“I’ve never been a very emotional person. I grew up in a very Chinese-Indian culture, and you just don’t show emotions; they are a sign of weakness. I’m not the type of woman that cries at movies or at weddings. I never did any of that,” said Sabrina, mother of three. So when she began to have intense emotions during her first pregnancy, this was strange for her and her husband. She described one time watching America’s Funniest Home Videos, and eating pineapple on the couch. Her uncontrollable laughter turned into uncontrollable sobbing, and her husband never let her eat pineapple again.
Of all the women I’ve spoken with, Sabrina is the most career-oriented. She’s a high-achiever and successful as a project manager. She applied that same outlook to motherhood, so with her first child, she just plowed through the difficulties, trying to demonstrate to all around her, that she could “have it all,” but it “was a huge front,” that she became a master of keeping up. She was so good at this facade that she didn’t even recognize her postpartum depression until the birth of her second daughter.
The shift from one to two children was too much for Sabrina and she was unable to push down her feelings this time. A combination of lack of sleep and trying to demonstrate to the world that “she could have it all,” soon caught up with her. With the lack of “the kitchen-table conversation” (the infrastructure of close family or neighbors just to tell her “it’s going to be alright, I’ve been through this too,”) she found herself spiraling downward.
Sabrina’s PPD manifested itself as an inability to connect with anyone. She’s describes it as “dissociative” and “I was like a robot. I wasn’t feeling or caring about anything. I remember people talking and I would smile and nod my head and I would have no idea what they were saying. I wanted to be in isolation.”
Eventually, Sabrina and her husband recognized this was an issue, but not until her second daughter was around a year old. She was advised to seek help in the form of medication and counselling, which was difficult for Sabrina, who didn’t even like having to take prenatal vitamins. Counselling provided her with a means to talk to someone who would listen to her, to fulfill the lack of a community she felt around her.
Sabrina was born in Guyana, South America to a Chinese mother and Indian father. Then she grew up in England and moved to California as a teen. She’s been exposed to many cultures. “In most asian cultures, for the first thirty days of your baby’s life, the mother does not leave the home. Nannies/nurses come into the house, they cook; they clean; they help out. It gives the mom that start that we don’t get in the western culture. There’s a different focus on the family. Sometimes your in laws move in with you and help take care of the baby while you go back to work. In the American culture, we are told to be the chauffeur, the cook, the mother, and the worker.” Sabrina talked a lot about all that the American system lacks in terms of supporting mothers, and she’s right. America is one of three nations in the world without paid maternity leave. While women make up over 50% of the workforce now, maternity leave and women’s health still aren’t given priority. With the birth of her third child, Sabrina personally experienced the lack of understanding or accommodations from America’s workplace.
Sabrina took twelve weeks of maternity leave with each child, and when she returned to the company that she’d work for for ten years after baby number three, they told her she wasn’t able to perform her job adequately and gave her 17 days to improve. “It was such a slap in the face. I chose to quit,” Sabrina explained. Sabrina and her husband worked for the same company, and it provided onsite daycare for all three of her children, so she didn’t want to sever ties with the company who had provided her family with so much regardless of the current situation. However, between the thirty minute drive to the daycare, instead of walking over from her office, to try and breastfeed her son, the stress of unemployment, and a newborn, she was unable to breastfeed her son for as long as she wanted to. This brutal combination of events caused her PPD to intensify.
This time, she decided to take a different approach as she had more skills to deal with the depression and opted instead to not take medication. She threw herself into fixing projects around the house, volunteering for the public schools in her town, anything that would keep her from feeling stuck, and eventually life became tolerable.
Sabrina wouldn’t refer to herself as recovered, even with her youngest in kindergarten now. She believes we all just learn and grow, strengthening our coping skills, but her depression never fully went away.
For me, a woman who has another child after experiencing PPDA is beyond brave. I would compare it to someone who almost drowned in the ocean, jumping back into the water on a rough day.
Sabrina kept jumping into the ocean as she wanted a large family, so she just kept swimming; this is her personality–put your head down and meet your goals, and she’s glad she did it.
I really struggle with if I want to have another child or not, and this is mainly because of my experience with postpartum anxiety. I remember how I felt tortured. I remember feeling like I was going to die, not being able to eat, sleep, or think of anything but panic. I don’t know if I can live through it again. I don’t know if it would be fair to my family or the new baby or my daughter. It feels like gambling after I’ve already lost way too much money. So Sabrina’s outlook on this was refreshing. Basically, she’d always wanted a large family and PPD wasn’t going to stop her; she learned to forgive herself and “not be perfect.”
For Sabrina, coping with PPD became part of life. It was a struggle and still is on some days, but life is full of struggles. Her new mantra of “Just go with it” has given her the ability to let the little things go and spend time focusing on what’s important to her.