Updated: Oct 25
Written by Nira Macaspac
Art by Mara Gollena
Feature produced by Mara Gollena, Kitkat Pajaro and Nira Macaspac
Childbirth is often regarded as one of the most transformative experiences in a woman's life. The joy of welcoming a new member into the family is incomparable. However, for many women, the period following childbirth isn't just filled with baby giggles and the sweet scent of infant skin. It's shadowed by an uninvited guest: Postpartum Depression (PPD).
Postpartum Depression is a complex mood disorder that affects 1 in 7 mothers after childbirth, although the number might be higher due to underreporting. While the 'baby blues' – a brief period of mood swings, sadness, and irritability – are common in the initial days following childbirth, PPD is more severe and long-lasting. Symptoms range from persistent sadness, overwhelming fatigue, and intense irritability to severe mood swings, withdrawal from family and friends, and even thoughts of harming oneself or the baby.
Several factors contribute to the onset of PPD. Hormonal changes after childbirth, combined with sleep deprivation, physical discomfort, and the pressures of caring for a newborn, can be overwhelming. Additionally, societal expectations about motherhood, the myth of the 'perfect mother', and the stigma around mental health in the postpartum period often exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and isolation.
Understanding PPD is not just about recognizing its symptoms but also acknowledging its profound impact on a woman's self-worth, her relationships, and her ability to bond with her child. It's a silent struggle, often happening behind closed doors, with many mothers suffering in isolation, burdened by guilt and shame.
In our mission to shed light on the complexities of Postpartum Depression, we reached out to seven Filipinas of various ages and roles who bravely shared their personal PPD journeys with us. Their stories, filled with raw emotions, challenges, and triumphs, provide a unique perspective, rooted in their cultural and personal experiences. By sharing these narratives, we hope to foster a deeper understanding and solidarity among mothers globally, emphasizing that no one is alone in this journey.
GRETCHEN GATAN FRAGADA
Writer and Editor
On the unexpected emotional turmoil after childbirth: even though we took newborn care and breastfeeding classes, and had a supportive doula and OB-Gyne, nothing could prepare me for the changes and challenges of motherhood. I didn’t realize it until months later after seeing a professional, but apparently, the reason I struggled was because I hadn’t really processed all the changes that happened in my life prior to having a baby. In just a year, we experienced a miscarriage, moved into our forever home (which is right beside my in-laws and is an adjustment in itself), got pregnant, and I started a new job while I was seven months pregnant. It was one big life change after the next. The result was that I became overprotective of Cambria. In the beginning, I didn’t feel comfortable having my in-laws interact with her when I wasn’t around. And I was also extra sensitive. In fact, certain situations and people triggered my rage, resentment, and anxiety.
Support and self-care: Aside from consulting a psychologist and attending several therapy sessions, what helped me a lot was having the love, support, and understanding of my husband and our families. Finding time to go on dates with my husband is essential as well. As a couple who thrives because we communicate all the time, this was truly necessary. And of course, we need to be solid in order for Cambria to grow up with a strong foundation. Also, finding time for myself and reconnecting with activities I loved before motherhood helped in my healing process. You can't pour from an empty cup, so it's essential to prioritize self-care.
Technical Support Representative, Stay-At-Home Working Mom
Challenges of a young and first-time mom: “I would cry over the littlest things such as my first born’s first sneeze after I gave him a bath because then I thought he caught a cold but just really adjusting to the new outside world he is in. I felt as if I was not doing enough and that I should know more. Before giving birth I had written down how I would be as a mom, how our routine would go, how our daily lives would be about. But, oh boy, little did I know how life changed and became unpredictable when I became a young mom."
