99 Problems shar blur

Published on October 16th, 2013 | by Sharline Chiang

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SHARLINE CHIANG Goes Beyond the Baby Blues

“One of the worst things about being a parent, for me, is the self-discovery, the being face to face with one’s secret insanity and brokenness and rage.”  ~ Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year

When my daughter was born I had no idea that I’d go from ecstatic to fighting thoughts of trying to kill her, and myself

I was high on Anza’s birth for exactly one week. I birthed her squatting, just like I wanted to. She was slippery and pink. I remember sitting there in my own pool of shit, blood, and mucous, shouting over and over again: “Oh my god, you’re so beautiful!” My husband, Ben, was so excited he could barely cut the cord.

She had curly reddish brown hair like his (he’s half Jewish) and twinkly dark eyes like mine (I’m Chinese). We named her Anza after Lake Anza where we had our first date. It also means “beginning” in Swahili, which seemed so right because we had three miscarriages before her. She was our miracle baby.

The first few nights I rode on pure adrenaline, basking in the joy of her little piggy lips sucking on my tits and the sweet taste of milk on my fingertips. But by the end of the first week I couldn’t relax, kept imagining that she was dead, that she had suffocated in her sleep. Because of the miscarriages, while I was pregnant with her I had prepared myself mentally for her to not make it to term. Even as the doctor caught her, I had steeled myself for the monitors to flatline and for the doctor to say: “I’m sorry; it’s a stillborn.”

merry_go_round

I would watch her sleep in her crib, worrying that at any second she would die.

Over the next three weeks sleep deprivation started to destroy me. I shuffled through the days and nights of nonstop nursing, burping, and changing, attempting and failing to nap and feed myself. My nipples, two spots of shooting pain, felt like someone had scrubbed them with steel wool. My crotch burned with raw tears and stitches. I had hemorrhoids the size of plums. Every time the baby cried and fussed, I wanted to scream. Even with help from my husband and mother-in-law, I was more exhausted than I’d ever been. Every morning I prayed that ten p.m. would come so I could get that three-hour window of sleep before I had to do it all over again. I cursed all my friends who are parents. No one told me it would be this hard. They duped me into joining their club of misery. I hated nursing, I hated pumping. I started to hate the sound of the baby’s voice. I started to hate the baby.

I felt tethered to the rocking chair, a used red Dutalier I found on Craigslist, where I nursed Anza for hours. There was a mirror facing the chair. Each day I stared at myself in my dirty robe, my hair greasy and flat. I hadn’t showered in weeks. I smelled like rotting meat. I’ve made a terrible mistake, I thought. All these years, I thought this was what I wanted. I’ll never get a full night of sleep again. I want my life back.

I told my husband, “I’m so tired it hurts.”

“Of course you’re tired,” he said with a smile. “You’re a new mom.”

Sharline_mirror_spiral

By the second month I started to shake all the time. I was freezing even though it was September and we were having a heat wave. My clothes were always soaked with sweat and milk. I stopped being able to sleep and prayed for the wired feeling to go away. I would lie awake and think: I have to go back to work in a month. How the hell am I going to do that? I’m going to lose my job. We’ll lose our health insurance. I’m going to end up in a hospital and we’ll go bankrupt.

My mother-in-law went back to Canada so we were all alone.

I told Ben that I felt like I was dying. “What do you mean?” he would ask. But I couldn’t explain, couldn’t find a way to tell him I felt like I was going crazy and that I was so tired I felt I would die from exhaustion. I didn’t think for a second that I had PPD because I wasn’t depressed. I never cried. I just felt like I was going into shock. None of my friends who were mothers had ever mentioned that they had been so tired they felt like dialing 911. Everyone else seemed to handle being new moms with such grace. I was sure my unraveling was due to a fundamental character flaw. I was weak. I was spoiled, lazy.

I thought maybe I was experiencing diabetic shock so I got tested. My doctor said everything was fine. My sugar, iron and thyroid were all normal. She gave me Tylenol PM and benedryl to help me sleep. It worked for one night.

shar blur

Soon I became OCD. At first it was just the bottles. I had to make sure they were boiled. Then I had to boil them twice. Then everything that touched the baby had to be boiled: pacifiers, toys, towels. If anything touched a “dirty” surface, I had to start again. I could barely handle holding the baby because I was sure I’d give her germs that would make her so sick she would end up in the hospital. I couldn’t afford for her to get sick. I thought: if I start sleeping again and then she gets sick that will be the end of me. So I boiled everything and only touched doorknobs with my sleeves.

