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Writing your way out of postpartum depression

Vivian Gaiko through the Recovery State of Mind Journal, is helping mothers deal with emotional turmoil that comes with giving birth through writing a journal

Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi

Njeri Kimani lies in bed besides her three-month-old daughter after hours of trying to soothe her colicky baby. She is utterly exhausted and miserable and as she lays there, events of the day flashing through her mind. They include snapping at her husband and almost slapping her wailing baby.

A few feet away on top of the dressing table sits a notebook. It feels unreachable, but somehow a small spark in her brain thinks it is worth trying. She reaches out, picks her pen and starts writing. She writes how she had no energy to think, how she needs a break from the whole motherhood responsibilities and how she wishes her daughter’s colic would just vanish.

And somehow it helps. She gets out of bed, makes herself some tea and eggs and goes out to sit in the sun. It is like a big load has been lifted off her back. 

Journaling has been thought to be a practice for young people, who are trying to figure out who they are and deal with their intense emotions and hormones. While it can certainly be helpful for those purposes, journaling is not exclusively for teens; it’s for anyone who can write.

Vivian Gaiko, through her organisation, Empower Mama Foundation has introduced journaling to help new Kenyan mothers deal with postpaturm depression.

A beneficiary of Recovery State of the Mind Journal. Photo/COURTESY

Launched in September last year,  Recovery State of Mind Journal by The Shades of Blue Project, USA, Vivian is helping one mother at a time get through baby blues.

“Journaling is basically a log of one’s thoughts. It is writing down thoughts, feelings, observations, self-affirmations on paper and coming back to them to reflect and this can be used to evaluate one’s life.

This particular journal, Gaiko says is for any woman who has given birth. Motherhood has it’s own challenges, which can take a toll on mental health and this journal provides a space to input ones thoughts and evaluate how they are coping. It also has positive self-affirmations.

She says journaling has a way of bringing emotions to the surface,  depressed and grieving persons try to deal with those emotions in a healthy way, not denying them.

“This journal allows them to write down their daily or weekly journey and they are able to go back and reflect and be able to see where they can make improvements if needed,” she says.

Although there are no statistics showing prevalence of postpartum depression in Kenya, the cases are there and Gaiko thought of a self-healing and care approach that can be available to everyone and no cost. “It has a personal wellness tool dubbed ‘Inspire’, which helps in self-care,” she says adding, “Professional help is expensive for many and as much as some may need both professional help and this programme, it helps seal gaps families may fall into.”

Gaiko is working with a psychologist and a trained maternal mental health advocate, who facilitate care group sessions, offer one-on-one support and refer those who need medical help.

The journal can also be used to help in any spectrum of mental health. “Writing down your own thoughts and feelings becomes a stress reliever. It helps decompress, instead of carrying those things around in your mind, you are putting those thoughts on paper.

This further helps one make a decision on how to fix whatever issues are causing the stress or mental health breakdown.  Participants also benefit from advise on other mental wellness methods that new mothers can undertake on their own to prevent postpartum depression or mitigate its symptoms.

Exercise for example is a very potent antidepressant and helps alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, depression and negative mood and also helps improving mood and self-esteem.

“We conduct weekly Zumba dance sessions for our participants and then follow it up with a care group session where we bond and unpack the wellness methods in detail and outline the benefits for mental and general wellness. These methods include nutrition, exercise, sleep, involving others and laughter just to mention a few,” she concludes.

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