Advice for navigating through PPD: "I realized that I have made a big impact with how I was able to smoothly navigate through postpartum in a much lighter note, I learned the value of putting myself first, yep you read it right. To be honest this was the hardest to do as well because I would always get mom-guilt but gosh this has immensely helped me get through postpartum. It is so true that children will benefit more if their mothers are in a good state of mind. When I started doing what makes me happy, even the tiniest effort such as a long hot bath or putting on a simple makeup to get my day started made me 10x better. I no longer aim to be a supermom. I aim to be a good mom and happy mom, because then I know my kids would be happy too."
MERANIE PABULAR GADIANA RAHMAN
Mrs. Universe 2023, Mrs. Philippines World 2019-2021
Describing the darkness of PPD: "Postpartum depression is nothing like I had experienced before. Not even when I was constantly bullied in my middle and high school years I felt this miserable. Here I had the most beautiful and the most precious baby in my arms whom I loved dearly but yet I had no desire or capacity to take care of him. I did not want to feed the baby or eat any kind of food myself. I will cry constantly day and night. I felt I was a very bad mother. I did not have any value or any purpose in my life. Just before delivery, I was a happy person. I was very excited to have a son and start my family. I was already planning with my husband to send him to medical school and we will go out as family and travel, have dinners and play tennis. Now soon after delivery, everything was gone. There was just darkness all around me. Counseling and medications did not help at all. Actually they made it worse. I had absolutely no control on my life and I did not even want to live anymore. "
How pageantry and positive reinforcement changed her life: "My husband suggested I run for a pageant. The training required positive answers to questions, and this practice changed my mood. Participating in pageants and opening a non-profit organization for PPD awareness helped me find my purpose."
PATRIZHA MEER- BANZUELA
Entrepreneur, Beauty Queen
On the shift in emotions after childbirth: "When I gave birth, and at that moment I understood what unconditional love means, what mothers love really means. I cannot explain the kind of happiness of being a mother and I would not exchange it for anything else. You can say it was perfect. Then things gradually changed after a few months, I started to feel different, unexplainable feelings. First, it started with the feeling of being possessive with my son, I don’t want to share him with anybody and want him all to myself. Second, the overwhelming sadness and mom guilt, the feeling of not being good enough not just for my son but to everybody around me. Finally, trying to open up to people in my life and make them understand what I was going through Postpartum depression and simply being called “Nag-iinarte lang”.
The importance of seeking help: "The hardest part of having Postpartum Depression is admitting to yourself that you are going through it. It was 2 years after until I find the courage to admit into myself. I learned that after I explore and expose myself to certain people and organization that promotes woman empowerment, it opened my eyes that there are mothers who’s advocating Postpartum Depression. First step, I must help myself before anything else. I seek professional help and undergone consultation and attended several counselling with my psychologist. I talk to mothers who’s also going through postpartum, so we can uplift and make each other feel heard. This gives me courage to continuously to promote and to advocate Postpartum Depression. I had the burning desire to make an awareness. For soon-to-be moms and new moms, the journey to motherhood is a very wonderful experience and yet a very big responsibility. You have to keep in mind that this journey isn’t just about nurturing your kid/s but also nurturing yourself, surround yourselves with the right people you trust, love, and understand you. Have a good support system. But sometimes, no matter how good it is, Postpartum Depression can still hit you. And if it does, don’t ever hesitate to reach out to the people you trust, to seek professional help, and reach out to certain people or organization that supports Postpartum Depression. Never keep it in you. Do yourself a favor. It will never make you less of a good mom that you already are. Your feelings are valid.”