I stopped being able to dress myself, I was so tired. Ben would help dress and feed me. It was like I was the baby. Most of the time I was too tired to eat. Ben did pretty much everything except nurse the baby: he did all the laundry, the dishes, took out garbage, cooked (well he tried his best), all while running his own business building websites. At night I’d lie in bed sweating feeling my heart race like I was having a heart attack. He would hold me and say, “Just try to relax and sleep. You’re going to be okay.”

By the third month I started seeing a therapist who specialized in postpartum depression. While she was helpful, it didn’t stop what was happening to me. My behavior was increasingly erratic. I felt less and less in control of the “real me” and watched with terror as some other woman, a “crazy” Sharline, took over. I would mutter and talk to myself loudly. People in stores would look at me with concern and step away. I had trouble connecting thoughts when talking to Ben, who was becoming increasingly concerned. Ihad to fight with all my will strong urges to do inappropriate things: grab some woman’s hair in the store, plunge my hand in a box of used needles at the doctor’s office.

We hired an amazing woman named Sara to help take care of the baby and with much of the housework. My mother-in-law and brother-in-law moved in with us from Canada to take care of me.

sun clouds

Ben and I still didn’t realize how seriously sick I was. “Everything’s going to be okay,” he kept saying. Like good Berkeley-ites, we chose to take the natural route. We didn’t trust antidepressants. I was terrified of them, terrified that drugs would take away the last remains of my brain that seemed to be the only threads left preventing me from hurting myself, Anza or someone else. We didn’t trust Big Medicine, white man’s medicine, and we wanted to make sure I could still breastfeed. For weeks, Ben took me to all sorts of natural healers who tried endless remedies on me: acupuncture, Chinese medicine, massage, reiki, B12, spirulina, breathing exercises, meditation, and even crystals and chimes. Many of them helped me relax in the moment, but none stopped the downward spiral, and worst of all – no one diagnosed me.

One day, I rolled around on the sidewalk outside our house. It felt good. I didn’t want to get up for a long time. People just walked around me. (It’s Berkeley after all.) I shouted over and over, “No! How did this happen?” The next day, I had a major panic attack in the car and tried to jump out while Ben was driving. When I was home, I spent a lot of time crying. Now I was depressed. Also around that time I started having nonstop dark thoughts, of how to kill myself, and Anza. I started having urges to stab her, drown her, throw her off the deck, crack her head open, bite her cheeks off. I told Ben and my mother-in-law everything. They assured me that I wouldn’t actually act on my thoughts, and that they would watch me and Anza carefully and keep us both safe. Still, I felt like a monster. I told Ben, “I can’t be alone with the baby. I don’t trust myself anymore.”

We finally decided to try medication, and the bigger, harder decision: we switched to formula (which felt like giving our baby Diet Coke). I felt like the worst mother in the world. A total fucking failure. My OB and family doctor put me on Xanax, Ambien, Klonopin and Zoloft. The drugs helped me sleep a bit and calmed panic attacks but I was still mostly an insomniac wreck.

I called a few friends to let them know what was happening to me. Some of them visited and it helped me immensely, having people to talk to and just give me a hug. They felt sad for me, and helpless. It was so difficult to get anyone to understand when I said I wanted to live but I couldn’t bear to be in my body one more second, that I felt like I was being tortured.

flowers_fire

Each night I would get up and search the house for my sleeping pills (I was only allowed one a night. Ben hid them from me.) I tried to find ways to keep myself busy until morning. With a shaky hand, I wrote thank you cards to people who had sent baby gifts. I tried yoga. I tried meditating. But mostly I would lie on the couch and feel my body tremble and pray to make it through one more night. The OB had asked if I had plans to kill myself, and I remember thinking, as I shook my head no, Yeah, I’ve got plenty of plans: pills, razorblades in the tub, kitchen knives. How can I buy a handgun? Does putting your head in an oven really work? If I slice my wrists, how much will it hurt before I pass out? I fought images of going into Anza’s room and smothering her.

