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Why I Never Told My Parents About My Postpartum Depression

Sharline Chiang, Special to The Informer from New America Media | 11/26/2013, 2 p.m.
Courtesy photo

My mother called like she did every week. "How are you?" she asked in Mandarin.

"Fine," I lied.

"How's the baby?"

"Good." That was true.

Then, once again, I rushed her off the phone. "I'd love to talk but the baby's crying."

"Okay, I know you're busy," she said. "Don't worry. I'll call you next week."

The baby wasn't crying. She was sleeping. I wasn't busy. I could barely do anything. I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, could hardly dress myself.

After I hung up I pushed away from the table to lie down. I had used all my energy trying to sound normal.

How could I tell my 70-year-old mother who had finally become a grandmother the truth — that I was going crazy, that in two months since giving birth I had gone from being thrilled to fighting thoughts of killing my baby and myself?

I pictured my mother in the kitchen of my childhood home in Jersey, placing the phone back in its cradle before knitting another pink sweater for my daughter Anza despite the pain in her diabetic hands. She was probably sitting there, gray permed hair gripped by a plastic headband, eyes switching from smiling to intense (so much like Anza's), trying to decide how else she could help. I could see her packaging more baby clothes, gifts from church. Later, she sent an email: "Don't forget to write thank you cards to my church friends. And don't forget to work on your belly weight."

I wanted to say: I'm not okay, Mom. I'm so tired it hurts. I feel like I'm being electrocuted in a tub of ice water. I sweat. I shake. I have panic attacks. I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm so scared.

I didn't know I had postpartum depression—postpartum anxiety to be exact. Even after I found out and was diagnosed with severe PPD a month later, I lied. Even after I was put on anti-psychotic medicine, even after I was registered at the mental hospital in Berkeley, I lied. I lied, because I didn't want my parents to worry. It seemed the right, Confucian, filial thing to do, to protect one's elderly parents from one's own suffering. Most of all, I lied because I didn't want to be judged. I already felt like such a failure. I was failing as a mother and I was ashamed.

Four years ago I had three miscarriages. "You're not careful enough," my mother said. "You're too active." While I was pregnant with Anza, I learned I had balanced translocation, a genetic condition. We needed to get lucky. Even after explaining this to her, my mother would insist: "Go on bed rest so it doesn't fall out."

I couldn't risk hearing words that sounded like blame. I already felt it was my fault: I was too soft.

My grandmothers combined had birthed and raised 15 children while fleeing the Japanese, the Communists, and poverty. What right did I have to fall apart?

So I took selfies of me and Anza smiling and sent them to my parents every day.