Real Stories About Women Who Defeated Postpartum Depression
Published | 8 min read
Postpartum depression is a type of mood disorder that is associated with childbirth. We talk to new mothers who have gone through this first-hand.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a serious mood disorder that can develop within a month after a woman gives birth and affect both dads and mums. Typically, new parents may be at an increased risk of postpartum depression if they are overwhelmed by exhaustion and frustration. A lack of support and recognition from loved ones, the feeling they have lost control over their bodies, or frequently worry about their child may also contribute to PPD. As a result, PPD can create an environment that isn’t conducive to the development of both the parent and child.
In certain cases, the onset of PPD may start during a woman’s pregnancy or after the first postpartum month. Some of the symptoms that a woman may experience when she is suffering PPD include a loss of interest in the things she used to love, difficulty in sleeping, a lack of appetite, low energy levels, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, loss of concentration and suicidal thoughts.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner, physician Lim Sock Ling, PPD can also lead to postpartum psychosis. This rare mood disorder occurs in 1 or 2 out of 1000 women after childbirth.
Unmanaged PPD can also contribute to an increased risk of the child being beaten by a depressed mother. Similarly, it can also make it difficult for mothers to connect with their babies. This causes them to display abusive behaviour towards the child.
Interestingly, PPD can also be preceded by postpartum blues within the first 10 days after giving birth. This occurrence is common and may not require intervention but can be a risk factor. Postpartum blues can cause a woman to experience mood swings, mild elation, irritability, crying episodes, fatigue and confusion.
We talk to women who have previously experienced PPD. They shared the steps they took to do away with the disorder.
“All I Wanted Was to Be Left Alone” – Sasha, 31
Sasha, a 31-year-old mother of two, struggled with PPD after giving birth to her first child. Admittedly, she prefers to have control of every situation. However, she started questioning her ideas and methods after having a baby. To make matters worse, she was overwhelmed by exhaustion and frustration. This caused her to frequently deal with feelings of sadness and disappointment, as well as crying episodes.
She also had to deal with numerous people offering her advice on caring for her newborn without recognising the struggles she was going through. Even though she felt completely exhausted, she rejected offers of assistance due to a lack of privacy and social boundaries. In addition, she also felt lonely, which she believes was a product of her depression.
Thankfully, she received support from her mother, who had prior experience with PPD herself. Having the support of her mother gave her the assurance that her baby was in calm hands. It also helped her get some much-needed rest.
Her husband was equally supportive and stood up for her against contrasting opinions. He also took her struggles very seriously and gave her the space and time she needed to recuperate. She also hired the help of a sleeping coach, who helped her baby learn how to sleep on his own. Thus, freeing up her time to have a little self-care.
“I Was Tired All the Time” – Magdalene, 39
39-year-old Magdalene was oblivious to the existence of PPD till she overheard her colleagues share their own first-hand experiences with childbirth. Looking back, Magdalene cites her husband being away during the first few postpartum months as the main reason behind her PPD.
As a result, she frequently dealt with feelings of worthlessness during her confinement period. She also had extremely low energy levels and found it difficult to get quality sleep every night. Thankfully, she found the consumption of a traditional Chinese concoction that included ingredients like red dates, longan and ginseng helpful in managing her PPD effectively. Similarly, she also consumed a herbal liqueur formulation containing ginger and rice wine to boost her energy levels.
“I Felt as if I Had Lost Complete Control Over my Body” – Nadine, 37
Nadine, a 37-year-old film producer, started experiencing symptoms of PPD midway through her first pregnancy. The symptom that stood out the most for her was feeling as if she had lost control and would lose her baby. She attributes this to being diagnosed with gestational diabetes. This increased her chance of preeclampsia — a complication of pregnancy characterised by high blood pressure and organ damage.
It is important to note that Nadine also experienced anxiety during her university years. Fears that she could not maintain control over her life and meet her parent’s expectations of finishing her studies triggered her anxiety.
Unfortunately, her PPD and anxiety also continued after she delivered her son. In particular, she felt detached from her son during the early days of breastfeeding. She put down to the pressure that came with not wanting to fail him and her family. At the same time, she felt out of sync with herself and regularly suffered from insomnia, panic attacks and a depressed mood.