At a friend’s urging, we decided to find a psychiatrist. After calling 20 psychiatrists, we finally found one who would take a new patient and could see me right away. Her name was Dr. Cedars and she asked me a bunch of questions. I paced the room, told her I felt like I was dying or that I wanted to die. She asked me if I had plans to kill myself. I whispered, “Yes.” “What kind of plans do you have?” she asked. I told her.

She immediately called Herrick, the local mental hospital, and asked them to reserve a spot for me. “I highly recommend that you go tonight, but I can’t force you,” she said. (Later, when we got home, Ben convinced me that it was worth trying to get better at home. But I  packed a suitcase just in case.) Then she prescribed Seroquel, an anti-psychotic.

“You mean I’m psychotic?” I said.

“Well, marginally so,” she said.

nursery

I was scared shitless about what was happening, and ashamed. I had an Ivy League education, was a director at a national nonprofit–and I was cracking up, headed for the nut house.

I was diagnosed with extreme postpartum depression with anxiety with intrusive images.

Dr. Cedars referred me to Dr. Alexander, a leading expert on PPD. Dr. Alexander doubled my Seroquel and had me continue taking Klonopin and Zoloft, and that’s what did the trick. What I learned was that each person’s brain is different. I got lucky that it didn’t take long to find the cocktail that worked for mine. In a week I began to dramatically stabilize. Ben noticed the difference right away. “Your thoughts are more organized. You seem more calm, more like yourself,” he said. I started sleeping through the night, stopped having bad thoughts.

The truth is Science still doesn’t fully understand PPD – why it happens, why it happens to some women and not others, and why it manifests in different ways in different women. Most experts agree that the sudden change in hormones and brain chemistry are partly to blame. The woman’s body and brain is flooded with hormones during pregnancy and the minute a child is born those chemicals plummet. “Your brain didn’t like that,” Dr. Alexander told me. “It’s like a computer that had a circuit overload. We need to do a hard reset.”

guanyin_goddess

In December, I started going to a support group for women with PPD. Some of them were in worse condition than I had been in. One mother had been in and out of Herrick. Another had OCD so bad she accidentally burned her kid with hot water in the bathtub. We talked about our shame, our guilt, and the myth of motherhood.

I was sure that I would get worse from the drugs before I got better, but I didn’t. I didn’t have any bad side effects. I didn’t completely lose my mind though I suspect it’ll always be broken. The therapist who led the support group said that some people believe PPD “cracks women open, in a good way.” I don’t know about that, but I do know that it changed me forever. I still have fears about having survived a major mental health crisis. I’m grateful that I’ve survived, but wonder: will I always be damaged, my brain like a car that’s been rammed once too hard? Will I always be prone to crazy? And if so, what does that mean? Is that who I am?

I couldn’t go back to my previous job because I was too sensitive to stress. By the following summer, I had weaned off the Seroquel and Klonopin and stayed on Zoloft for another six months. Right now I’m not taking any medication. I try to manage my stress and anxiety by trying to get enough sleep (still hard since she still wakes up each night), eat well, try to stay active, make time to go out and have fun with friends, write, and meditate when I can. I’m really lucky that Ben has supported my decision to stay at home for now so I can focus on getting better. It has also given me more time to spend with Anza, who is now a spirited, book-obsessed toddler. Sara comes to our house twice a week so I can take walks and write. I am forever grateful to her, and my husband and in-laws, and many good friends for supporting me during my darkest times.

While my PPD was happening, I didn’t tell my parents and to this day they still don’t know. For many reasons, largely cultural (they’re Chinese immigrants), I didn’t want to them to know because I didn’t want them to worry. They’re older and live in New Jersey and they would either have tried to fly out and help or spent sleepless nights of their own feeling helpless. The reason why I still haven’t told them? PPD isn’t discussed enough in any society or culture, and I fear that they might blame me or make me feel like I’m exaggerating about my experience.

shar mirror

Looking back, I wish my doctors and infant care teachers had spent time talking to me and my husband about the serious nature of PPD, how to look for signs and get help. I wish they had told me that PPD is now also called Postpartum Depression Spectrum because it manifests in so many ways, including intense prolonged anxiety, and rage. I also wished people had shown me articles written by survivors, especially women of color like this African American mother, and this Asian American mother

I hope to keep sharing my story, to be part of a movement to put PPD in our collective face, so we can see the whole picture of motherhood. As women, as a society, we need to talk about these experiences, the dark side of motherhood. We need to take PPD out of the darkness.  I want us to tell each other it’s okay, that there is no such thing as being a perfect or normal mother, that it’s okay to say I’m really fucking tired and I need help, to say I’m sick and I need help, to say there are ways to get better and we don’t need to feel alone, and most of all, we don’t need to feel ashamed.