ISSA ILETO SANTOS
Business Owner & Stay-At-Home Mom
The internal struggle: "Despite the extra pair of hands, I was still exhausted. I was constipated, always on the verge of crying, my boobs felt like they had small paper cuts on them, and my body was fighting to heal itself while running on fumes. One day (I think this was around the 2nd week), as I was holding my inconsolable crying newborn, I looked out the window and thought, “What if… I just threw him out?”. I instantly burst into tears and felt horrible for even entertaining the thought. But also, I really just wanted to rest. I think that’s what I wasn’t prepared for the most, those moments of confusion and mixed emotions. I don’t think anyone can prepare you for the battle of feelings that go on in your head when you become a mother. "
The Value of Open Communication and Cherishing Every Moment: "I found comfort in talking to my family and friends throughout the day, even if it was just small talk. I was also very open about my feelings. After that incident, I called my OB right away and told her what happened. She comforted me and told me this was very normal and not to feel guilty. Having people to talk to reminded me that raising a child takes a village and that I HAD a village. Another thing I always kept in mind was, “These moments won’t last forever”. Your baby will stop needing you to carry them. They’ll eventually start walking, then running, then telling you they have to go to the bathroom. Then you’ll realize, where did time go? So just take a breath, remember that kids grow REALLY fast, and that it gets better. Not easier! But definitely better. :)"
MAINE MANALANSAN VENERACION
Creative Director and Producer
On Overwhelming Feelings: "I remember feeling tired, helpless, irritated, and worthless in the first 3 months post-partum. It was confusing because other moms told me that all the sleepless nights would be worth it when you see your baby’s face. And they’re right yes, but it doesn’t erase all the overwhelming feelings I was having all at the same time. I really thought that the recovery period would be faster because I had a relatively easy pregnancy but I soon realized that the actual challenge starts after giving birth. "
Cherishing every moment: "Accepting help is the biggest one. My mom living with us has been the biggest help and saving grace throughout this whole journey so far. Friends and family offering to carry him for a few minutes while we’re at the mall looks like a tiny gesture from the outside but it feels close to freedom when you haven’t had time for yourself in the last 72 hours. Another important one is looking at each day, each week, each month as a time I won’t ever experience again. And it can go both ways: so no matter how difficult things are, they’re never permanent. At the same time, these are moments that I should cherish and remember. After all, the nice moments will override all the difficulties."
The Unpredictable Journey of Motherhood: I think that no matter how much you prepare for motherhood, you will never be truly ready. But once it’s there - you just naturally flow and every single moment becomes a learning experience both for you and your child. Just like most parents, I got drowned in this. I got stuck, I got lost, I got angry at myself, my husband, my kids and everyone else around me and I remember waking up one day just wanting peace and change.
On Mindfulness and Healing: Do not overwhelm yourself, I know that even for things like mindfulness we get pressured wanting to be “healed” immediately. Healing is not linear, in fact mindfulness doesn’t promise a life of sunshine and butterflies and rainbows but it’s really more about having all the necessary tools to overcome the ebb and flow of life. So just start with something you really like and you don’t even have to allot so much time for this. Sometimes, 5 minutes is enough and naturally overtime you’ll find yourself making more space and time for what truly matters in life. The beautiful thing about mindfulness during this time is that you have so much to choose from and it’s available everywhere it’s just really a matter of putting an effort to starting anything that resonates with you. Whatever gives you joy, what ever makes you feel alive and make you forget about time and just allows you to flow and be your most authentic self.
Post-Partum Depression (PPD) manifests differently in each woman who goes through it. Just as every woman is unique, with her own personality, experiences, and circumstances, the way she encounters and copes with PPD is also distinct. From unexpected emotional shifts to the significant change in self-perception, PPD can be a formidable challenge. Yet, the stories shared by these remarkable women highlight a resounding theme: resilience, support, and self-care are paramount. Whether it's seeking professional help, relying on a solid support system, or finding solace in rediscovering oneself, the path to healing is multifaceted. To every mother facing PPD, know that your feelings are valid, your struggles are acknowledged, and a community stands ready to support you. Motherhood is a journey, and while PPD may be a part of some paths, it doesn't define the destination. Let's continue to uplift, understand, and stand in solidarity with every mother, ensuring that they never walk alone.
GRETCHEN GATAN FRAGADA
MERANIE PABULAR GADIANA RAHMAN
PATRIZHA MEER- BANZUELA
ISSA ILETO SANTOS
MAINE MANALANSAN VENERACION