I was born and raised in Zimbabwe, a beautiful country that I only set foot out of, for the first time,at the fine age of 29. Our country made considerable headway in terms of education and infrastructure, at a time when most other African countries were stagnant. Unfortunately, mental health has not been given the same attention, resulting in a lot of shame and stigma surrounding it. I had my first child at 19, it was a largely embarrassing and guilt- ridden time for me, in my community, with my family and with the nurses that attended me. My second came only two years later, the birth of my child and the first year of her life remain a blank space, I have no recollection of. Had I known earlier that that was a red flag, I probably would've done something about it, but I didn't and neither did anyone around me. Maybe, it would've prevented my experience with my third child, maybe, maybe not. When I got pregnant with my third child, I was already an immigrant, in South Africa, trying to survive with my family. It was eight years after my second child, unplanned and untimely. Regardless, I was determined to let this pregnancy be the first that I would actually enjoy and a child I would be prepare, free of guilt for. Life as an immigrant, is hardly what those who are left at home think it is, financially, I was barely coping, but pleasantly enough, healthcare is free, even for immigrants in South Africa. I had preconceived expectations, knowing the public healthcare system in my own country but I was determined to go the extra mile, as a foreigner and stay on the " good side" of the nurses. My scan revealed that my baby was in a breech position, which wouldn't be so bad, if well prepared for. Things were going well for me, until a month before I was due I challenged a nurse who claimed my baby was now in the correct position. I was certain I felt differently. The nurse blew a fuse, telling me that I wasn't the nurse and had no right talking back to her,anyway. Too stretched on cash to seek a private second opinion, I decided to calm myself and prepare for my baby's birth. The day I went into labour, as a third time mom, I was calm, I was timing my own contractions and optimistic. When I arrived at the hospital, expecting to have my baby in the next two hours or so...I was met by a rude fact. My baby had never turned, I had been right and that hospital did not have the capacity to perform caesarean births. This information was followed by a trail of student nurses, one after the other physically probing me as an example of a breech baby. Did I remain silent? No, I expressed that it was worsening my pain. They casually told me that the students needed to know, to avoid mistakes like this happening in the future. An hour later, I was transferred to another hospital, where we were informed that their Theater was full. They tied me to a bed and did an experimental delivery on me, while 10- 15 nurses who stood at the top of the bed gawking like I was some freak of nature. Constantly, I was told to "push harder"unless I wanted to kill my baby... Three hours later and bottom first, my little fighter princess was born. My husband, who had been my pillar the whole time, broke into tears, in a way I have never and doubt I will ever see again. Sadly, my experience was not enough to make them treat me any better. Broken, torn, weak, I was forced to walk across the hospital (and this is a state hospital, you can imagine how big it is) only to be welcomed by another nurse who asked me at that "appropriate time" why I was in South Africa, if I couldn't speak their languages. The next three days of my life, were all part of a nightmare that caused me sleepless nights for months after. Was I less of a human because I was not in my home country? Was I taking things too personally? But then, in time and in healing, I looked back at my own country and realized that the very same thing could've happened there. Only in private care, might one be lucky enough to be treated a little better. Birth Trauma, haunted my life. I was irrationally protective of my baby, I wouldn't even let other family members touch her. If they did, I would sit in deep anxiety, for an opportunity to grab her back. While I understand that birth hardly ever goes as planned, I know it didn't have to be so traumatic and violative. Still, my story, as horrifying as it may sound, is not so different to millions of other African women, uninformed, unheard, lost and confused at a time you expected to bond with your baby. It opened my eyes to the need for perinatal mental health care to be integrated into African health systems. 1 in 5 women, experience perinatal mental disorders, only 15% of them receive treatment. In many African countries, these disorders are not even recognized, let alone treated. In most antenatal and postnatal facilities, women are not screened or told about mental health, the effects of which are deep seated and far- stretching. I started Cocoon Support Group, in Zimbabwe, to raise awareness and give an ear to women needing perinatal mental support. Currently, we need permission to enter hospitals to reach the health care workers and are only able to leave pamphlets. Zimbabwe is in a time of financial distress and fundraising attempts can be futile, making it difficult to reach as far as I would want to. Regardless, it has motivated me into the creation of an Application for Mobile devices, available in local languages, which will provide women with much needed information about their developing baby, their own maternal journey, basic perinatal mental health screening, immunization reminders and information about what these vaccines are. The app will also have a portal where women can rate their hospital experience and give praise or complaints on it. I believe it is of utmost importance for women to be mentally well and capable, knowing that they are not alone and they are heard. My hope is to ultimately reach all of Africa, but I also believe that charity starts at home, which is why I have started with my own community in Zimbabwe. I am not an IT specialist but I have a dream for women, so I am working with an App developer. If I was able to do it myself, it would cut a lot of costs. Perinatal mental disorders are a reality. Picking up the pieces is almost impossible, when no one will invest in you; but I will invest what I have in these women because I know their story and I won't sugar-coat mine.
Region Sub-Saharan Africa