The week of April 23– May 3 was a maternal mental health awareness week. The aim was to combat stigma against maternal mental health.
The theme for 2019 was #MakingOverMotherhood by addressing the things that mothers often hid. Coinciding with “Labour Day” on May the 1, was “World Maternal Mental Health Day”. I have heard that childbirth, in addition to being beautiful and precious, is quite traumatic, disturbing and unimaginably unforgettable. Many have said the pains of labour are enough to drive one to do things they themselves have never considered.
But beyond just giving birth, mothers are constantly exhausted and overwhelmed by the new babies, and often feel they cannot recognise themselves. I imagine this will be many folds more difficult for an adolescent mother, who often may not even have been intending to have a child.
There are many things that mothers, in Botswana do not talk about. But there are also many things that our society, in Botswana does not discuss. This is adolescent mothers.
To begin with, there are a number of civil and political, as well as social economic and cultural rights that have to interact to ensure that women survive childbirth. The right to health is an interplay of various of these rights, that although is not necessarily codified, it is one that is continuously implemented, and largely in compliance with World Health Organisation standards.
This is particularly so, in the southern most parts of our country, where the urban and most per-urban areas are. The specific rights to sexuality, sexual interaction, as well as reproduction, are however, not equally accorded women, and even less so for adolescent girls.
Take for example ‘naming’. Sex planning is largely referred to as “family planning”. At primary and secondary school, the teachings are that sex is for people who are married, and for the sole purpose of reproduction.
The construct of “family” in this context assumes that people who intend to live as a family have to be intending to reproduce. Further, it assumes that only families can have children, and that young people cannot have sex, despite their desire to do so.
These are clearly not factual as reasoned by the number of many single parent households in Botswana, and the number of girls dropping out of schools as a result of early pregnancy, as well as the numbers of married people who have no interest, to reproduce, or are incapable of so doing. “Family Planning” can therefore not be limited in the ways it was traditionally assumed to be. Of course, there is an unavoidable thematic area transactional relationships, and the challenges they
Maternal mental health is one of the areas that affect women and girls, and not men and boys. Amongst adolescents, in general, mental health disorders are quite prevalent. There is an association, generally, with low social income.
Adolescents living in places that present more stress, such as where there is poverty, violence, drug use, unavailability of adequate and quality healthcare, adequate transport and housing are more prone to suffer from mental health conditions.
There are mental health conditions that emerge as a result of young pregnancy, and parenting for young or teenage mothers. This is not to say that psychosocial disorders are the reason for early pregnancy. There is generally a tectonic shift that occurs when one steps into motherhood. Life as it is known, transforms, critically, and so do expectations.
Instantly, for younger mothers, they are almost instantaneously catapulted into adulthood, and their role as primary “protector” of the newly birthed kicks in. so many factors increase the level of vulnerability of women at this stage, and more particularly, for adolescent mothers. Often, the suffering comes in the form of post natal depression. At least this is the most widely known, and widely addressed. Most mothers are resilient and can ’bounce back’ from some of these conditions.
There is need to treat maternal mental health in adolescent mothers with a public health approach. This will hopefully canvass other issues hereto related, including sexual behaviours of adolescent girls, and their rights to sexuality, considering evolving capacities and the level of responsibilities that is expected of girls, when they become mothers. It will normalise conversations around mental health, and particularly distinguish those that occur in younger mothers, within our society.
In the spirit of making over motherhood, and particularly young mothers, this piece is in honour of the women who became young mothers. You are visible! We see you! And even where it seems you are not spoken of, we know you are there and we acknowledge your journey!