Sharing the Journey with Ivy Shih Leung


Ivy’s joined the blogging ranks of PPD Survivors recently and I decided to scoop her up for an interview here. She’s been writing some really great stuff over at Ivy’s PPD Blog and is working on a book based on her experience. Check out her blog and enjoy a little slice of her story here!

Tell us about yourself – who is Ivy when she’s not busy being a mom or working?

Hmmmmm……since 3/4 of my life these days revolves around being a mom and working, I have to think a bit on this one. For the past 4 years, I’ve been trying to write a book about my PPD experience. For the past 1-1/2 months I’ve been blogging about my PPD experience, realizing that blogging is an effective means of helping women who are currently suffering from PPD and getting the word out to as many people as possible about PPD in hopes that one day PPD will no longer be so misunderstood, under-diagnosed and under-treated. My motto is: Knowledge is power; information is enabling, and it needs to be shared! Obviously, PPD has shaped my life tremendously. I would like to do more in terms of advocacy and PPD support through telephone support and PPD support groups, as well, but I need to get my book done first.

In terms of what I try to do for fun, I’m a big TV watcher. Nowadays, that’s the cheapest & easiest form of entertainment. I record my favorite TV shows to watch at a convenient time (i.e., after my daughter goes to sleep), like American Idol, Lie to Me, Brothers & Sisters, CSI Miami, Fringe, and Heroes. I try to catch lunch and dinner with friends in NYC a few times a month. I love movies and Broadway musicals, and try to see them as much as I can. I love beaches, shelling, kayaking, and snorkeling in tropical waters. And I love going to craft shows to admire the creativity and talent of artists. I also love to travel, and try to go somewhere different for vacation each year (by plane) and the more exotic the location, the more pictures I take. Last year, my husband and I made it to Athens and Santorini, Greece. I was in photo-op heaven!

You’ve recently joined your voice to increase awareness of PPD. What made you decide to go public with your story?

It was anger of people’s ignorance – those who were my doctors, those whom I’ve talked to and those in the media who say stupid things – that propelled me to write this book. I never would have thought of writing a book had it not been for Tom Cruise’s ignorant ranting that aired on the June 24, 2005 Today Show that “there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance.” I suddenly felt the urge to write a book about my battle with postpartum depression. Rather than just get mad at Tom Cruise’s remarks and sit there and do nothing about it, I decided there weren’t enough people out there telling their personal stories. I would channel all the energy stemming from my anger and do something positive and try to help others. I would tell my story in the hopes of helping and educating as many people as possible about this silent and potentially deadly condition.

I want to reach out to moms currently suffering from PPD. With access to personal stories of PPD survivors, the less alone and ashamed mothers suffering from PPD will feel and the more empowered they will be to seek the help they must get. One of the two things I regret about having PPD is the lost opportunity to bond with my daughter to the fullest extent possible in those months where I was transformed into a different person. The other regret is not having found an understanding individual to help me through the darkest days by assuring me that I wasn’t going crazy, I wasn’t alone and I will get better. Because of this, I want to share my story to give hope to those suffering from PPD and help them feel less alone knowing that there are others who have survived PPD.

I want to reach out and validate the experience of moms who have already suffered from PPD, and encourage them to speak up. The more PPD survivors speak up, the more others will know what PPD is and that it’s a real illness that should be taken seriously. You would think that, of all people, fellow women would be able to empathize with you. But that’s not the case at all. The woman who has never had a child before or who had a perfect pregnancy, delivery and baby tend to be as clueless as men about PPD. Those who have neither experienced PPD firsthand or even secondhand, by way of someone they know and therefore witnessing its devastating effects, cannot understand and empathize with those suffering from PPD. Out of ignorance usually comes pre-conceived notions, or myths, that can’t be farther from the truth. We dispel those myths once and for all.

Finally, I want to reach out to all parents-to-be so they can be knowledgeable about PPD, so that if a new mom succumbs to it, they won’t be totally caught off-guard. When they seek treatment from a doctor, they won’t be at a total disadvantage if the doctor doesn’t spend time to 1) explain to them what is going on so, 2) answer questions she will undoubtedly have, and 3) give reassurance that she is not alone in what she is experiencing and she will be fine, though it takes time for the treatment to be effective.

What was childbirth like for you? Was it what you expected or did things get unexpected and frantic?

I had no expectations of childbirth. I was a bit nervous from not knowing what to expect. All I knew was from what you see on TV and in the movies (i.e., women screaming from pain). Labor and delivery actually went pretty smoothly, which was a tremendous relief. It quickly went downhill from there, though, with the discovery that my placenta would not come out. It turned out to be a rare incident of what they refer to as placenta accreta. Three days after delivery, my doctor had to remove my uterus because the placenta had grown into my uterus. If this weren’t done, I would’ve died. I am absolutely sure that it’s not the traumatic delivery experience itself that caused PPD to rear its head. The following series of events led to my insomnia, the first sign of PPD for me:

  1. negative experience in the hospital-e.g., constant sleep interruptions in the hospital, constant moving from one room to another and changes in hospital staff, multiple attempts to replace IVs in my arms/hands, food deprivation (I only had about 2 meals the whole week I was there….otherwise what I had were ice cubes for the most part, plus an occasional broth or jello), below-par treatment of certain hospital staff, searing pain (felt like someone was burning me) in my abdomen that came & went for 2 days after the surgery
  2. constant sleep interruptions from the noises the baby made throughout the night, plus night feedings
  3. baby’s bad case of eczema and cradle cap
  4. baby’s one week colic

For some Moms, the glow after childbirth simply isn’t there. Instead it gets dark, creepy, and eerie. What was your postpartum journey like?

