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  • This Mom Nurse Shares How Art Therapy Helped Her Overcome Postpartum Depression

    “I look back sa bansa natin and it’s still partly a taboo topic, and hindi makapagbukas ang karamihan ng mga nanay because we are so scared to be judged. So I’m here to share my story.”
    by Judy Marie Santiago Aladin .
This Mom Nurse Shares How Art Therapy Helped Her Overcome Postpartum Depression
PHOTO BY COURTESY OF RENAH FLOTE
  • Postpartum depression (PPD), also called postnatal depression, remains to be discussed at length here in the Philippines, yet it is the most common complication of childbirth, according to WHO.

    Studies show that 1 out of 7 mothers across the world experience symptoms of postpartum depression. So if you know at least seven new mothers, you know one. Even fathers experience PPD too.

    That’s why we at Smart Parenting try to shed light on these topics, so that we can normalize asking for help and enable healing. And we do this by sharing empowering stories of real moms who have gone through postpartum depression and anxiety and how they overcome it.

    ‘Being a nurse and a Filipina, dapat okay lang ako.’

    Meet Renah Flote, 35, a Filipino nurse living in Australia.

    She is the mom of a sassy 4 year old girl, and happily married for over a decade now. She said she was comfortable to share with Smart Parenting her story of overcoming postpartum depression to help fight the stigma around it.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF RENAH FLOTE
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    PHOTO COURTESY OF RENAH FLOTE

    “I look back sa bansa natin and it’s still partly a taboo topic, and hindi makapagbukas ang karamihan ng mga nanay because we are so scared to be judged. So I’m here to share my story,” she shares in an exclusive interview.

    Renah, who is now based in Australia with her family, has been a registered nurse for almost 15 years now.

    “I was one of the highschool kids who were forced to take up nursing because it was a boom back then,” Renah shares.

    “Being a nurse myself, I have encountered countless moms who suffered from PPD and other mental health issues. I have seen my symptoms straight away pero dahil I was prideful to admit that there was something wrong with me, I tried so hard to hide it."

    In the same interview, Renah reveals that she had an emergency CS, and also suffered from mastitis 3-4x in her breastfeeding journey for two years. "I also had lots of other problems going on, on top of it,” she recounts.

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    At first, she had no intention to admit she was suffering because the invalidation was so strong from other people. “My friends and family have always known me to be a spring chickenalways happy, funny and strong. So when I went back to work after a year of maternity leave, I would have a panic attack in the car park, then I'd wipe my tears and go to work as if nothing happened.”

    'The pride, the ego, being a Filipina,' kept her from seeking help.

    Aside from being a healthcare professional, Renah said being a Filipina stopped her from seeking help. “The pride, the ego, being a Filipina, I was like, no, no. Okay lang ako. I can do this. When I felt the symptoms of postnatal depression, I felt weak, less of a woman, and less of a mom. I blamed myself.”

    “One day after work, I was feeling so anxious and severely down. I did not go home, pumunta ako sa isang quiet beach dito, then I had all the scariest thoughts in my head," she reveals about the turning point where she realized that she needed help.

    "As I almost got out of the car, I looked at my daughter’s photo on my phone. I had a melt down realising 'God, she will grow up without me if I do this…' then and there, I picked up the phone and booked for my doctor."

    PHOTO COURTESY OF RENAH FLOTE
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    PHOTO COURTESY OF RENAH FLOTE

    At that moment, Renah realized that denial did not help her cope nor heal. “I had to accept, I was not coping at all. That was the first step on my healing journey and admittedly, that was the hardest as well.”

    Healing through art

    Renah was diagnosed with postnatal depression and anxiety, and she underwent counselling and took a leave from work.

    “One of the treatment methods suggested to me was to venture into art therapy." 

    Renah shares that she has always been into arts since her younger days, and even wanted to pursue a career in creative arts or mass communication. She, however, did not believe in art therapy.

    "I was hesitant at first, I don’t believe in art therapy but I was desperate to heal using whatever methods available for me.”

    So she decided to give a try: “I had so many sleepless nights, so on one of those nights when my baby was asleep, I started making her a floral crown out of felt fabric."