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About the Author

Sharline Chiang

Sharline Chiang is a writer based in Berkeley, originally from New Jersey. She is a proud, long-time member of VONA (http://www.voicesatvona.org/Welcome.html), an amazing community of writers of color.



60 Responses to SHARLINE CHIANG Goes Beyond the Baby Blues

  1. Linny says:

    I suffered from PPD with my first (and only) child way back in the 1980s when I lived in a tiny, rural town in the northwest. No one even called it that, or had heard of it, and my midwife looked at me as if I were from Mars when I told her I couldn’t sleep because of my nervousness and anxiety. “Just get up and clean your shoe closet then,” she told me. When I hit bottom and became suicidal, I found a psychiatrist who gave me a (now quite outmoded) tricyclic antidepressant, and I went from being hyper-manic to being a feelingless robot. I recovered–although it took a while–but I was never brave enough to go through a pregnancy again.
    Thank you for this very honest article. Women should talk about this more and with greater openness and specificity. I wouldn’t wish the PPD experience on my worst enemy.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Dear Linny: Thank you so much for taking the time to write back, and especially grateful that you shared your story. I am so sorry you suffered like that. You are right; I remember thinking too about how I wouldn’t wish what I was experiencing on anyone. You nailed it with the word “specificity.” I think I only knew about PPD in general terms and thought it was just about crying. The more details people can share, the more heads up other women and families can get about what to look out for.

      The truth is the 1980s was not that long ago, and I am so sorry PPD was so off the radar and that someone who was a professional working with new moms was so clueless. But then again, here I was in 2011, working with all sorts of doctors at first, and they told me to take Tylenol PM. No one said, “PPD also shows up as anxiety.”

      Again, thank you so much for your words.

      best,
      Sharline

      • Kari says:

        I appreciated you writing about your experience. I myself had postpartum anxiety. I felt like my baby blues had gone away but I still wasn’t feeling right. It started to manifest it self through my body physically. I didn’t think I was extra anxious and I just chalked it up to new mom worries. Until parts of my body and even whole sides of me were going numb. I had tingling, pain, and creepy crawlies. It was so bad the doctors thought I had MS! I am really glad people are talking about this because it’s so different for each person.

        • Sharline Sharline says:

          Kari, thanks for sharing your experience. Yes, I think the more details of symptoms we can share with each other and health professionals, the more we can help those who are studying the field and conditions of PPD and its spectrum understand how it manifests, both emotionally and physically, and the more inroads we can make to finding ways to either prevent PPD or at least create better ways to identify PPD faster and treat suffers faster and support them in many ways to get them back to thriving again. Thank you again for your support!

  2. Kaitlin says:

    The rawness in this piece of writing is truly amazing. Thank you for shining a light on something that is always so dark. I’m sharing this with everyone I know.

  3. ANONYMOUS says:

    You are so brave. I had PPD, but as soon as it manifested, my midwife and my psychiatrist immediately intervened. It was so high on my watch list that I’m afraid it didn’t really register with me that a lot of women (and apparently dictors, like that first clueless doctor who didn’t register that you were asking for help when you asked about diabetes) aren’t prepped beforehand. I guess I’m “lucky” enough to have a history of depression, and so it was high alert when I gave birth. I’m so glad you are better. How painful and difficult it as — how strong you are.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Thank you for sharing your story, and I am SO glad you were in the hands of some really prepared professionals, and that you didn’t have to suffer too much.

