Beyond Baby Blues: How Fellow for Life Mayowa Otuada is addressing postpartum depression

By: Javacia Harris Bowser

Mayowa Otuada was passionate about helping new and expectant mothers long before she became an Albert Schweitzer Fellow. She served as a midwife for a rural community in Nigeria before she moved to the United States in 2012.  But once she became a part of the 2020-2021 ASF cohort, she found a new way to make a difference in the lives of young moms. The program gave her an opportunity to address an issue she has found too often overlooked: postpartum depression.

“It’s a privilege that we have this platform to serve our community,” Mayowa says of ASF.

For her project, Mayowa created an online support group for the first-time, low-income mothers served by Nurse Family Partnership. Her goal was to stress the importance of asking for help, let mothers know they weren’t alone in the struggles they were facing, and provide them with information about resources that could help them through tough times.

Mayowa, who was a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Nursing during her project, wanted to meet with the mothers one-on-one, in person but couldn’t because of COVID.

“I really didn’t connect well with them like I should,” she shares, explaining that building trust was difficult without in-person meetings.

Nonetheless, more than 15 members of the program reported less anxiety and depression and overall improved mental health after being a part of the support group. The moms improved their coping skills by learning to seek help from one another through the online support group. Mayowa also curated a series of mental health-related websites, a list of local resources, and discussion prompts so that the group could continue after her year of service. She also recruited a mom to serve as an administrator of the group, training this volunteer on how to generate meaningful content and to keep moms engaged in the group.

Instead of being discouraged by the limits the pandemic put on her project, Mayowa focused on the possibilities.

“If you just have an impact on five people, that is a good result,” she says, “Those five people will pass on the message to others and we are empowering all these people.”

Mayowa’s ASF project was eye-opening for her in ways she didn’t expect.

“It was when I was in my project that I actually accepted the fact that I was on the edge of postpartum depression with my first baby,” says the mother of two.

Through her project she realized that what she had cast off as the “baby blues” was slowly becoming more.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “baby blues” — a term used to describe the worry, sadness, and tiredness many women experience after having a baby — typically resolve on their own within a few days. With postpartum depression these feelings are more intense and last much longer.

With her second child, Mayowa shares that she was able to keep her baby blues in check largely because she had more support.

“My mom came from Nigeria to help at that time, and she stayed with us for almost six months,” Mayowa says. “That really helped me.”

And with each birth Mayowa received help from her church, which offered diapers, wipes, baby clothes, food, and more. So Mayowa knows firsthand the importance of having a strong support system.

Today Mayowa serves as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner at the Midland Community Clinic in Texas where she provides education and treatment to women of all ages. Mayowa provides sexual, gynecologic, obstetric, reproductive and menopausal health care as well as family planning education and birth control services to the women in Midland/Odessa community. 

Her education at UAB, her ASF project, and her personal experience have all helped her become the nurse practitioner she is today, one that knows not to ask mothers only about the well-being of their babies.

“I ask, ‘How are you? Are you doing fine? Are you getting enough sleep?’ And I know the answer is ‘No, I’m not getting enough sleep.’ But then my next question is, ‘Do you have a support system? Do you have someone helping you?’” Mayowa says.

She’s able to connect her patients with what they need – from resources on sleep training to mental health counselors.

Mayowa’s advice to current Fellows is not to get caught up in having large numbers to boast about in final outcomes reports. Instead, focus on helping one person at a time.

“I want you to know that you are helping your community,” she says to current Fellows. “Even if it’s just one person that benefits from your project, that one person is going to be transformed and changed forever by your project and that is huge.”