My childbirth experience was not a glowing, happy experience–at least not until I came out of my PPD fog. And it’s unfortunate that I won’t ever get another crack at this, now that I’m missing a uterus. My experience wasn’t exactly dark, creepy or eerie, either. The 7 days immediately following childbirth were spent in the hospital. It was a negative experience that I try never to think about. You can read more about my hospital experience and my descent into PPD, with insomnia followed by panic attacks at my blog: http://ivysppdblog.wordpress.com. My ignorance about PPD (and my doctors’ ignorance) aggravated my situation. Had I known what PPD was, how to identify risk factors for it, realized that insomnia and panic attacks are symptoms of PPD, and proactively tried to keep risk factors to a minimum (e.g., make sure I got round-the-clock help with the baby and housework), I would not have suffered as badly as I did. Hell, I may not have even suffered from PPD!

What did you find the most helpful in climbing out of the gaping hole of your Postpartum Mood Disorder? What did you learn in the process about yourself?

Firstly, my husband’s love and support (see my response to the next question). Second, Paxil, without which I would not have been able to recover in 4 weeks and get on with enjoying my motherhood experience with my baby. My brain biochemistry was so messed up (due to hormonal changes, delivery complications resulting in a major surgery 3 days after delivery, traumatic one-week hospital stay, constant sleep interruptions throughout the night for a month starting from the time I was in the hospital, sleep deprivation and anxiety), that it’s highly unlikely any other treatment would have cured me as quickly. If I had requested my doctors to test for cortisol levels because my body was undergoing so much stress (“fight or flight” response on overdrive), I’m sure they would have been off the charts (which is probably why I had daily hive breakouts on my arms, legs, butt and mouth…some of them were 2″ long welts).

I learned a couple things about myself as a result of my PPD experience. Firstly, I’ve never been depressed before (I’ve always wondered whether I had been previously). Second, I emerged on the other side of the dark tunnel a survivor and a much stronger and smarter person than before. I realize that my calling is now to help educate others about PPD. I would like to help prevent other mothers from going through what I went through. I wouldn’t have realized this calling had I not suffered the way I did.

How did your husband handle your PPD experience? Did it affect your marriage?

He handled my PPD experience like the trooper that he is. He was there for me EVERY step of the way. I never even had to ask him for help. Though he didn’t really know how to comfort me on those really, really dark days where I just wanted to wither up and vanish into thin air, he did all he could to listen to me, give me hugs, come home from work early whenever a panic attack was setting in, and help with the baby, housework and cleaning–on top of having a full-time job. It wasn’t just a heck of an awful experience for me, it was really tough on my husband as well. He became physically and emotionally drained and didn’t have many people he could turn to for advice. This experience showed me how lucky I am to have him for a husband and how lucky my daughter is to have him for her daddy, and how strong our relationship is to have survived what we both went through.

At your blog, you make reference to a book you’re in the process of wrapping up. Where are you in this process and has it been helpful to write it all down?

If during my high school and college years and even up until before I had the baby, someone had told me I’d be writing a book one day, I would’ve laughed at them. I’ve never even kept a diary. It definitely takes life-altering experiences to motivate you to do something that you think might make a difference in someone else’s life. My husband thought writing a book was an excellent idea, and would certainly be a great outlet for my feelings. I’ve been working on my book for the past four years and plan to finish in the next few months. Writing the book has been such a therapeutic experience.

Name three things that made you laugh today.

Though there were definitely more than three things that made me laugh today, the primary ones that come to mind: 1) my daughter makes me laugh in delight and amazement each and every day in terms of some of the words/phrases she uses; 2) my daughter (again – but why would that surprise you) and the way she loves to dance; and 3) I have to admit that I watched the movie “The Shaggy Dog” (starring Tim Allen) with my daughter and I cracked up throughout the movie. Great comic relief after a long day at work!

What do you find the most challenging about parenting? The Least?

I’m not sure if other parents would agree, but just having to think of ways to stimulate her intellectually, socially and athletically is challenging for me. After all, as a parent, I am responsible for her future and I only get one shot at it. The least challenging is loving her…it comes naturally.

Last but not least, let’s say you have just one chance to provide some advice to an expectant mother (new or experienced) about Postpartum Mood Disorders. What would you tell her?

PPD is the #1 complication of childbirth, with 1 out of 8 mothers experiencing it. You wouldn’t know it, though, because most mothers keep their experiences to themselves. Knowledge about PPD & adequate social support to enable mom to get the rest she needs postpartum are CRITICAL! The more knowledgeable and prepared a mom is for situations that can reduce risk factors for PPD-getting adequate social support is just one example-the better off she will be. No woman is completely immune from PPD after having a baby. With the right combination of risk factors and stressors, any woman-even you-could end up suffering from it.

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2 thoughts on “Sharing the Journey with Ivy Shih Leung

  1. Pingback: A Heartfelt Thank You as I Celebrate Six Years of Blogging | My Postpartum Voice

  2. Pingback: Interviewed by Fellow PPD Blogger, Lauren Hale « Ivy’s PPD Blog

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