      all the best,
      Sharline

  4. Pam says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. It’s a lot like mine. As I read through your story I could remember the same feelings of panic, hopelessness and fear, and of course, the failure. No one else in my social circle could understand and my doctors had no clue. It was the most devastating time of my life. To this day I am still amazed that I got through PPD without any medicine or psychological help with my first child. When I had my second, I was ready though, I knew what to look for and how to get help. The therapist, psychiatrist and the meds got me through it the second time. And, while I still felt like I failed somehow, I realized that I had done all the right things to stay healthy for myself and my family. That’s the best I could do.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Pam, what an amazing journey, and how brave you are! I am so sorry you suffered from PPD, but glad you got help and the courage to get through the first time and to go on to have your second child. I know what you mean about the sense of failure never going away. I guess the only thing we can continue to do is to keep being gentle on ourselves and to remind ourselves that if we don’t think other women who have had PPD are failures, or somehow flawed/”less competent”, why do send ourselves that message; why do we judge ourselves far more harshly?

      Again, thank you so much for reading the story and writing back. Best,
      Sharline

  5. A. Jilani says:

    I went through severe PPD and it scarred me for life. It was awful. Back in 1974 in England, it was unheard of and as a new mom one was simply labeled, ‘unable to cope’. You were either just supposed to pick up and deal with it because everyone else did, or check yourself into an institution. And if you couldn’t, you were weak, obstinate and abnormal.
    How do you discuss something that didn’t have a name, never mind a diagnosis, with your doctor? In this depressed and mentally / physically exhausted state how do you not despise yourself for planning to kill yourself, your baby and your husband? You have to reach rock bottom and then come up for air before going down again. And again. And again.
    Final straw: in laws who loved to point fingers, put all the responsibility, the blame, and dole out the heavy sarcasm at you. I don’t know how I survived; but somehow I did. I still wake up with panic attacks that make me think I was a failure. Thank God for strong women, my daughters, who finally gave me renewed hope and a fresh appreciation of my own worth. You young women make me proud and give me a reason to go on.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Dear A. Jilani, Your words made me cry. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so very sorry you suffered like that, and alone. Truly sorry, and it sounds like it was truly body and soul crushing. And what you said, about how it “scarred” you, I think so many of us feel the same way. I know I am not truly 100% better, and maybe I may never be, but knowing I am not alone, and reminding myself that the road is long, and it will have ups and downs, and that doesn’t mean I’m a failure, is so good to hear. Your daughters are very lucky to have you as a mother. You are strong.

      Thank you again!

      all the best,
      Sharline

  6. Sara says:

    What a piece to write. I can relate to your story. I ended up on Seroquel after my first baby and was initially confused by the fact that I wasn’t depressed but anxious. It was that inability to sleep that was the worst. I had a definite prejudice against taking any kind of medication and couldn’t admit to my own mom either. It is hard to be crazy when you’ve always been a capable person, to feel that you are psychologically weak.

    Take heart, with my second and third babies I was better prepared. I had help with the house, filled my freezer with meals, had a support network of moms and in-laws. With the last two I only had to take small doses of mild sleeping pills for months 2-8 of the new baby and could continue breast feeding. I still didn’t like that I had to take anything but now I know that the person I am after having a baby isn’t really me. It’s a temporary phase and I just accept that I need more help than some others to get through that tough time. What an amazing feeling it is when you do get your mind back and really feel yourself again! And I am thankful for more understanding of other women who are struggling in the same way.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Sara, thank you so much for sharing your story. Glad to hear from someone else who went on Seroquel. I think the more stories, different variations, that women can hear, the greater chance people can say, hey that sounds like me! And feel less alone.

      I am proud of your courage for then getting help and going ahead with two more children! Bravo to you! I can’t imagine how nerve-wracking that was, and just being a mom of three, how hard it is anyway.

      And yes to this: “It is hard to be crazy when you’ve always been a capable person, to feel that you are psychologically weak.”

      Thank you again for sharing.

      best,
      Sharline

  7. Susan says:

    Oh Sharline. Oh my god. This took my breath away. This is so raw and true and searing and wow. And what a gift for other women, other mothers. You will save lives with this piece, I know it. You are brave and generous to share this. Thank you. With so much respect and awe and sorrow for all you have endured.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Susan, so thoughtful of you to post a comment here too. I really appreciate your words. Thank you so much.

      all the best,
      Sharline

  8. Amanda says:

    Thank you.

  9. Maria says:

    Beautifully brave writing.

