Ivy Shih Leung: On Knowing What to Look for with PPD

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postpartum depression, mental health, maternal mental healthDear new mom,

They told me that the first three months of parenthood were going to be rough. But we had no way of knowing or preparing for the days ahead.  The only real advice I was given was to get as much rest as possible, and it gets so much easier after the first three months.

I want to tell you that, despite what you may have heard, motherhood is only really learned by doing. Reading books/websites and taking classes will only provide you information that you can use to apply to real-life situations and complications like PPD, colic, eczema or cradle cap. All the fun stuff I had to learn the hard way. It’s no coincidence that, aside from postpartum insomnia, the most frequent hits to my blog are about swaddling, eczema and cradle cap!

Don’t feel like a failure because you didn’t reach all your expectations of what motherhood would be like: happy, glowing pregnancy and once baby comes along, voila, happy, glowing mom! The last thing you should do is compare yourself with other moms. You don’t know what other moms are going through unless you are in their shoes.

What we are really good at is hiding behind a façade of smiles. Do we feel the need to do this because we only hear about the happy, perfect pregnancy and happy, perfect motherhood stories, and no one wants to be the only one who doesn’t have a happy childbirth and motherhood story to tell? Well, we have to stop doing this to ourselves.

Be kind to yourself.

Make time for yourself/give yourself a break at least a half hour each day.

There will be times in which you will cry tears of exhaustion, frustration, anger, sadness, shame and guilt.

There will be times when you feel overwhelmed.

There will be times when you feel like you don’t know what the heck you’re doing.

There will be times you may feel you weren’t meant to be a mother and want to go back to being your carefree and spontaneous childless self again.

There is nothing wrong in any of this! It’s all a part of motherhood. Things do get easier, they really do. I pulled through. So can you!

My road to motherhood was so bumpy that, all along the way, it made me question whether I was ever meant to be a mother.

First it was a dermoid cyst wrapped around an ovary. I had to get the cyst removed if I wanted a better shot at getting pregnant. Then, it was an ectopic pregnancy after many months of trying to conceive, followed by many more months of trying to conceive before we finally decided to try IVF, which we failed on our first try.

Then, success with my 2nd IVF cycle! I got pregnant! Everything went well until after a healthy baby girl was delivered into my arms. But then, placenta accreta stole my uterus and rendered me unable to have any more children. After an awful week in the hospital I finally went home, but I was far from ready to do this whole motherhood thing. I was scared. What was I supposed to do with this tiny, helpless being? I never had to take care of a baby before!

You see, what happened was I started in the negative…physically and emotionally drained, physically exhausted and weak…not to mention sad and shaken about my loss. I needed time to process all this but I had a newborn to take care of, so I dove into that headfirst.

After I got home with the baby, I couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed by EVERYTHING because what I REALLY, BADLY needed was emotional support, reassurance and help from an experienced caregiver. But I didn’t have any of that.

I felt overwhelmed by my breastfeeding difficulties and inability to produce adequate amounts of milk.

I felt overwhelmed with keeping napping/feeding/pooping schedules and handling overnight feedings.

I felt overwhelmed with fear of SIDS that had us regularly checking on her breathing.

I felt overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy and helplessness from dealing with colic (hours of crying, seeing her writhe in pain and my inability to soothe my baby), eczema from head to toe, and cradle cap that caused baldness in my beautiful baby.

I even felt overwhelmed by the seemingly endless formula/bottle/nipple/clothing options.

I was mind-numbingly exhausted.

I will never forget my baby’s colic episodes—face all scrunched up, writhing with back arched, and screaming inconsolably for hours—and all I could do was stare at her helplessly, wondering what I was doing wrong and what I should do.

A week after my baby’s colic ended, my PPD journey began.

It started with insomnia and was followed by panic attacks, weight loss, loss of appetite, and inability to do anything or think clearly. It was clear I needed help and quickly. Had I not gone for help, I’m not sure if I would be here today.

From the time my insomnia started and my panic attacks were underway, and before I started to see a doctor for these alarming and mysterious symptoms, I had no idea what I was going through was PPD.

There were times in which I wished I could disappear so I wouldn’t have to suffer the way I was suffering, feeling like I would never be well again. When I found out, I was relieved that there was actually a name for my frightening experience.

If only someone had explained to me, before my baby was born, what PPD was, why it happens, and what to look out for….

I would have known that insomnia is a common, initial sign of PPD and I would’ve immediately asked my OB/GYN to screen me for PPD.

I would have obtained the right treatment as soon as my insomnia began, rather than merely taking the Ambien prescribed to me.

I would not have been as scared as I felt as to why I had insomnia and couldn’t sleep, even when the baby slept, even though I was exhausted.

I would not have had such intense fear that escalated into full-blown anxiety attacks.

I would have recognized other symptoms like loss of appetite (I lost so much weight so fast that within a couple of weeks I weighed less than I did before I got pregnant!).

I would have enjoyed my baby more in the first few months. I can never get that lost time back.

I would not have traveled that long, lonely, and dark road during those dreadful weeks I was sick with PPD.

If you feel overwhelmed or feel like something is not quite right, or both, don’t stay silent. Reach out. Don’t let feelings of isolation grab a hold of you. There are those around you who can help. Social support is critical to all new mothers. Don’t go it alone. It really does take a village!

Your experience can make you feel ashamed and alone. But you are not alone. There are so many other moms that are, right now, going through what you are going through. Don’t keep your feelings to yourself. Find your tribe. There are many Facebook groups you can join if you prefer to get help from online resources.

With experience and over time, you become more comfortable and parenting becomes more natural, routines fall into place, familiarity takes over, and you reach the next chapter of your motherhood experience. I got better and things got better. Things really did get easier after my third month. But it’s because I got help.

Despite all that I’ve gone through with my bumpy road to motherhood, things did slowly get better. I got better, I became stronger, smarter and more aware, and I wouldn’t trade my experience as a mother for anything!

Warmly,

Ivy

Ivy Shih Leung is a PPD survivor/advocate, the author of Ivy’s PPD Blog and “One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood: Infertility, Childbirth Complications and Postpartum Depression, Oh My!” and a Postpartum Support International member. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a BA in Biology, Ivy lives with her husband and daughter in New Jersey.

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About Robin Farr

Robin Farr is a writer, wife, communications professional, speaker and mom - chronologically, at least. She got mixed up philosophically during her struggle with postpartum depression but wrote her way out of it on her blog, Farewell, Stranger. You can find her on Twitter @FarewellStrangr or on Facebook. Robin and her family live in Calgary, Alberta.

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  1. Ivy, I am so with you on the insomnia thing. I wish I had known that was a symptom. I wish anyone had known it was a symptom. That way when I posted on Facebook about not being able to sleep somebody might have seen it as a flag. As it was, it was months and months after that, due to something entirely different, that I finally started to think I needed help.

    • It’s scary just how many people have told me that they have suffered from similar experiences…of not knowing about PPD and insomnia as a symptom. My hope is that our blogs will help reach those mamas who don’t receive the right info from their docs, even though it’s our docs who SHOULD be telling us what to expect.

      Hope you had a lovely Mother’s Day!