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Sunday, 19 May, 2002, 01:19 GMT 02:19 UK
When baby is no bundle of joy
There is little support for mothers in the townships
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By Joanna Ross in Cape Town

Marjorie Feni felt depressed after the birth of her son.

Her pregnancy, like approximately one in seven of South African conceptions, was unplanned.

She said: "I cut myself off from him. If he would cry then I would close the door and leave and maybe go away for 30 minutes and he would be unattended.

"I know now it was depression but I didn't know at the time I was depressed."

Today she works for a project that is trying to give support to women in the black townships around Cape Town.

Post natal depression

There are no counsellors at all in the townships, where people will listen to you, be non-judgemental, be empathetic and be supportive

Marjorie Feni
"Thula Sana" was established by a clinical psychologist, Mark Tomlinson, after a study found that post-natal depression amongst South African mothers was four to five times higher than in Western European and North American women.

"We found levels of postnatal depression of 34.7%. We also found it related to unplanned pregnancy and poor social support."

It is the lack of support that Marjorie Feni and her colleagues are trying to address.

Motherhood can be particularly demanding when factors such as poverty, unemployment and lack of education are added to the stresses of sleeplessness and the constant demands of a baby.

She and fellow field worker, Lephina Makhanya, make two ante and 14 post-natal visits to mothers.

Tough circumstances

Lephina said: "Common problems are unemployment of both partners and having a number of children by different fathers.

"Nutrition and illnesses like TB are also difficulties and we can refer them to clinics."

These stresses can have knock-on negative effects on the child, according to Mark Tomlinson.

"We found depression in a mother related to insensitive engagement with their infant so it was having an effect on their babies."

Consequently, this is the area the project focuses on.

"We mediate and help the relationship between mother and infant rather than treat depression."


Lephina and Marjorie do this by trying to encourage the mothers to talk to the baby, to engage when changing or feeding.

They watch the mother-infant interaction and assess progress after a number of visits.

"Mothers distance themselves from the baby and might push other children around. We want them to see the babies as an individual with their own feelings. It's not just a doll, it's a person."

The preliminary results of the project should be available at the end of the year, and it is hoped that the children and mothers who have participated will be more securely attached and doing better developmentally than those who have not.

But Marjorie has reached her own conclusions already.

"It's very useful for the people in the community because there are no counsellors at all in the townships, where people will listen to you, be non-judgemental, be empathetic and be supportive; give you guidance and information and help you through a lot of difficulties as a young mother."

She is just delighted to be able to provide the support that she herself was unable to receive.

See also:

12 Mar 99 | Health
Depressed mums 'need more help'
13 Mar 01 | Health
Sleepless nights lay new mums low
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