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    PHOTO COURTESY OF RENAH FLOTE

    "I was cutting the sheets and crying at the same time, I had feelings of guilt, anger, resentment rolled in one," she says recounting the first time she tried art therapy. Since then, she would push herself to make one flower project a day.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF RENAH FLOTE
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    "For some reason, it relieved a bit of my anxiety, slowly and progressively. It has given me a goal, small as it may be. I had something to be proud of that I accomplished.”

    Documenting her healing journey via Instagram

    So one day, Renah started a private Instagram account that only her husband and close friends know about. She was using it to document her art projects, mental health musings, and healing journey. 

    “Surprisingly, my account started attracting moms who were suffering too and they were sharing their journey with me as well. That gave me a sense of relief, na hindi ako nag iisa."

    The flood of comments helped Renah get the validation she needed. "My feelings, my mental health issues were validated. Kahit hindi ko sila ka-lahi, these moms have shared their pains, their wins and losses in this motherhood hustle.”

    From art therapy to side hustle

    “I started venturing on making the Blooming Moms, [an art work] made of pressed flowers, resin and an image of a breastfeeding mom. It garnered a lot of attention and it is still my bestseller today.”

    PHOTO COURTESY OF RENAH FLOTE
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    Renah shared that throughout her journey, her husband was very supportive. He turned their garage into Renah’s studio where she makes art whenever she feels overwhelmed or during her time off from work.

    “Then one day, an SBS reporter here in Australia asked me for an interview about my crafts. The talk segwayed to postnatal depression. I was scared to finally admit it in a public setting with Filipinos listening to it. But surprisingly, I had an influx of messages from cousins, friends and strangers thanking me for opening up, kasi they are suffering as well and hiding it because of judgment from their families, friends and fellow Filipinos.”

    As of writing, Renah’s Instagram account has over 5,000 followers, and has made hundreds of floral crafts using felt sheets, resin, and stained glass. “Don't get me wrong, I am still a nurse—a job that pays the bills for me. But my creative hustle is what makes my heart blissfully happy.”

    PHOTO COURTESY OF RENAH FLOTE
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    PHOTO COURTESY OF RENAH FLOTE
    PHOTO COURTESY OF RENAH FLOTE

    ‘Never blame yourself.’

    To moms who are also suffering from postpartum struggles, Renah has an important reminder: “Never blame yourself if you are suffering. PND is a combination of hormonal, chemical imbalances plus stress, lack of sleep and a lot of factors."

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    She also points out the importance and urgency of seeking help: "If you recognise it, please accept and seek help. If you don’t, then this is the time you have to be accountable for it.”

    "Self-care is very important," she adds. "Ito yung wala sa maraming nanay. Kahit 10 minutes a day just for yourself. Do a mani-pedi, sing in the shower, make art—whatever that makes you happy.”

    “And finally, that it’s okay not to be there for everybody all the time. It's okay to say no to everything, it's okay to just focus on yourself, it's okay to admit that ‘you know what? I was actually toxic and it’s okay to cut ties with toxic people,” she suggests.

    The first step in healing is acceptance.

    “My only wish for any mama who is suffering right now is to accept the first step in healing, which is accepting that there is something wrong, and accepting help."

    And for moms and dads who already survived, "Support other parentts whom you know are not coping. Remember, you were once in their shoes.”

    Follow Renah’s creative journey on Instagram: @florifying_moments

    Read more here to learn more about postpartum depression. 

    Call these helplines if you recognize postnatal depression symptoms in you:

    Rapha Helpline free online care and support

    Globe (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays) 8am-5pm 09776520230

    Viber (Mondays and Wednesdays) 09617182654

    (Tuesdays and Thursdays) 09617182658

    (Fridays) 09677182655 

    Hopeline, 24/7 suicide prevention and crisis support helpline.

    Smart:  09188734673

    Globe: 09175584673 / 2919

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    PLDT: (02) 88044673

    In Touch Philippines, 24/7 Crisis Hotline

    Smart: 09228938944

    Globe: 09178001123

    Landline:  (02) 88937603

    Counselling Service: (02) 88931893

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