After Ivana Poku became a mom, she was astonished and shocked by the reality of motherhood.
“It was nothing like I had expected,” Poku told us. “I remember I could not wait to meet my twin boys and experience this immediate rush of love people were talking about. However, when that moment came, I felt nothing. I was glad they were ok. I was glad to have them, but there was no rush of love, no pure happiness, no fireworks. Immediately, I felt like a complete failure. And it didn’t get better from there.”
Poku went on to develop postpartum depression, a perinatal mental illness up to 20 per cent of women suffer from as well as 10 per cent of men. Perinatal mental illness can include depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, and psychosis and it can happen any time during pregnancy and up to a year postpartum. Left untreated, it can develop into chronic mental illness.
“The boys were born six weeks early so they had to stay at the special care and baby unit,” Poku told us. “Since I wanted to breastfeed, we stayed with them in this tiny hospital room, which didn’t add to my well-being either.”
Spending all day in a confined space with two screaming babies was hard for Poku as she struggled to breastfeed her newborn twins.
“After I became a mom, I felt so lonely, confused and lost,” Poku told us. “There was so much I needed to hear and no one told me. So much I needed to get and no one gave to me. I had so many questions no one seemed to have answers to or I felt ashamed to ask.”
After her ordeal, Poku decided to share her experience and offer advice to new moms in a book she wrote titled, “Motherhood: The Unspoken”. The book reveals the unspoken truths about motherhood people don’t talk about and postpartum depression. The purpose of the book is to show what motherhood is really about, especially in the early stages, to break the stigma, and to help new moms reduce the risks of postpartum depression. It contains ten real motherhood stories and reveals what these moms went through as new mothers and how things were different from what they had previously imagined.
“It is a book I needed so badly myself after becoming a mom,” Poku told us. “Sadly, most new moms feel lost and lonely and often suffer in silence.”
There is no universal screening for perinatal mental illness in the U.S. or Canada and access to treatment is difficult. While the cause of perinatal mental illness is still unknown, many researchers point to a combination of hormonal fluctuations and environmental stress such as lack of sleep, isolation, and feeling overwhelmed with parenthood.
Poku found it difficult to speak to her doctor or any other health professional. She felt ashamed of herself and worried that if she confessed how she felt, her children would be taken away.
“However, when I got to the point when I felt the urge to hurt my child,” Poku explained to us, “I immediately sought professional help and started taking antidepressants.”
Not a health professional herself, Poku says though she doesn’t offer medical advice in her book, she wrote about what helped her based purely on her own personal experience.
“What I highlight the most in the book is the importance of talking and not keeping the emotions inside,” Poku told us. “Talking is the key.”