By RNZ.co.nz and is republished with permission
Pacific women in New Zealand have the highest rates of antenatal and postnatal depression, yet low numbers get help. Sela Jane Hopgood asks why.
Warning: This story includes verbal abuse scenes and discusses suicide.
Suliana Katoa is at home in Tāmaki Makaurau with her three children, watching Coco the movie, when she considers suicide.
It is raining hard. Suliana’s husband and parents have just headed off to ako hiva (church choir practice).
She grabs a basket full of washing to fold on her bed. She glances at her newborn lying peacefully in his cot and her eldest daughter, who is cuddling a bowl of popcorn.
Suliana spies her two-year-old son sitting on the floor with his milk and cookies.
“Be careful, please don’t spill your drink – tokanga’i ho inu na’a mahua,” she warns him.
But Michael Glacchino’s soundtrack captivates him and he starts to wiggle and hum along to the music. He gets up and begins to dance along to the upbeat rhythm, imitating the scenes of the movie.
Suliana has one eye on the load of washing and one eye on her son as he dances near his glass of milk. She repeats herself, “Watch out, son. Your drink is on the floor.” But he carries on moving from one end of the bedroom to the other, eyes glued to the TV screen.
She folds the washing, robotically, as her mind drifts away, thinking of what a difficult week she has had mentally.
“Nobody cares about me. I feel like a failure as a mother. I don’t know what I’m doing as a mother. I’m not good enough. Why can’t my family and friends be considerate of how hard I’m working? Looking after three kids is so hard,” she thinks.
Suliana is a community health worker for Plunket and a part of her recognises that these thoughts might be the result of postnatal depression, but even thinking she might be mentally unwell fills her with shame, so she shakes off the idea.
“I’m afraid of making mistakes and letting other people down. What if I end my life?”
“Mum!” Suliana’s son calls out, breaking her train of thought. He has knocked over his glass and milk is seeping into the carpet.
Suliana starts screaming. She is so loud her voice almost drowns out the heavy rain belting against the window.
“What did I tell you?” she yells at him.
She gets down to his level and stares at him. She points her finger in his face and threatens him with a hiding.
He barely recognises Suliana, who is usually cheerful, warm and nurturing. He runs to the corner of the room, lifts his hands over his ears and sobs uncontrollably.
Suliana can’t breathe properly. She walks out of the bedroom and heads outside, where the rain continues to fill the dark evening. She can hear her son crying, but she doesn’t care. She has no urge to check on him. It’s like it’s her body, but there is a stranger inside.
Eventually she goes back into the house. Her son has crawled into bed to cuddle up with Suliana’s daughter. He’s confused and sobbing.
Suliana looks at her son and seeing him so helpless, she feels her heart shatter into a million pieces.
She breaks down and cries. She picks her baby up out of his cot and takes him to the bed, where she sits down and embraces all her children, holding them close to her, while tears run down her face.