, I told a friend I'm not sure I want to have another child."


Mrs Folarin (not her real name) says that she lost her first child, but that the weeks leading up to her child's death were hell for her. Her mother lived hours away in Benue State and she stayed in Port Harcourt, Rivers State with her husband who happens to be a pastor. So her mum could not come visiting.

"My mother-in-law never liked me, but as a woman who had been through what I have, I expected some atom of humanity, sympathy, and anything. My husband had traveled for Shiloh and had sent his mum to stay with me. Long story short, my baby had a brain defect, and she won't stop taunting me about the "thing" I gave birth to when my mates were giving birth to healthy babies."

"I honestly did not enjoy any bit of my pregnancy. I was depressed from morning till night. I had no one to talk to or confide in. Then not many people could afford mobile phones. I used to plan my calls ahead and then go to NITEL office to await the promised time. I was alone. For me, having a child like that strained my already bitter relationship with my husband and his family. I was admitted to the psychiatric hospital not long after. I was unwell. I literally ran mad trying to hurt myself and screaming at night."

In For Maria- Ebun Pataki, a mother struggles with postpartum depression and begins to withdraw from her family and the world around her, Damilola Orimogunje explained the inspiration behind the movie…

"I have always been fascinated with simple relatable stories rooted in cultural or social issues. With "For Maria," I initially sought to explore an emotional family saga within a confined setting. It took a chance conversation with an acquaintance to ignite my interest in the experiences of new mothers with postpartum depression. After further investigation, I felt deeply moved to shed light on this issue that remains disturbingly obscure or misunderstood in our society," He said. 

When asked whether the movie set to explore the angle of "mother-in-law and wife" not being an exceptionally sound combo for new mothers experiencing one form of trauma or the other, he said:

"Certainly not. Instead, I approached the film with the intention of delving into the dynamics of this relationship within the context of prevailing cultural norms and the generation gap. My aim was to offer the audience an alternative viewpoint, embodied by Derin, the sick new mother, who is an educated working woman. While the mother-in-law held genuine affection for her daughter-in-law, her misguided actions stemmed from a lack of understanding."

Speaking on the tension viewers see between Derin and her mother in law, Orimogunje  explained that while it "might be tempting to simplify the matter into a binary framework, the relationship is more intricate. Older mothers experienced the terrain of motherhood without the lexicon of modern psychological reality. For them, the toll inflicted upon the well-being of a new mother is difficult to comprehend through the lens of mental health discourse. This, in turn, engendered a form of harmful ignorance, often sadly steeped in good intentions."

"Derin and her mother-in-law’s relationship signifies a wider pattern of misalignment between older and younger generations, as our culture evolves and collective awareness progresses. The film is really an invitation to the audience to contemplate not only the evolving realities of motherhood but also the need for more awareness surrounding mental health presently."

When asked whether the movie sought to advocate for alternatives to the postnatal experience, besides advocating for support and special attention and more positive and informed attitude towards new mothers, the director said, "Interestingly, in an early version of "For Maria," which ultimately didn’t make it past the editing room there were scenes showing Derin going through a rushed cesarean birth after some hesitation and with her husband's approval. This was much like the similar scene in Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma." The purpose was to explore the repository of a woman's agency within our culture. Beyond supporting new mothers, I sought to ask: 'How informed are women about their options, from before they give birth to postnatal.'"

Amidst the concealed toll of countless demands placed upon new mothers, an urgent call resonates for our society to openly address and take decisive steps against postpartum depression. By doing so, we can shatter the stifling stigma and prevent the multifaceted harm it inflicts.