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Overcoming Postpartum Blues

Fennie Ho
Hong Kong, Asia
From New Beginnings, Vol. 26 No. 2, 2009, pp. 18-19

Right after I found out that I was going to have a baby, I was giddy with excitement. I signed up for prenatal classes, booked appointments with my gynecologist, and, yes, went shopping for all things pink as soon as I found out that I was expecting a girl! I'd see pictures in the magazines of mothers breastfeeding their babies and I knew that I'd do the same. What I didn't know was how trying breastfeeding could be for some mothers.

My father passed away when I was approaching my last trimester. Naturally, I was devastated. We were also due to relocate from Singapore to Hong Kong. There were a thousand and one things going on: the funeral, the packing, relocating, and also taking care of my mother. We went over to Hong Kong but I went to and from Singapore for my check-ups. I missed the breastfeeding and childcare session of my prenatal classes and thought nothing of it. I was immersed in my sadness and cried all day long. The last thing on my mind was the need to read up on breastfeeding.

I flew back to Singapore to give birth. My baby was in the breech position and I was informed that I would have to have a cesarean section for the birth. It was another blow to me. As soon as my little princess was born, the nurses in the hospital asked about my feeding preference and I opted for exclusive breastfeeding. Baby Rylee nursed beautifully. It was fairly surprising given that I didn't get to put her to my breast immediately, as only mothers who went through natural delivery had this option. I was instructed to feed for 20 minutes on each breast. I panicked when I didn't see any milk at all. I was told to pump my breasts after I'd finished nursing to increase the supply, as breastfeeding is all about supply and demand. So I pumped and pumped, even though nothing was coming out.

On day two, the lactation nurse came to tell me I should supplement my baby with formula or at least glucose water. She said my baby was dehydrated. I was furious at her for suggesting that. She told me I just wasn't producing enough milk and that I was being selfish and stubborn to insist on breastfeeding instead of caring for the well being of my baby. And, to make matters worse, she said this right in front of my in-laws, who are not exactly avid supporters of breastfeeding. That filled me with doubt. I lay awake in the hospital crying hard and wondering if I should persist.

Once home, I had an anxiety attack. I realized I knew nothing about babies. My mother had had a fainting episode right before I gave birth so I didn't want to burden her too much. Initially, Baby Rylee was an angel. She slept most of the time. But after two or three days, she cried a lot and nursed frequently. I realized I knew nothing about breastfeeding at all. When the baby napped, I would be up checking the Internet forums and support groups, emailing my friends, and reading books on breastfeeding.

Postpartum blues hit me big time. My husband, who had been my pillar of support, was due to return to Hong Kong after two weeks at my side. I remember hugging him and begging him not to go. I felt irrational and extremely tired. No one had ever told me that it would be this hard caring for a newborn. But amidst all these thoughts, I just kept telling myself to persevere.

I read that if one's baby is gaining weight well and producing sufficient dirty and wet diapers a day she should be fine. No matter what others said to me, I told myself I was going to make it. My in-laws kept hinting to me to drop breastfeeding as they thought I was ignoring my baby's hunger for my own selfish agenda. Even my mother and my sisters tried to talk me out of it. I guess my family was doing it for my sake as everyone saw how tired I was and how I was crying all the time. But I didn't give up. I told myself that unless the doctor himself told me my baby was not growing well, I would not give up.

The turning point came when I brought Baby Rylee to her first check-up. I broke down and confided in the pediatrician about my difficulties. I thank God that he's very pro-breastfeeding and he told me I was doing a wonderful job. Baby Rylee was growing very well and she was in the 95 th percentile! He told me some women do not react well to pumps and that I should just continue to let my baby breastfeed directly and nurse on demand.

Rylee was a fussy baby. She was colicky and, on top of that, was diagnosed with reflux. I would nurse her only to have her vomit out everything shortly afterward. By now, my postpartum blues had escalated to depression. I was crying all the time. I thought of my late father and how I had failed as a daughter to him in times of need. I thought of how I felt robbed of the experience of a natural labor. I was constantly worrying about Baby Rylee, her colic cries, her reflux, Hong Kong pollution, and how I was doing as a mother. I worried about everything. But surprisingly, I still persevered with breastfeeding. I did suspect that I had postnatal depression but I did nothing about it. I was afraid that if I needed to take medication I would be told to stop breastfeeding.

I was starting to feel suffocated and having dark thoughts about my life ending. I wasn't thinking about suicide, but more wishing I'd just go to sleep and not wake up. The Sichuan earthquake was a great wake-up call to me. I read about the two babies whose mothers had died protecting them and I suddenly realized how lucky I was to be able to hold my baby in my arms.

I also discovered La Leche League meetings in Hong Kong. An LLL Leader told me to treasure and cherish the times I have with my baby now because before I knew it, she would grow up and be a baby no longer. That was a light bulb moment. I started to nap when my baby napped, relaxing in the thought that my milk supply was fully established. I bought books on postpartum depression and read up on how other mothers overcame it. Reading their experiences was very touching; it was like reading my own story.

Recently, we made a trip back to Singapore for a quick visit. When my in-laws saw their chubby granddaughter with rosy cheeks, my father-in-law asked if I'd switched to feeding her formula. My best moment was being able to answer that the only milk his granddaughter had had since birth was mine. I'm proud to say, they are now "converts" and my mother-in-law has even proudly told her colleagues that her granddaughter is exclusively breastfeeding and that breast is indeed best!

Adapted from a story in LLL Asia's Close To The Heart

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