  10. Jennifer says:

    My heart goes out to you and all women who experience PPD. It is truly awful. I also had it with my 2nd & 3rd babies. I had heard of postpartum depression, but I didn’t think it applied to me because it didn’t feel like depression. Instead, I was terribly anxious, couldn’t sleep (for up to 3 nights at a time, without a wink), and had very graphic thoughts of harming my babies. I didn’t want to tell anyone about it because I was ashamed and afraid of being hospitalized and having to quit breastfeeding. I did tell my doctor about the anxiety and insomnia, and took sleeping pills for a week which did help, if only because it was a relief to be knocked out for 7 solid hours each night, free of terrible thoughts. I also found help from a great homeopath, believe it or not. I have had several bouts with anxiety and insomnia since then (my youngest child is 13 now), mostly related to hormonal stuff (pms & menopause), but nothing as bad as PPD, and I still get the most relief with homeopathy. I strongly encourage women to use whatever works the best & fastest for them, natural or pharmaceutical. Life does get so much better again! It really does:) I got my sense of humor back, my more typically calm way of being, and I sleep really well most nights. Babies even look cute again. I wish you a full recovery and a happy life for you & your family. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Jennifer, thank YOU so much for sharing your story. Wow, I can relate to so much of it. Sorry you had to suffer so much, but glad you got relief. I have been thinking of homeopathy for a while because of course I still struggle with being sensitive to stress, anxiety (and yeah, at 43, I’m thinking, great just as I get better from PPD, hello menopause)…so you have inspired me to look into it. It’s just I still have a hard time deciding, do I need help for my stress/anxiety now or is it just normal “being a mom of a toddler”? And even if it’s normal, does that mean I should just duke it out without any remedies?

      Thanks again!

      Sharline

      PS: You moms with three kids just amaze me!

      best,
      Sharline

  11. SANDY says:

    So glad you shared your story, i know it will help alot of women.
    God Bless you & your family.

  12. Quinn says:

    thank you for speaking your truth. you are blessed with the tools to write so clearly about your experience and I hope your story is shared at a level that other new moms can find it. Blessings to you and your family.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Dear Quinn, I really appreciate the time you took to read my story and write back. Thank you so much.

      best,
      Sharline

  13. Megan says:

    What a brilliant and tragic piece!

    May I use this account (with attribution) for a mental health package targeted at parents of babies being discharged from the NICU? It’s a wonderful and frightening description and highlights the isolation and temptation not to admit what’s happening.

    Thanks for being so brave – I had PPD and share your fears regarding future crazy and the state of your mind now. I too have a much more difficult time handling stress now and am grateful to you for a way to frame my fears. Thank you also for the links to accounts from other women of colour.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Megan, yes, it would be an honor! Email me at sharline@4real.com and we can discuss further. Believe me, my number one goal with this is to help other women and families, so whatever you can do to get the word out, is wonderful and I am so glad someone like you has access to reach a wider audience.

      Also, if you want me to take out some of the “bad” words so it’s more family friendly, I would be happy to. I wrote it more for the Mutha audience.

      And lastly, I am so sorry you suffered too. But thank you for letting me know you share the same fears of bouts of mental health struggles, but in that sense I’m still in it and still fee alone.

      Again, thank you for reaching out.

      all the best,
      Sharline

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Hi, Megan, I’d love to get in touch with you. Can you email me your contact info to sharline@4real.com? Thank you! – Sharline

  14. Elizabeth says:

    This is beautiful writing, and an absolutely harrowing story. Susan’s comment above pretty much covers it: “You will save lives with this piece, I know it. You are brave and generous to share this.”

    Also, I’m just so glad it wasn’t all for nothing – that you’re getting to enjoy your child. When it’s good, there’s nothing better.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Elizabeth, thank you so much for your words. And you are right, it’s in it’s own class when it’s good. :)

      best,
      Sharline

  15. Rachel says:

    Thank you for writing this and letting people know what it’s really like. You aren’t alone, but you are very brave to share.

  16. Paula says:

    My symptoms were, of course, the exhaustion, but also a deep and pervasive fear that, at any second, my child would die. It literally haunted every moment of my life for at least 6 months. I was terrified. And if anyone spoke of children passing away or I caught a glimpse of a story, I would have a panic attack. I still can’t handle that kind of subject matter, and I live with that lurking, though much milder, fear.

