While 14% of recent mothers experience some form of postpartum depression (PMD) We never think it’s going to happen to us. When I was pregnant, it never crossed my mind that the thing I wanted most in the world would also have me feeling bad about myself.
I was young- 30, I had planned for my baby, I was a happily married, kale eating, yoga going woman finishing up a Master’s degree Chinese Medicine. Truthfully, I loved being pregnant. I loved being rotund, taking up so much space. I was gleeful. I remember even waving at the driver of a eighteen wheeler just because I was so happy. The pregnancy hormones agreed with me and I was fortunate that I didn’t experience anything negative.
As I grew bigger I delighted in showing off my new form and wrapped my middle in colorful fabrics from my travels to Ghana, Indonesia and Laos, I felt connected to the larger world and carrying my baby seemed like the thing I was meant to do.
I got big.
Then a surreal, excuitaing and protracted home birth resulted the love of my life, Ava. At the time, home births were illegal in Rhode Island and that sweltering late June night the windows were wide open. I worried that my screams would cause the neighbors to think my husband was abusing me, they might call the police and then perhaps the police would haul away my midwifes for breaking the law. Clearly my imagination getting the best of me.
Perhaps it was that my labor fried my brain, or the precipitious cut off from those pregnancy hormones I adored, but within weeks I was a full blow basketcase. I was crippled by panic and hopelessness.
During this time well meaning friends,family and medical providers pushed meds. Perhaps in retrospect that would have been a great idea, but at the time I was a purest. I refused.
For support, baby Ava and I moved up to Vermont and with the help of my husband, sister -in law, brother and parents my psyche slowly began to heal. The fresh air helped. The walks in the woods too.
I found an acupuncturist there, Lucy Zhang, a Chinese woman in her late 40’s. I drove to her home twice a week for treatment. Lucy’s style is different than mine. It’s very Chinese- which is not surprising. She used thicker needles than I use in my practice and stimulated the needles more I do, but the effect was great. During our sessions I relaxed- a tremendous feat and for forty five minutes i had a reprieve from hyper-focusing on my mental state.
In time I recovered and went on to have another child, Julien. It was short and beautiful labor and no post partum depression to boot. A smooth reentry to life with an infant that healed my soul, throughly.
In the seven years of private practice, I have offered free post partum treatments to absolutely anyone who wanted one. I felt that aiding women through the threshold of motherhood by alleviating fatigue and anxiety was my way of giving back. I would also use those visits to screen for postpartum depression.
A good portion of my work as an acupuncturist centers on infertility. Lots of my patients wind up in my office at the referral of their OB/GYN, Reproductive Endocrinologist or Google. Luckily, lots of my patients have gotten pregnant and have delivered healthy babies.
In the first trimester of pregnancy I see my fertility patients on a weekly basis to reduce the chance of miscarriage and then I see them weekly the last five weeks of pregnancy to prepare their bodies for labor and delivery. Needlessto say. I spend a lot of time with my patients and by the time they are ripe for birth, we know each other very well.
One patient, let’s call her Jane, saw me to help get pregnant with her first baby. Eventuaaly she did get pregnant and delivered a lovely baby boy. Jane never came in for her free post partum visit and 18 months later she appeared again in my office in hopes of concieving baby #2.
It’s always great to reconnect with patients, but I was surprised to hear that she had experienced a terrible bout of postpartum depression. I felt horrible. Knowing so intimately the experience I had, I could imagine what she went through, but I also felt horrible that I was not able to help with tools at my disposal: Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, a referral to a therapist, a support group or even a psychiatrist for meds if that’s what she wanted. I had no idea she had suffered so.
In an effort to be as totally professional I had never shared my own struggles with postpartum depression with my patients. Really, my patients were coming to me for help not to hear my saga. But at that moment with Jane something occurred to me. I had to do things differently.
Now when one of my patients is so pregnant that I don’t even know if she’ll go into labor before her next appointment, we sit down and have a heart to heart. I say, “If you feel upset and anxious after your baby is born. It’s okay. It happens to a lot of people. Call me and I’ll help you.” I go onto explain that I had postpartum depression eight years ago. I will not judge them. Shame is common, especially among infertility patients. They have worked so hard to get their babies, often at great emotional and financial cost. Any unpleasant feelings often go hand in hand with shame and embarrassment. For me, the feeling of shame was because I thought I should just be happy and the fact that I wasn’t was difficult to justify. If it were only that simple.
Besides the having a patient come see me, here are some of the resources I share.
I would love to hear your thoughts, please leave a comment below. I’ll be sure to respond.