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Learning To Live With Postpartum Depression (PPD) Through Self-Acceptance and Coaching

“I absolutely did not want to talk to anyone about this. I found it easier to tell a stranger about my struggles because I knew I would not see them again. I felt that telling family or friends made my struggle real. I felt that they would now be able to hold me accountable.”

Hello! Who are you?

My name is Lan Mai. I currently live in Naples, Italy, and am in the process of moving back to the States. I am a military spouse with two littles, ages four and five years old. 

I have just hit my decade of being a nurse. My calling is in the pediatric intensive care unit, where I have worked for 10 years. Due to moving overseas to Italy, I expanded my work skills and became a nurse freelance writer and a dual certified Health and Life Coach. I also obtained my Master’s in Nursing Education. Yes, I am a woman of many talents! 

For now, I fully commit to being a military spouse and stay at home mom while living in Italy.

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

I struggle with Postpartum Depression (PPD). My first child was born five years ago, and I am still struggling with PPD today. 

Initially, I did not realize I had PPD. As a nurse, I knew the signs and symptoms to be aware of. However, my main symptom was lack of attachment to my child. For the first five months of my daughter’s life, I remember asking my husband how he felt. I kept asking him, “Do you feel love for her (my daughter)? Do you love her?” It was such a bizarre concept to me and I did not feel anything. I was not sure if I was sleep deprived, struggling with breastfeeding, or just busy healing from giving birth. 

Around the five month mark, I suddenly felt different. I looked at my child and actually felt something. I would not label it love, but I did feel something. At that moment, I knew that I had PPD. I was not able to identify it because I did not know what I was supposed to be feeling. I did not know what I was missing until I felt it. Then I was like, “whoa” and took a step back and realized that I was missing this feeling all along. I realized that my PPD symptom was lack of attachment. Now, I understood why I wanted to throw my baby out the window every time she cried. It now made sense why I hated having to feed her, and deal with her every time she cried. For me, I just dreaded every task related to this baby.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

PPD caused me to not attach to my children. I am still dealing with this today, five years later. There are two main ways that I notice this in my life. 

  1. I have never said, “I love you” to my children. I distinctly remember a conversation with my oldest that follows like this:
  • “I love you, mommy.” – Potato (her nickname)
  • “Thank you.” – Me
  • “You have to say I love you too” – Potato
  • “I don’t have to say it. I can say that I thank you for your love.” – Me

Thinking of telling them, “I love you” makes me cringe. I don’t even think I could role play saying those words. I also don’t believe in forcing myself to say it because it doesn’t feel true and my face cringing might show. 

  1. The second most noticeable symptom is kissing. I have never kissed my kids. Even as newborns and infants. I never had the desire to shower them with kisses. As they grew older, they would want to kiss me, and I would physically withdraw when they kissed me. I felt completely violated when they kissed me on the cheeks. 

I know I have made progress with my PPD because now, I can withstand a single kiss on the cheek from both of the kids when they get on the bus to go to school. I have noticed that if they try for two or three kisses, my body is withdrawing. However, this is a significant improvement because before, I would physically push them away when they tried to kiss me. This was just a reflex that my body did. I was not even aware that I was doing it. 

These are two of the most obvious long-term symptoms, but how it made me feel inside tore me up. I felt like something was wrong with me. I felt like the worst mom ever. I was questioning whether I should have ever had kids. I was debating about a divorce because I felt the kids deserved a mom who actually loved them. 

Not attaching to my kids made me wish I was never a parent. I could honestly answer, “If I knew then, what I know now, I would not have had kids.” I could honestly answer and say I wish I never had kids. This feeling has changed over the past five years. I went from, “I want to kill my kids” to “I wish they were never born” to “I can deal with them.”

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

June 2022. I started obtaining my certifications in Health and Life Coaching. This was when things really started to turn around for me. My kids were two and three years old at this time. 

“Your first client is you.” This is one of the first lessons we were taught in coaching. We go through all the steps and interventions that we learn about. We cannot help others until we help ourselves. As a result of going through the classes and practicing the techniques on each other, we naturally go through the process ourselves as well. 

I started talking about my struggle every week with my coaching classmates. I also started talking to my spouse and sister. I was so ashamed of myself as a mom before. I did not want to talk about it. I did not want to admit it. Now, through coaching, I had to own PPD. 

Coaching did not fix me immediately. It only opened the doors to learning to thrive with PPD.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

Learning how to thrive started with identifying that I had PPD, and examining how it affected my life and thought processes. I started working with a life coach and one of the first steps was acknowledging and accepting who I am. 

I had to fully accept and internalize that I am a good mom. I am just a different type of mom than I imagined I would be. I examined how I showed love to my kids. It is like a gratitude journal, but with ways of showing love. I accepted that I will not physically love them with hugs and kisses and that is okay. My spouse can fulfill that role in their lives. 

I identified that I show them love through gestures. For example, I learn their favorite fruits and provide that. I also learn what activities they like and provide that. My daughter enjoys crafts and my son enjoys toys with moving parts. I also build a community for them and surround us with families with kids their age to play with. 

