Recently I listened to a TED talk on parenting taboos — things that people experience but don’t talk about. One taboo was the loneliness and isolation that a new mother feels but is very seldom portrayed by the media. In traditional cultures, after a woman gives birth to a child, she usually is surrounded by women in the family who are there to provide support. However, in today’s western world, as the family unit becomes smaller, most women don’t live with their mothers or other female relatives and this kind of support often is not available to them. As a new mother, many times I felt sad that my family of origin is not here with me. However, what is more painful is the internal loneliness that stems from lack of the connection. I remember one time when I was holding my daughter and I felt a very painful longing to be held by my mother and be emotionally closer to her. I’ve been thinking about those women who experience post-partum depression. I believe that in addition to physical causes, a lack of connection, especially lacking a sense of being nurtured and supported, is another important cause of the suffering. So how does lack of connection affect post-partum women? Chinese Medicine believes that the isolation and lack of connection affects the Heart System and in turn leads to imbalance of many other systems. The physical and emotional symptoms of the depression are only the manifestation of these imbalances. As a new mother, you may not be able to get out of the house and have treatments, but there are quite a few things that you can do to help yourself.
Heart System in Chinese Medicine includes the Heart, the blood vessels, the Heart Meridian systems and the functions of all the above. The Heart is not only in charge of the circulation of the blood; it also controls your cognitive functions, emotional and spiritual life. The physical, emotional and spiritual functions are closely connected. An imbalance in any one aspect may affect the other two. There is a vessel that connects with the heart and the aorta vessel. We call it “Zong Mai”- “Ancestral Vessel”, which means the link with our family, our ancestors and eventually with the common ancestors of all humanity. Energetically, our hearts are all connected with each other through this “Ancestral Vessel” just like all the blood vessels in the body are connected to form the network to maintain the health of the body. If a major vessel is severed, we bleed. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, and the connection doesn’t get rebuilt, we’ll keep losing the essential part of us, and eventually we will die. In the same way, if some major connection is lost and not rebuilt, we “bleed” throughout the years and our whole being suffers and withers. Our body’s way to mend a broken vessel is to form clots to stop further bleeding, and gradually to grow new vessels to restore the connections. However in life, we tend to interfere with these natural functions. If some major connection problem happens, we learned to build the wall to protect us form being hurt more, yet we may allow the fear prevent us from reaching out and forming new connections. The isolation and lack of connection with others energetically close off the Heart, and block the blood flow and thus affect the health of the Heart System. As time goes on, the pain dulls because of the protection of the wall and we also forget about how it feels to feel truly connected, loved, nurtured and happy.
After childbirth, from the western medicine point of view, a woman’s body experiences a big hormonal change. From Chinese medicine point of view, the woman’s Qi, Blood and all the organ functions go through a huge re-adjustment. On the physical level, the pregnancy and the labor consume a lot of Qi and Blood, which leaves the body exhausted and deficient. Since every Organ System needs abundant of Qi and the nourishment of the Blood to maintain normal function, Organs tend to function in a deficient way because of lack of the essential substance. The Heart System tends to be affected the most. There are two main ways that the imbalance of the Heart System happens. One is that the Qi and Blood of the Heart become weak, common symptoms are: fatigue, unable to initiate connection, unable to form the bonding with the baby, feeling withdrawn and sad, lack of passion for life; the other way is that the Qi and Blood get blocked, and the symptoms are: feeling of pressure in the chest, restlessness, feeling anxious, insomnia, feeling reactive, easily frustrated and agitated, and also lack of good bonding with the baby. If the woman recovers well from the labor, body’s Qi and Blood become abundant and Organ Systems function normally again. If there are complications of labor, other chronic illness or emotional stress, these symptoms will become more serious and depression may settle in.
