THE birth of a child in a family usually brings joy, not only to the mother but the entire family.
Universally, childbirth and motherhood are viewed as key life events which entail new responsibilities for the parents.
The duty to provide and care for a new member in the family becomes an added responsibility.
These duties include ensuring the baby has access to food, clothing, shelter and basic healthcare.
The new parents are responsible for day-to-day duties that include bathing, feeding the baby, ensuring his/her safety and that the baby gets enough rest.
Most local cultures assign the role of caring for the baby primarily to the mother.
This practice was perpetuated during the colonial era when men had to leave children in the care of the mothers as they migrated to urban areas in search for paid work.
However, the attainment of independence ushered in a new era in which women were afforded equal opportunities to be formally employed.
Women are, by law, entitled to gainful employment and this has resulted in them seeking employment in both formal and non-formal organisations.
Zimbabwe has joined other countries in stepping up efforts to improve not only the working conditions of women but also maternal health.
Women, despite being afforded equal opportunities in the workplace, still carry out their roles at home as primary care givers.
Psychologists contend that major life events can be a source of stress requiring one to make changes in life.
After childbirth, women are expected to continue with their roles in the workplace and at home.
Cases have been studied and recorded of women who faced mental health issues after giving birth and found it difficult to fit their new role to existing roles.
A pregnant working woman in Zimbabwe is, by law, allowed to take a 90-day maternity leave after which she is expected to return to work.
Upon return, she is expected to execute her duties and responsibilities fully.
By then, it is assumed the woman has recovered fully from childbirth and the newborn is now capable of being left in the care of a caregiver.
Attention is mostly paid on the physical health of the new mother as one is stipulated to go for the six-weeks post-birth review at health institutions. However, childbirth results in women going through both physical and mental changes and for these women to fully participate in the workplace after giving birth, they should be both physically and mentally fit.
With not much attention paid on the mental health of working women after giving birth, the effects of unstable mental health have a bearing on their contributions in the workplace.
Women who spoke to The Patriot highlighted that after giving birth, they experienced different kinds of post-natal depression symptoms in varying degrees, which included lack of sleep, mood swings, anxiety, lack of appetite with some, in other instances, suicidal.
And many were not aware it was a mental health challenge.
A mother of two from Glenview, Rudo Mutsvedu, said: “During my second pregnancy, I used to sleep a lot, even in the afternoon. So, when I gave birth to my daughter and I started having difficulties sleeping, my mother told me it was because I had over-slept during the pregnancy.”
“So I did not see anything wrong with not getting adequate sleep.
“Some people even told me it was necessary, as it was my maternal instincts that were keeping me awake since all I was thinking of was the safety of my baby.”
A 31-year-old mother of three, Chipo Rugwete, said when she gave birth to her second child, she experienced anxiety problems. She tried to commit suicide on several occasions and had difficulties bonding with the child.
“After the birth of my son, I was always agitated and had problems sleeping. At first I thought I was yet to recover from the Ceasarean operation I had undergone during childbirth, so I ignored it,” she said.
“I then started having anxiety attacks and I tried to commit suicide on a number of occasions by trying to jump out of a moving vehicle and overdosed on pills.
“My family members said I was just overwhelmed with my roles of being a mother, pastor’s wife and work.
“I stopped breastfeeding my son at four months because I did not enjoy it and was failing to bond with him.
“He is now three and I still do not feel a connection with him.”
Given the significant contribution made by women in the workplace, it is hoped more should be done to address issues that affect them.
Post-natal depression is a real phenomenon that needs to be tackled for the mental well-being of new mothers.
It is time society stops operating on assumptions with regards to the mental state of women post-natal.