My postpartum story
I recently read a Chinese article that featured a “shocking” story of a starlet’s experience with postpartum depression. She said that after giving birth, she felt depressed for two whole weeks, until a magical remedy came in the form of her mom’s visit along with a childhood favourite dish. Just like that, she was cured.
I laughed out loud when I read that story. I have had many personal experiences with and around postpartum depression. I am a survivor, and I also worked as a postpartum counsellor. The starlet’s story was absolutely ludicrous in my view. It misleads women and families to believe that postpartum depression is short-lived and easily “cured.” In reality, postpartum depression is a multi-faceted illness that has many different causes and symptoms. Depending on the severity, a range of support and treatment is available, including but not limited to, a combination of medication, counselling, group support, and possibly more intensive care at hospitals.
The months and years after I had my baby were long and difficult ones. Prior to giving birth, I had always been fiercely independent and a high achiever. I thought having a baby would be just like any other endeavour I had embarked on in my life – I would study up on it, learn the ropes, and practice would make perfect. The reality of it was shocking. No amount of studying or learning or practising made me feel competent as a mother. The ensuing months and years were filled with endless self-doubt, anxiety, helplessness, and ultimately, hopelessness.
As an immigrant, I have no immediate family here in Vancouver. My in-laws do reside here, but – and I have heard this many times over from other moms – they are just not the same as my own family. I did not know how to ask for help, and indeed, I felt like I did not deserve help. It seemed like every other new mom was doing just fine while I alone struggled. I kept to myself and spent my days steeped in worry. I worried about every detail, worried that my son was too hot, too cold, overfed, underfed, sleeping too little, sleeping too much, and the list went on and on. I was particularly obsessed with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and constantly dreaded that my son would simply die in his sleep. Therefore, I never slept and kept watch over him all day and all night. Prolonged anxiety and sleep-deprivation was a destructive combination, and I became severely depressed. The depression took me to a terrible place, where I started to plan my own demise, believing that my husband and child would be better off without me.
On a spectacularly sunny west coast day when my son was about a year and a half, I sat at home in my own thick depressed fog staring at my baby, and somehow a thought flashed through my mind: “There has to be more to life than just this – this depression, this sadness, this anxiety.” I knew help was not going to simply descend on me like some godsend; I knew I had to seek help. My son deserved it, and I deserved it. Remembering a community health mommy and baby group where Pacific Post Partum Support Society (PPPSS) was the guest speaker, I looked up their contact information and called. That phone call probably saved my life.
The woman at the other end of the line spoke to me like I was her daughter. She listened with compassion and supported me with warmth. She shared her own postpartum story and told me that I was not crazy, that I was doing a good job as a mother, that I would get better. Most of all, she told me that I was not alone.
For the next year, I attended a weekly PPPSS support group facilitated by one of their wonderful staff members, and I also sought counselling on my own. There was nothing more healing than sitting with a group of women going through the same challenges and offering mutual support. We laughed together, cried together, and healed together. I learned the importance of self-care. What a novel concept—putting myself first! Through the group and through counselling, I finally understood that I needed to take care of myself in order for me to take care of my son and my family. The imagery that always stays with me is that of a well: If I am the well and the well runs dry, then everything withers around me. If I prioritize myself and fill my well through self-care, then the water will flow naturally and nourish everything and everyone around me.
Going back to the article that I began with, I would like to express gratitude for it despite its oversimplification of postpartum depression. Postpartum depression, like all mental illnesses, carries with it a great deal of shame. Therefore, anyone willing to come forward and share their story helps shatter the stigma and paves the way for new moms and families to feel safer in speaking out and seeking help.
My son is now eight years old. He is a happy, healthy, rambunctious little boy. I feel very fortunate that I got the support I needed to get through a most challenging period in my life. If you or someone you know is suffering from postpartum depression, please know that help is out there, and that it does get better.