On the emotional level, post-partum is a time to trigger a woman’s unresolved issues with her own parents. In order to have a good bonding with the newborn, the mother’s heart has to be open. Often, the birth of a child is such a strong emotional experience that the heart becomes suddenly wider open than at any other time in your life. When you let down the wall protecting the heart, you inevitably start to feel the old pain and the unstoppable yearning of that lost connection with those important relationships in your life. What will you do with the anger, sadness, frustration, yearning, disappointment, and other mixed emotions? Will you put up the wall again so you don’t have to feel them? The cost of that is to keep the heart isolated so that it will not have the chance to form other nurturing connections — including the one with the new baby. The post-partum time is the time that a woman has to face that pain of isolation, the very isolation that she chose to adopt a long time ago to protect her heart from being hurt. When I was young, I made a decision not to risk opening the heart to connect with others because of the connection with my family was disappointing. Through my own healing process, I realized that the closing up of my heart from other connections hurt me more than the original disappointment and pain that I wanted to avoid. Instead of feeling myself as the victim of unjust treatment of parents, holding onto the idealized connection that I failed to have with my mother, I decided to choose to be open with relationships that come along my way and form new connections. During my delivery, I enjoyed the connection with our Doula, whose presence supported and nurtured me. During the first two weeks after the childbirth, my mother-in-law came to help. I felt very grateful for all her help and also the connections that I experienced with her. A lot of friends came to visit and brought meals and offered to cook, which were the moments that I really looked forward to and I consciously kept my heart open to let in the warmth and love. The connection comes in many ways. When I go for a walk in my neighborhood and see a mother pushing a stroller, I now go say hello and chat a little and let myself enjoy the connection; or sometimes when I see a pregnant woman walking down the street, I smile and remind myself of the connection. If you are not willing to let down the wall, or let go of the old pain, your heart will wither in the safe prison that you have created for it. Depression is the result of the suppression of all the emotions that you don’t want to feel. It is the desperate call of a heart wanting connection and freedom.
What can you do if you experience post-partum depression? Chinese medicine can help to restore the normal function of the Qi, Blood and the Organ Systems to relieve the symptoms. First of all, a diagnosis is made to determine what is the underlying imbalance pattern that leads to the onset of the symptoms. Are Qi and Blood deficient or blocked? Besides the Heart system, are there any other systems affected? The emotional symptoms can be different depending on which other system is involved. When the Spleen System is out of balance, the woman tends to feel excessive amount of worry; if the Liver System has problems, more frustration and anger; and if the Kidney System is involved, more fear. Once we find out the root cause, we use either acupuncture or/and herbal medicine to restore the balance. Acupuncture is very effective in regulating the flow of Qi and Blood to restore the normal functions of the Organs. Many commonly used acupuncture points help with the flow of Qi and Blood in the chest and the Heart, and help with the connection: H7 Shen Men (Spirit Gate), P6 Nei Guan (Inner Gate), Ren 17 Tan Zhong (Chest Center), Sp6 San Yin Jiao (Three Yin Connection). Some other points such as Yin Tang and Bai Hui are proven to help to regulate the neurotransmitter in the brain. Herbal medicine is especially helpful to nourish the Qi and Blood, to replenish the deficient body to help recover faster. Herbs such as Dang Gui, Shu Di Huang, Huang Qi, Ginseng are good for tonifying Qi and Blood. Commonly used herbal formulas are: Xiao Yao San (The Free Wanderer’s formula) for Qi stagnation type of depression, Gui Pi Tang for Heart and Spleen deficient type depression (Returning to the Spleen), and Sheng Mai San (Generating Vessels formula) for Heart Qi and Yin deficient type of depression. I often combine acupuncture and herbal treatment for best results.
Even though the Chinese Medicine treatments work well, as a new mother, it is often hard for you to leave house and have a treatment. Here are several things that you can do for yourself:
After delivery, save your placenta and have it made into capsules and take 2-3 capsules daily. Placenta is a precious Chinese herb, it contains the hormones and nourishing substance and it’s ideal for recovery of post partum women. To find someone who prepares placenta pills, search in Google under Placenta Encapsulation for your area.
Dissolve a tablespoonful of honey with American Ginseng in a cup of warm water and drink it with empty stomach every morning. If you can’t find Ginseng honey, take honey in the water and take ginseng capsules or tablet. Organic honey is ideal. You can find ginseng capsules or tablets in Finlandia or other vitamin stores.
Find the acupuncture point Tan Zhong, which is located on the chest bone between your two nipples. Sit or lie down in a relaxed way. Take several deep breaths. Locate the point. Apply pressure with pad of your fingers in rotating motion. During inhale, visualize the opening of the heart and taking in all the nourishment; during exhale, relax the chest area and let go all the tension and pain (emotional and physical). After 3 minutes, stop the pressure. Relax and think about 3 things that you feel grateful about today and let yourself rest in the gratitude.
These 3 things can be as small as “I got chance to sleep 3 hours without interruption” or “the little one smiled at me” or “The spring is here…” Take 5 minutes every day to do this exercise.
Besides all the “things” that you can do to help you relieve the blues, remember the heart connection is the key. And you are the one who holds the key to your own heart, and has the power of letting go and finding connections with your own heart. The connection is available every moment. It can be a smile, a simple greeting, a flower, a raindrop, a warm meal, and a helping hand… It’s up to you to see it, to cultivate it and take it into your heart now.