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Book Review: One Mom’s Journey to Motherhood by Ivy Shih Leung

Originally posted July 31, 2012.

I met Ivy at Postpartum Support International’s Conference in 2011. She had such a nice feeling about her. Her accessibility, strength, humility and intelligence were quite strongly evident. Of course I had to kindle her book when it came out.

Ivy, as she says, gives us a picture of the “ordinary postpartum depression” experience. But her personal story is about so much more than postpartum depression.

I had a lot of emotions as I read her personal story and learned about her inner emotional life. I found out why she has a big heart and a willingness to reach out to others.

To me, Ivy’s book is about how she solidified her sense of self and built a loving life with hard emotional work and maturation.

Her personal history includes:

  • immigration

  • family acculturation/assimilation dynamics

  • bullying

  • infertility

  • workplace sexism around pregnancy

  • traumatic medical procedures surrounding childbirth

  • acceptance of hysterectomy at a young age

  • fear and loneliness as a new parent

  • severe postpartum depression

  • navigation of the spotty maternity leave and childcare system as it exists in the United States today (take note, 2012 Presidential candidates) and

  • ultimately, the process of how she and husband created a work-life balance that feels right to her individual family.

In many ways, she is self-made, and it is inspiring to see her persevere and work things out in her own way.

Ivy begins by reflecting on how her environment influenced her development as a person. Her family moved a lot – eight times – before settling in northern New Jersey, just when Ivy was entering junior high school.

Her Chinese-born parents had differing cultural mores from the American society into which Ivy was born. There was inevitable conflict in her household as first-generation Ivy assimilated and displayed American sensibilities that her Chinese parents could not understand as they themselves were acculturated less strongly into American society.

In addition to tense family dynamics, there was tension at school. Ivy was not just the new girl on the block in junior high school; she was the only Chinese girl in a class of 350 students in her suburban New Jersey school.

It is painful to read about the prejudice and exclusion she experienced because of her Asian identity. Ivy was actually spat upon. She felt isolated and sad as an adolescent. Although her parents were hard-working and sincere, her Chinese upbringing didn’t afford her the opportunity for emotional expression nor the opportunity to develop other aspects of herself, which might have fueled individual feelings of self-esteem.

But Ivy describes herself as a “realist.” She did not give up on herself. She worked hard so as not to be defined by painful experiences, but to transcend them. She worked to learn about who she is and to positively develop herself socially, academically, professionally, and personally.

As a positive adult, she now puts her energies into helping with others, in both the postpartum depression world and in the Asian heritage world. Today, she is active in Postpartum Support International and in the PPD blogosphere and also in the Asian Pacific Heritage Employee Network at her workplace.

Ivy talks about her emotionally stressful and financially debilitating struggle with infertility. Once she was finally pregnant, she lost one of her twin babies in utero when she was hit by another car while driving. Ivy describes the actual birth of her daughter as uneventful, but the aftermath was medically invasive and resulted in a hysterectomy.

Ivy suffered from severe postpartum depression after giving birth. She says the onset was about 45 days postpartum. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders says postpartum depression can only be diagnosed within four weeks of delivery.

As someone who experienced postpartum depression and as a clinician working with postpartum women and their families, I think this should be revisited. And I think Ivy’s personal experience shoots some holes into that DSM specification.

Her description of how her disease progressed is valuable information for other women and families who wonder if postpartum depression is even a real condition, let alone what it actually feels like.

She vividly describes her insomnia, anxiety, fear and deep depression.

Her description of her interactions with the medical community as her symptoms appear and then escalate is sad and maddening, as she is dismissed by annoyed doctors on call, patronized, misdiagnosed and incorrectly medicated. Women, take note.

Her story is also one of recovery. Ivy did not give up in her self-advocacy. She kept trying until she found the correct doctor who could help her help herself.

Today, Ivy is functioning as a professional, a wife and a mother. She does not suffer from depression, she fully recovered.

In this book, she bravely pulls back the curtain on her personal postpartum depression experience. In doing so, she chips away at the stigma associated with this disease. She helps other women and their families recognize the symptoms of this disease so they can help themselves and get the proper help.

Visit her at Ivy’s PPD Blog Follow her on Twitter

Have fun reading her story!

You are not alone. You are not to blame.

With help, you will feel better.


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