    The fact that I had to return to work three months later was f***ing ridiculous, but I did it because we needed to eat and pay our rent. I was the crappiest professor ever that semester.

    Paula

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Paula, thank you for sharing your story. I totally relate to that terror and fear that baby/child will die, and even now, very seldomly but it happens, have that moment of fear still. It’s so hard. I’m sorry you suffered that way. Thanks again for sharing.

      best,
      Sharline

  17. anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m almost a new mother, and I know that my mother suffered from severe PPD before they even called it anything. She told me (when I was an adult) that the first few months I was alive, she thought of me as the worst mistake of her life. She was an amazing mother though, and I’m glad that she shared that with me, so that I don’t blame myself if I start having thoughts like that. I really appreciate your candidness – it’s an important reminder to be on guard. I’m going to print it and keep it close at hand, as a reminder to be on top of any of those symptoms, should they arise.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Thank you so much for sharing this. It was important for me to hear, because I worry, especially with my story out there, that my daughter will take things the wrong way, feel like it’s personal when none of it has to do with her or who she is. I love her like fire loves fire. I’m so glad your mother told you the truth. I think many mothers do not. I think we would be surprised to find out that many, many moms at some point also thought, for however briefly: baby/child “as the worst mistake of her life.” No one wants to hear this. But it doesn’t meant that feeling doesn’t go away or that we should judge it. It’s just that being a mother is very hard and isolating and exhausting to the bone, and no one talks about it.

      Having said that, it’s also an amazing journey, so sending blessings to you!

      best,
      Sharline

  18. Caroline Todoruk says:

    Thank you so much Sharline for sharing your experience. It took a lot of courage to share this and I have to say that I agree totally with Susan who says that your story will save lives. Almost everyday we see articles in the media of mothers who have taken their own lives and the lives of their children, somen who clearly have suffered with PPD and not been heard either by their families or their health care providers. PPD, in its many manifestations, is still not discussed openly in any society. I thank you and will be sharing your story with my own daughters, daughter-in-law, and friends who will hopefully share it with their daughters and daughters-in-law.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Caroline, I really appreciate your feedback and thank you so much for reading my story and taking the time to get back to me. And thank you for sharing!

      all the best,
      Sharline

  19. Thank you for sharing your story, Sharline. As someone who has suffered with both depression and anxiety, I was on high alert to PPD and had informed my husband and doctor to keep an eye on me. I also suffered some traumatic losses prior to her birth and now that she’s 10-months old, the constant fear that she’ll be taken from me has subsided. I was able to handle the fear through prayer and talking it through with others, and I’m grateful beyond words that the prevailing emotion I experienced after her birth was incredible, inexplicable JOY. Joy, mixed with an inability to trust that any joy I experience won’t be ripped away from me and leave me worse off than before. But still, joy. I’m expecting another child now and again preparing my family and doctor for the possibilities. Having read your article makes me feel that much more prepared. Thank you.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Dear Kimberly, so glad you are feeling better and not living in fear anymore, which I know is so hard. Also so glad you are in the joy-zone. And congratulations for number two! Sending many blessings,
      Sharline

  20. Ly says:

    Thank you Sharline for sharing your story. Even though our family was with you for a lot of this time, I had no idea the depth of your darkness. I remember the day when the real Sharline came back and how happy we were that you were on the road to recovery. Beautifully written and very moving…your story will impact many women.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Ly, I can’t thank you, and your family, enough for helping me through this. This ordeal helped me see clearly who are the people who will be there for your hardest times, and you guys were first in line. I love you! And thank you for your comments on my story.

      xo Shar

  21. Dzung says:

    Wow, brave, honest, and necessary

  22. Sharline Sharline says:

    Hi, I wanted to thank everyone for reading my story and for your loving responses. I am so humbled by all of your kind words, and especially for those of you sharing your own stories. Thank you so much, for your time and support, and for being part of a movement to create more awareness around PPD.

    Please feel free to contact me, if you want to stay in touch, at sharline@4real.com. With much gratitude, Sharline

  23. Hi Sharline – Thank you for writing such a powerful description of your postpartum experience. You went through so much, and I’m glad you found the help you needed. The reality of motherhood often overshadows the illusions created in our popular culture. Sometimes medication and weaning are the healthiest options for an individual mom and her family.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Dear Kathy, thank you so much for your words, for reading my story and getting back to me. Yes, everything you said is true. It was especially hard in granola Berkeley to stop weaning because there is this extreme unspoken peer pressure, this message that says, Good moms breastfeed, everyone else is a BAD mom. Period. And there was no room in that message for moms who get too tired or get ppd.

