Written by Jean Lee, translated into English by Veronica Liu
On July 10, 1980, my daughter was born, without complications. She was beautiful. Upon birth, her eyes were unceasingly looking around her, as if she was exploring this world. While I was still at the hospital after having her, I was very diligent. I cared for my daughter unceasingly: changing her diapers, played with her, talking to my neighbor in the hospital room. The nurses even had warned me, saying “Mom, you need to lie down, and rest more.”
When I was discharged, my husband, along with our 17-month-old, came and took me home. My husband offered me a hamburger, but the smell was too strong and I couldn’t tolerate it. He was completely perplexed. Two days later, I started having stomach issues, so I stopped having oil, and only ate steamed or boiled food. Sometimes I would feel sick immediately after drinking tap water.
When my in-laws came to visit, I was sitting on my bed, skinny as a stick. I felt like I was not in a condition where I could meet people. Next, I got a fever. I called my OB nurse and she said “drink lots of water, take antipyretic, and you’ll be better.”
My dad came to visit. He was a retired Chinese medicine doctor. He angrily said, “It is a very serious matter to have a fever after birth. He immediately prescribed me medication, and left in a hurry to get it, and boiled it in in the kitchen. I, the mother of two young children, was helplessly lying on bed. Illness had laid its hold on me.
My husband’s one month vacation came to an end. He didn’t feel comfortable leaving me alone at home to care for the two kids. I begged my husband, “Please ask your mother to stay with us for a while, so she care for the kids. I really don’t have any confidence. What if I start getting sick, and won’t be able to get up. Who is looking after the kids?”
The loving mother-in-law agreed, and took some simple luggage and stayed over. The next day, my husband left for work early in the morning. When our 17 month-old son, who had been waking up with his dad, discovery his dad was gone, he cried. He wanted to go on the street, and my mother-in-law let him. On the street, the pitiful child, had tears on his face, looking around for his dad in a panic. Grandma was holding his little hands, not knowing what to do. All the while, holding my daughter was in the living room, watching, and standing there woodenly. I did not act like a loving mother, who ran to the street and give my son a hug, or some comfort. I was tired. I went back to my bedroom and lied down.
My mother-in-law stayed with us for two weeks, but she had to return to her job at the factory or she would lose her job. I lost sleep over the care of my children. Ever since then, insomnia has been dancing with me. I would have my eyes opened till when the light comes. Sometimes I could sleep for about two hours, and got up the next morning, a walking zombie, feeding my child with milk and rice. My husband was confused: he asked, “Sleeping is an instinct, how are you not able to fall asleep?” I didn’t even have the energy to explain.
I even asked my Aunt if she could care for my baby girl and take her back to Taiwan. She had lost three children to starvation and very much wanted another child. She warned me that I would regret it and I became reluctant and my heart sank. Upon returning home, I related my conversation with aunt to my husband. He didn’t look at me. Having his head down, he said “This is very serious.” He later told my in-law about this over the phone, and my in laws cried.
About a month after birth, I went to my OB doctor for a routine checkup. I told my doctor that I had had insomnia for a long time. The doctor asked me if I have suicidal thoughts, and I said yes. The doctor asked if I had thought of any methods, I said “yes.” The doctor immediately contacted the psychology department and sent me there.
My psychologist asked me several questions and then she recommended that I go to psych hospital. I cried and begged her to not take me to the psychiatric ward. I told her I just wanted to go home to my children. I was allowed to go home, given medication, and told to return in two weeks.
Before leaving, my husband asked, “Doctor, what does she have?” “She has postpartum depression,” the doctor answered.
Since that time, I was on both the Chinese and Western medicine. I used the prescription my dad gave me during the day, and the western medicine before going to bed. I started making little improvement on my sleep. I was able to sleep for up to 3-4 hours a night. The side effect of the western medicine is a big appetite. My body started changing. There was no joy in life: I didn’t have love in my heart. I was robot.
Fall came and the weather got cooler like my heart. My postpartum depression caused me to feel alone, lonely and restless from deep within my heart. I told my husband I don’t want to live anymore. He asked “Don’t you love me anymore? Are you willing to leave me?” I didn’t answer him because the disease within my heart had replaced love with fear and restless.
One day, my younger sister called, and told me that I needed to start living life right and taking better care of myself. I was defenseless. I just knew I had a disease but I couldn’t tell anyone. I told my husband, “I can only close the door, and hide underneath the bed secretly and be sick.” He agreed with me.
My family who lived close by moved away when I needed them the most. I started becoming anxious. I asked my husband to move to his house. I wanted more laughter and to be around more people. He said we could give it a try. We moved into my mother-in-law’s house and lived in the living room. My two sister-in-laws and my brother-in-law were already living there.
When people reach the end of the rope, there’s no choice but to adapt. I treated my mother-in-law’s house as my own, but a few months later my mother-in-law said we should spend Chinese New Year at our own home. I still had thoughts of death, but I knew I wasn’t able to stay there. We decided to give it a try. We hired a temporary worker to help out. We lived day by day. Life was better, but there was no laughter.
Gradually, I was able to push the stroller, taking my son’s hand for a walk on the street. I still struggled with comforting my daughter when she was afraid. She later asked me many times if I loved her. Now my daughter and I have a very close relationship, like friends. She is very frank and tells me everything. I know I have hindered her in ways because of my depression, but I know my daughter loves and trusts me. She admires me for my strength, courage, and sense of humor. But most importantly she knows I love her and care about her.
On the surface, the depression I have after the birth of my daughter, took two years for it to end and for me to get well. Why does it taking so long? It’s because I stopped getting help. At that time, both my husband and my knowledge of mental health was very limited.
The combination of disciplined living, going to bed and getting up on time, doing chores at home helped me get stronger. I kept myself so busy that I don’t have time to let my mind drift off and think about things. I also had a responsibility to feed my baby, make my breakfast for my 2-year old son, make them lunches and take the kids out for walks, and make family dinner. These things made me feel like I am important.
It was because of my husband that my children and I had a “whole/complete” family. He was the only one that I can talk to, because at the time mental health illness is something that you can’t tell anyone. It is “losing face”.
My husband listened to me attentively everyday, listened to my cries about my sadness and pain. He would call me from work everyday and asked how I am. When he gets home, first he would pick up our daughter, then play with our son, and then wash all the dishes and boil baby bottles patiently. He then helped me prepare dinner, and before bedtime, he would give them each a bath, he did all these without a single word of complaint.
Many years have passed. Our son and daughter are now adults. Last night, my husband handed me a copy of our son’s fourth grade essay, which he kept throughout the years. On one of the paragraphs, my son wrote, “July 1981 my little sister was born, but I didn’t know her arrival, because I was only one. Four days after her birth, my mom became sick. She had stomach problems. My mom was sick for three months, but then got better.
And this reminded me of a phone call my older sister gave. She said, “I had a dream last night, I saw you, I knew you were healed.” I have many questions, how did you know I was sick? Who else in the family knew I was sick? Did you know what disease I got? How come no one ever came to visit? How come no one ever gave me a call to see how I was doing? Is this disease that I got real? Is it a Taboo? Or is it something to be ashamed of?
I have a loving heart, I want to dedicate my to the mentally ill, and to friends.