How My Mom's Postpartum Depression Made Me Love Her More: A Thank You Letter
by Thao Nguyen
A little more than 22 years ago, I was born. But my mom got more than an adorable baby when I came into this world. She also got postpartum depression. At the time, postpartum depression was very much a taboo topic. Women rarely spoke about it, and the fact that neither my dad nor my mom ever really discuss their emotions meant that she didn’t get the treatment and attention she needed. It didn’t help that when I wasn’t being adorable, I was actually a terrible baby. I refused to eat or sleep, and I was pretty sickly. Basically all the things that would give new parents peace of mind, I didn’t do. Only a few years ago did my mom start opening up about her struggles, and although it made me feel guilty for the pain I caused her, I am so glad she finally decided to start talking about it. Her openness about her PPD gave me a much greater appreciation for her, and it opened my eyes to all that she did for me.
For as long as I can remember, I knew to watch out for my mom to make sure she was okay. I knew it was something I had to do, but I didn’t know why; I also never knew what to say or do to make her feel better. She would get extremely fearful and anxious if her period was late, to the point that she would shake and have panic attacks. She wasn’t afraid of being pregnant. She was afraid of having to go through PPD again. I remember sitting as a child in the hallway outside of the bathroom with my heart in my throat as I heard her crying inside. I didn’t know what she was so upset about. I just knew that my mom was sad and I couldn’t fix it. Other times, she would have deep, dark circles under her eyes because of her insomnia--another side effect of her PPD. But no matter how sad or exhausted she was, she took care of me, my sisters, and my dad.
My mom may not be able to run miles or lift heavy things, but she is the strongest person I know. She’s put in countless late nights, praying for my sisters and I whenever we were going through difficult times. But no matter how late into the night my mom was up, she was always awake and in the kitchen by 6AM to make the rest of us breakfast. She’s spent hours sweating over the stove and cutting board cooking meals for us. Her fingers are gnarled and bony, tired from the years of clutching her cooking knife; but they are still soft and cool to the touch every time she checks my forehead when I’m sick. There have been days where she is on her feet for hours on end, going from one end of town to the other, running errands to keep the household together. But she was never late to pick us up from school or take us to our extracurriculars. Even as I’ve gotten older, my mom is always waiting for me with a bowl of food and a lecture when I get home late after a night out.
I’ve always appreciated everything my mom has done for our family, but when I see her in the context of her postpartum depression, it’s enough to make me want to sit down and just cry over how blessed I am to have her. We are not a family that says “I love you” to each other, and I used to hate that. But now I can taste “I love you” in every meal my mom cooks, feel it every time she uses her hand to take my temperature; and hear it every time she scolds me for doing something she knows will hurt me.
My mother’s endurance showed me that being a mom isn’t always unicorns and butterflies. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it’s ugly, sometimes it’s about making sacrifices that seem impossible. This article is the least I can do to say thank you to my mom. Neither of us is very good at expressing or being open about our feelings, but what I can do is write. I’ve written about wanting to be a mom before, but now I want to make it as clear as possible that this desire came from watching my own mom. I want to be a source of comfort and peace even when I’m not feeling those things myself. I want to learn that kind of selflessness. I want to do that to show my mom that her sacrifices and suffering haven’t gone unnoticed.