      Also, wanted to say I like your website and if possible, if you can link and post my article to your readers I’d really appreciate it. Your site must be helping so many women and families!

      PS: I’m from Jersey!

      best,
      Sharline

      • Laura says:

        Very moving story – I really appreciate your recognizing that there is a range of reactions. Thank you for being brave enough to publish – you are comforting and inspiring many, many women who desperately need it.

        • Sharline Sharline says:

          Dear Laura, I thank you so much for your kind words. Yes, I am hoping this will help people recognize the different signs. Really appreciate your comment.

          all the best,
          Sharline

  24. Angela says:

    You are a badass for sharing this, I appreciate your strength and courage.
    I had PPD and it was the worst year of my life. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
    I survived with lots of help. Yes, this needs to be talked about and I talk about it to whomever asks. Happy you are doing better.
    Take care,
    Angela

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Angela, so sorry you had to go through it too. Same here, wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Hope you are doing better too. Thanks for writing!

      best,
      Sharline

  25. Liz says:

    Sharline,
    Bravo for sharing your story. It SO resonated with me.

    The first year after my baby’s birth was my personal hell. It shook the foundation of my world to its very core. As a Chinese-American mother in SF, I was also extremely reluctant to take meds and use formula. I spent many months putting the pieces of myself back together again – and years preparing myself to consider having another child.

    Five years later, I have finally healed as a 2nd time mom with a 4-month-old. I marvel at how different motherhood can feel even in myself, between the overwhelming inadequacy and devastation with my first, and the utter joy, gratitude and peace with my second. It took a lot of work to get here, and it is incredibly rewarding to enjoy my baby now AND to feel like myself again.

    I completely agree that we need to share more stories, so families can recognize PPD and know how to deal with it. That said, I am also wary of PPD becoming a label that neglects each mother’s individual circumstances and of stabilizing medication being mistaken as a solution for PPD.

    I am inspired to figure out how I can share my story, both to offer hope for moms with PPD and to generate understanding among those unfamiliar with PPD. No mother should have to experience this – it’s truly awful.

    Thank you!

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Liz, thank you so much for your comments and sharing your own story. I am so happy that your experience is so much better this time. I’m looking to connect with other Asian American moms who went through PPD. Can you email me at sharline@4real.com?

      Thank you!

      best,
      Sharline

  26. Chana says:

    Thank you so much for this, Sharline. I always heard my grandmother had post partum psychosis and never knew what that meant. Then I had my first child and it took me about a year to realize that what I was feeling was PPD. Your brave essay has helped me understand the connection between those two experiences. Thank you for your courage and for helping other women understand they’re not alone.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Thank you for sharing your story, and your grandmother’s. I’m so sorry she had to go through that, and sorry that you went through your suffering too. We are part of a more fortunate generation in that PPD has a name and is, more or less, something that people can begin to talk about and start trying to understand. We have a long way to go, but it’s a start. Thanks again for your support.

  27. Thanks so very much for sharing your story. It’s so important that new moms know about PPD and know that they can and should talk about any brushes with it without shame. I will share with my community of expectant and new moms. My work is in physical fitness, which is only a part of maternal wellness. Without mental health there can be no wellness. Thanks again for your touching and raw story.

    • Sharline Sharline says:

      Thank you, Micky, and yes, I am constantly having to remind myself how much better I will feel if I just motivate and make working out and going to the gym a priority. I’m not where I want to be with my fitness routine but I’m always thinking about it and trying small things, like at least getting out each day for a walk. Thanks again for the support.

  28. Judy says:

    Thank you Sharline for sharing your story. Good for you for getting the help you needed. You’re absolutely right that more people need to be informed about PPD so they don’t feel alone or ashamed and get the help they need. It is sad that there’s such a stigma regarding mental health, depression and anxiety in Asian cultures and that the automatic feeling is one of personal defect. But with each Asian American who shares their story I believe the stigma decreases and compassion and understanding increase. Thank you.

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