This might seem basic and like common sense, and it feels easy to shrug off. However, even if it is a basic life of living with kids, it is still a way to show love. Acknowledging this as one way I show them love helps solidify that I am a mom that loves my child. I can appreciate what I do for my child. Instead of focusing on what I do not do for my child. 

This different thought process is the essence of what I learned through health and life coaching. I did not change my actions, I just changed the way I look at my actions. By changing my thought patterns, I was able to change my beliefs in myself as a mom. 

To others struggling with PPD, I would say, “Talk about it.” Talk to a spouse, a sister, family, a physician, or a therapist. It all starts with talking about it, owning it, and figuring out a way to heal or thrive. Nothing can start until a conversation is started.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

I absolutely did not want to talk to anyone about this. I found it easier to tell a stranger about my struggles because I knew I would not see them again. I felt that telling family or friends made my struggle real. I felt that they would now be able to hold me accountable. I feared that they could even ask me how I am dealing with PPD down the line. That thought was so scary to me. Knowing that they would know that about me, forever. 

I also grew up in a culture where we do not talk about mental health. I feared having to justify my feelings. I did not want to have to defend how I feel. I did not want to argue with others when I told them that I felt like a terrible mom.

It feels that the most immediate response from other people is, “No, you’re a great mom.” That to me feels that they are rejecting my feelings and now I either have to explain why I feel like a terrible mom or just not talk about my feelings anymore. 

Talking about it weekly in my coaching classes helped to open the door to talking about it with my family. One of my action steps during coaching was to tell my sister. We even worked with the feelings of why I felt uncomfortable telling my sister. I felt that my PPD struggles were so intimate that I did not want anyone to know. I did not want to be that vulnerable with anyone. 

I also grew up as the care-taker in my family. I was the oldest girl and mom died when I was nine years old so a lot of responsibility came to me at an early age. I did not want to show weakness to my family. I was always the strong and independent one. 

Now, it is much easier for me to talk about my struggles. I feel that PPD is not talked about enough. I make a point of reaching out to new moms to ask how they are doing. I also try to bring up my struggle with PPD with expectant moms so that they know I am a resource if they need. I am much more open to talking about it now because I feel empowered to help others.

I feel that raising awareness of PPD is extremely important. I also feel like starting a conversation about my experience with PPD and my struggles with being a mom opens the door for them to talk about their own struggles. 

I would like to think that I am now an advocate for open conversations about PPD and the struggles of being a mom. 

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

I wish that I knew that lack of attachment can be the main symptom of PPD. I was on the lookout for constant crying and out of control emotions as symptoms for PPD. If I knew lack of attachment was my main symptom, I would have sought help earlier. 

I also wish that I knew that I was not alone. After having so many conversations with other moms, I found that we are all in some type of struggle. There are so many competing images of what a mom should be based on social media and television. I don’t believe any of that is accurate. It shows snapshots of what mom life can be, but not all of it.

I wish I knew that I could have reached out to any of the moms in my life and asked them to have a real conversation with me where I could pour out my soul about my struggles and how I really felt at the darkest moments of my struggle with PPD. 

Is there anything else you think I should have asked you?

I am not fixed or healed from PPD. I believe PPD, for me, is a continuum. I have good days and bad days, good moments and not so good moments.

When I look at PPD on a continuum beginning five years ago, I see improvement, so I see healing. I am in a much better place than I was five years ago, so that is a win. I still want to grow as a mom and as a person, so I have something to look forward to. But I am not should-ing myself or judging myself. I am accepting who I am, my faults and my strengths, and choosing to focus on my strengths and my growth. 

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

  • Christus Ministries  is an organization that I am involved with. It helped me build community and a support system where I could reach out and be my authentic self. I was able to talk about my struggles without judgment and without anyone trying to “fix” me. To this day, I can reach out to any of my “Caritas Family” and know they would be there to support me virtually, or physically if possible. 
  • ScreamFree Parenting is a book that taught me how to focus more on myself and less on my kids in order to be a better parent. It empowered me to focus on myself without guilt and gave me true skills and techniques to live out a scream free life. I felt more in control of my emotions and aware of how I was showing my authentic self to my kids. 
  • Health Coach Institute is where I obtained my dual health and life coach certifications. I also built a community of like minded people who support each other to be better versions of themselves. I was able to explore my struggles and grow without judgment. I also learned valuable techniques to explore my thoughts and beliefs. I learned empowered action steps that helped save my marriage when my PPD brought me to my lowest.
  • The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Dr. Elaine is a book that taught me so much about myself. I discovered what a highly sensitive person can be and how I am highly sensitive. It helped me to create awareness of how sensory overload affects me and coping techniques to help me thrive in an overwhelming world. 

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can learn more about my journey on my website. I showcase who I am as a nurse, freelance writer, and health and life coach. My blog tells my story, lessons I’ve learned, and ways I have adapted to being a military spouse with kids, and the challenges that come with being a mom. 

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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