Two months ago, Kim Chen received the devastating news that his wife Florence, a new mom struggling with postpartum depression, had taken her own life. Now, as he moves forward raising their son on his own, he has penned a heartfelt message to all new moms that they are not alone and are not failing if they cannot breastfeed.
Chen shared the message in a Facebook post Tuesday on Remembering Mother Florence Leung, a page honoring his late wife:
“Two months have passed since the detectives and victim assistance staffs showed up at our home, with the grim look on their faces,” it began. “I knew immediate what they were going to say before they entered the door. Yes, it was just like the numerous scenes on TV drama when the police breaks bad news, that grim look on their face. Except, as surreal as it all was, this is not TV. This is happening to me. This is real life.”
“The foundation of my life was taken apart, the plans of the future never to realize. Everything needs to be rebuilt.”
The post is reflective and heartbreaking, but it’s not without hope:
“Our baby boy is growing well and well taken care of,” Chen shares. “He is at 90th percentile for height and weight, and smiles and laughs a lot! He’s beginning to do tripod-sitting, and will turn over soon.”
But towards the end of the post is when Chen gets to the real heart of what he’d like to say, as he shares an article about another young mom who passed away in 2016 from PPD. According to Chen, her personality reminded him so much of Flo, and their similar stories seems to have compelled him to issue a plea for other moms who may be suffering, too:
“For all the new moms experiencing low mood or anxiety, please seek help and talk about your feelings. You are not alone. You are not a bad mother.”
According to the CDC, postpartum depression affects 1 in 8 women. Symptoms such a anger, withdrawal, lack of connection to the baby, worrying about harming the baby, and feelings of guilt and failure that they are not good mothers plague new moms who are suffering from this illness. And being unable to breastfeed only exacerbates their struggles.
I was never diagnosed with postpartum depression, but I still vividly remember just how difficult those first few weeks of motherhood were. I can still remember the exhaustion and the cold sweats I broke out into all night as my hormones regulated themselves. My son wouldn’t nurse due to his inability to properly latch. He screamed all night, likely out of hunger. He was losing weight; I was losing myself. Thankfully, my doctors promoted the use of supplemental formula to help us both. He got his calories and filled his belly while we continued to work on breastfeeding.
Eventually we figured it out, and I went on to successfully breastfeed my other kids as well. Although my story ends happily, it starts with a mom crying at her failures while holding her son as he kicked and screamed and refused to do the one thing that everyone said was best for him. The one thing that was supposed to be so natural for a mother. Well, sometimes it’s not. For any myriad of reasons, sometimes breastfeeding just doesn’t work out. The most common reasons include pain during breastfeeding, low milk supply, having a c-section, having a premature baby, and latching problems, as my son had.
We all know that breast milk is healthy for babies, and it’s understandable and sensible that hospitals, doctors, and nurses will promote breastfeeding as first choice for new moms. What new moms do not need, however, is guilt if they do not take this path. And that’s precisely what it seems Florence experienced.
“Do not EVER feel bad or guilty about not being able to ‘exclusively breastfeed,’ even though you may feel the pressure to do so based on posters in maternity wards, brochures in prenatal classes, and teachings at breastfeeding classes,” Chen continues in his post. “Apparently the hospitals are designated ‘baby-friendly’ only if they promote exclusive-breastfeeding. I still remember reading a handout upon Flo’s discharge from hospital with the line ‘Breast Milk Should Be the Exclusive Food For the Baby for the First Six Months,’ I also remember posters on the maternity unit ‘Breast is Best.’ While agreeing to the benefits of breast milk, there NEED[S] to be an understanding that it is OK to supplement with formula, and that formula is a completely viable option.”
As much as our society promotes the health benefits of feeding our babies naturally, we also need to support all mothers’ mental and physical health.
We will never know what Florence Leung was thinking and feeling and how she came to the conclusion that suicide was her only option. But hopefully Chen’s message will resonate with new moms and help them see that they and their babies are okay. One factor like breastfeeding does not make a good mother.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, please seek help. Visit Postpartum Progress or Postpartum Support International. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). You are not alone.More On