Being in Australia during her pregnancy, she sought help at the local hospital. They provided her with counselling and prescription antidepressants that were safe to take. This helped validate her emotional issues and regulate her hormonal imbalance.
“Everything Around Me was Moving Too Fast” – Kara, 36
For Kara, a 36-year-old homemaker and entrepreneur, PPD was a twofold blow. She dealt with it once after giving birth to her firstborn and again after giving birth to her second born. Her first experience with PPD took her entirely by surprise, as she started experiencing the symptoms during her confinement period.
The first few symptoms that she experienced were feelings of worry, overwhelm, and anxiety, which caused her to feel disorientated. Kara felt as if her thoughts were moving too fast and cried for no apparent reason. She also got jealous when she noticed others were able to shower or sleep peacefully through the night.
Interestingly, Kara, like Nadine, also struggled with anxiety for several years. Unfortunately, her anxiety recurred with PPD and resulted in her feeling constantly overwhelmed. She also found it difficult to sleep, which in turn affected her supply of breast milk.
Not knowing what to do, she turned to her midwife and cousin. They assured her that she was not alone in her struggles. Additionally, she decided with her husband to hire a live-in babysitter.
She also sought counselling with a therapist during her second spell with PPD. Her therapist advised her to do regular journaling and meditation, which she believes has helped to improve her mental health.
How TCM Can Help Postpartum Depression Symptoms
TCM offers a unique point-of-view when it comes to PPD. “From TCM’s perspective, postpartum depression is either due to a stagnation of the liver, blood stasis or accumulation of phlegm-dampness. Deficiency of liver ‘blood’, deficiency of kidney yin, deficiencies of heart yin and ‘blood’, or deficiencies of the heart and spleen can also cause it,” explains physician Lim.
PPD symptoms can range from bloating, chest heaviness, pain in the upper abdomen to a general feeling of unhappiness. If you experience them, brew and consume rosebuds infusions or Fo Shou, a type of citrus fruit, to soothe the liver and clear stagnation. Dried bupleurum root (Chai Hu) and TCM remedy Xiao Yao San could also help to ease depression symptoms.
Physician Lim cautions, “Overconsumption of rose tea can increase tannin levels in your body and inhibit the production of breast milk. Similarly, the use of peppermint in Xiao Yao San remedy can reduce the milk supply of lactating mothers. As a reminder, you should consume the herbs 2 hours apart from other medications or supplements.” Hence, it is best to consult a qualified physician before consuming the herbs.
You can manage symptoms like poor sleep quality by consuming herbal recipes containing sour jujube date seeds (suan zao ren). These seeds should be stir-fried and pounded before being simmered in a soup. They can nourish kidney jing (essence), the heart and kidneys, as well as as calm the mind. TCM concoctions like Gui Pi Tang and Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan (TWBXD) are also effective in improving sleep quality.
Gui Pi Tang can tonify your blood and qi, strengthen the spleen, nourish the heart, and benefit people who worry excessively or overthink, lack appetite, or have a pale complexion. TWBXD, meanwhile, can nourish the heart and kidneys and may also be good for treating heart palpitations or night sweats. Rooibos tea is good for alleviating depression whilst relieving insomnia, headaches, stomach cramps and skin disorders.
Get a Detailed Treatment Plan from Your Healthcare Provider
If you’re not sure where to go, talk to your doctor so that he or she will be able to point you in the right direction.
“Due to the various factors that cause postpartum depression, a mother may require diverse treatment. There is no sufficient evidence to justify the use of any one of the treatment approaches. Besides TCM, other systems of medicine may use antidepressants as first-line agents. Hormone treatments are considered to be an alternative method of pharmacotherapy. Non-pharmacotherapies such as psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, and psychodynamic therapy may also be effective,” says physician Lim.
To manage PPD effectively, mothers should also avoid consuming fruit juices or foods and beverages that contain artificial sweeteners. It’s also best to stay away from caffeinated drinks as they can impair sleep quality and trigger anxiety. Similarly, steer clear of carbohydrate-rich foods as they can trigger energy spikes but cause you to feel lousy after that.
The physical and mental effects of postpartum depression can be different for everyone. You have the potential to overcome this condition. Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. These real-life experiences will provide a clearer indication of what symptoms to expect and how to overcome them.