Asian Americans, as human beings, deal just like other people with the gamut of mental illness, including postpartum depression and anxiety. But that doesn’t mean it’s openly acknowledged, let alone discussed. In fact, while 14 percent of women in the U.S. report postpartum depressive symptoms, women of Asian descent were least likely of all races to report having been told about postpartum depression by a health care provider, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Cultural perceptions about mental illness, by both patients and providers, may have something to do with that.
In a frank personal essay published by Hyphen Magazine this week, Sharline Chiang takes a different tact, writing openly about her shattering experience with severe depression and anxiety after she gave birth to her daughter Anza. But she hasn’t told everyone.
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.
Read the rest of Chiang’s piece over at Hyphen.