Recently, I illustrated how masked grief could lead to a debilitating ailment with a short background. So, for clarity, I’ve decided to share the entire story behind the illustration below.
A year after Atinuke married Chudi, she left the country for her second degree in the United Kingdom while her husband did likewise just a few months after her. He left for the United States. She was pregnant in less than a year and reality set in. She knew she would need her mom to help once the baby arrived. So, the couple (Atinuke and Chudi) got to work on getting mama all the required travel documents but met with a dead end. It was strange as this ought to be every mother’s dream (being there for your expecting child). Days rolled into weeks, and still no word from mama or the messengers. After so many pushbacks, someone broke the unexpected news to her, news no child ever wished to hear came through – that mama was gone. Gone! Gone!! Gone!!! She asked, and that was all she got back, Gone!!!
Atinuke thought she was strong. Even though she cried, she had to console herself quickly and move on. She never had time to grieve, which was an important thing to do after a loss. “There is no room, no one or time for a pity party,” she thought to herself, so she continued to juggle work with school till she started her maternity leave.
Atinuke and her husband, Chudi, then decided it would be best for them to be together after all that had happened. So, she took some time off school to be with Chudi in the United States. Like the old wise saying, “man proposes, but God disposes,” they thought they had it all figured out. At least they were now together and would be there for each other to welcome their little one. But just before then, a huge career opportunity came for Chudi. A big break, one would say, so he had to leave for The Hague.
Now, I would like you to visualize the scenario here. Atinuke lost her mom but did not know till months after. She left England to be with her husband, Chudi, in the United States so they could welcome their baby to the world together. However, Chudi got an irresistible career opportunity, so he had to leave for Hague for the greater good of the family. Pregnant Atinuke was left alone in the States with no human support system. The only close person around then was her old schoolmate living about 240 miles away from her. Atinuke’s friend, Enoh, would have to travel through four big cities to get to her.
At this point, the pressure was mounting but unknown to her, starting with her inability to mourn her loss. Her husband’s career opportunity came with mixed feelings but how could anyone not take such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Then, she couldn’t go back to England as she was found unfit to fly due to her pregnancy. Loneliness crept in but she shuddered it off, pretending everything was fine. After all, she could make calls and talk to friends across the globe for hours. However, the stressors kept increasing yet were not managed.
So, she had the baby a couple of weeks after Chudi left. With no family or friends around her, she had to rely on the hospital’s support system. The hospital hired a doula for her during labour and even after having the baby. She was kept in the hospital for a couple more days while they worked on a postpartum support system. Having stayed in the hospital for about a week, she was eventually allowed to go home with the necessary support. Mrs. White, a 71-year-old widow, was attached to her for support besides her doula and a nurse. Mrs. White volunteered some of her hours to help in the community hospital. She loved cycling every morning. She would come to Atinuke’s apartment after her morning ride to ask what she could help with for the day, essentially to run errands in her cute red Volkswagon Bug. Nurse Laughlin from the hospital would also check in on Atinuke, bringing homemade bread or casseroles.
With these women’s help and support, Atinuke could pull through, prepare all necessary travel papers for the child, and leave the States when the baby was about a month.
Even though she returned to England in good time to finish her studies, little did she know that her system had changed. With her dissertation hanging over her head, a job to return to, and a baby to nurse every half an hour, she realized she had bitten more than she could chew. She was a first-time mom with no family member in sight and no experienced individual around her.
One day, Atinuke was on the phone with Awah, a friend from school, discussing how frustrating it’s been juggling being a new mom, a student, and a telemarketer when the baby started crying for attention. She didn’t realize when she snapped at the baby. The snapping was so bad that even Awah was terrified on the phone, let alone the baby. Awah had to call her to order, encouraged her to be strong, and promised to always be in touch for moral support.
You see, we all need support of some sort or form. Atinuke was on the verge of Post Natal Depression but didn’t even realize it. This depression stage metamorphosed into something she couldn’t explain to anyone, and she became irritable.
She became agitated, pressured, and almost suicidal. With her dissertation deadline looming with no room for extension, she had to figure out where to keep the baby upon resumption.
One day, Atinuke didn’t know what had come over her; she couldn’t take it anymore. While the baby was crying, Atinuke walked away. Yes, she walked right out the door, out of the building into the street, and kept walking. Away…..away from the baby, her home, and everything. With no destination in mind, she kept walking until she couldn’t hear the baby’s cry anymore. Then she found a tree and stayed there. Looking lost, deranged, and seemingly in pain.
Around the house, the cry of the baby, which grew louder and more intense, drew passers-by’s attention. A neighbour went into the apartment to check what was happening, only to find the baby in bed alone.
Atinuke had lost it! She had lost her mind, her consciousness, and her sanity. She couldn’t take it anymore.
The neighbour called emergency and social services. The baby was taken into custody, and a search was declared for Atinuke. Found under a tree a few hours later, Atinuke was taken into a psychiatric home where she stayed for about six months. She has seen then recovered and reunited with her family.
This is one of those few stories that ended well. So many other people didn’t survive the same ordeal, especially those who unfortunately live in environments where culture and beliefs supersede medical reasoning.
The above adapted yet true story shows how interconnected the eight pillars of wellness are and why it is crucial to maintain a balance always.
Opaleye, a wellbeing specialist, writes from Lagos