Aromatherapy, herbs, flower essence, and my PPD

(Okay, standard warnings–I’m not a doctor, and anyone who takes anything I say as actual medical advice is sort of ill-advised. Do your own research and talk with your own health care providers. I’m a musician, not a doctor. But I read a lot.)

After my daughter was born, a little delayed, actually, I got slammed witha  case of post-partum depression. (Had it after my son was born too, but at the time I really didn’t know what I was dealing with–I thought I was just a bad mother who couldn’t cope.) Suicidal thoughts, self-damage, bursting into hours of tears at the slightest thing, retreating into my room in fetal position for hours at a time (or until a child needed me). It lasted several months before beginning to back off.

My midwife, who couldn’t prescribe anything for me, recognized the signs during my pregnancy that it would likely hit me later, and urged me then and throughout to get help, but my doctor (the one who could actually write prescriptions) thought I just needed to relax and “do less” and “not be so hard on myself. This is the same doctor who said, based on nothing more than a family history, that another family member would probably be on SSRI’s for the rest of his life.  The family member stopped on his own almost 4 years ago and has been doing really well. That’s a story for another time–the short version is simply this: don’t try this at home, get your doctor’s help. Unless your doctor is an idiot like ours was, in which case I don’t know what to tell you. (By the way, this man is no longer our doctor.)

So here I was with a crazywild case of PPD working me over and nothing to treat it with. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have gone for the SSRI’s even if I had the option; I’d seen and done research on what can happen when one later tries to get off them (or some of them), and it would have been a scary step for me to take.  (Note: I know a whole bunch of people who swear by their meds, whose lives have quite literally been saved by them. Please don’t take my hesitation to go there as in any way a slight on those for whom they make the difference between life and death, or between non-life and life, shadow and sun, etc.)

So I started doing research into alternative methods. In the end, I used three main things:

1. Tincture of Motherwort (Lady Barbara on refers to it as ” ‘there, there’ in a bottle.” The stuff tastes horrific, but buried with other things it’s not too bad.  I would use a squirt of Motherwort and a squirt of Lemon Balm in a little orange juice and just toss it down.  If it was really bad I’d throw some Lavender tincture in there too–Lavender is mostly thought of as sort of a sedative, but it also seems to aid in the work of whatever other herbs it’s combined with. Lemon Balm is also sort of a sedative but a different kind–Lady B refers to it as sort of a universal “decongestant,” helping smooth out or get moving whatever’s stopped up or twisted, whether that’s muscles in spasm or stuffy sinuses or a brain full of crap that gets wound tighter and tighter. (and IT tastes lovely!). Motherwort you can kind of guess by its name–it’s a very old herb used for ages to help deal with womanhormones. Now that the PPD is long gone, I still keep a bottle around for when I need it.  Usually around once a month. 🙂

2. Elm flower essence. The flower essence most people are familiar with is the Bach Rescue Remedy or Five Flower Formula–supposed to be great for calming down in a crisis. (I keep a bottle around for performance anxiety or after nightmares and stuff, or to help the dog chill out when he gets all worked up.) There are dozens of others, though, individual flowers to address different imbalances.  Elm, sez the bottle, “restores your normal strength and optomism when you are temporarily overwhelmed or burdened by responsibility.”   (Sounds like new mommyness to me.)  You’re really supposed to dissolve these in water also, but I tended to just put a drop under my tongue.

3. Aromatherapy, or essential oils. I had become interested in these actually while I was pregnant and used a particular blend I created to prepare for birth and to use during labor, in and out of the water.  (Nature’s Gift, linked above, has a lot of suggestions.) After the birth, when the PPD hit, I tried a few things and hit on a blend I still love: Clary sage, Lavender , and Lemon, in a 3:2:1 ratio (3 drops clary, 2 drops lavender, 1 drop lemon.)  Somehow that particular combination was always enough to take the edge off.  I made up a little bottle of the mixture and in a pinch could just put a couple of drops onto a tissue and inhale.  If I had more time before the worst of the spell hit, I’d put it into the diffuser. Probably the best aromatherapy site (and finest merchant of essential oil) I’ve ever come across is  Marge over there has a ton of really good information, and she sells great products.  I also get good stuff from –their oils are a little cheaper, and they also sell dried herbs and teas and stuff.  Both companies are just amazing.

EDIT: Just by the way…I honestly have no idea whether the different essential oils in any way work deliberately and/or medically upon certain conditions, or whether simply by creating the blend I was also giving myself sort of the equivalent of a “post-hypnotic suggestion” that would enable that particular odor to cause me to relax and brighten a bit.  Thing is, it worked–just the faintest whiff of that smell would give me enough calm to take the next step, just like the faintest whiff of L’Air du Temps brings me back to sitting on my grandma’s lap, or the smell of garlic and onions sauteeing makes me feel Home And Safe. Scent has an amazing way of working on the psyche and emotional center…hey man, whatever works.

The combination of these three things, believe it or not, got me through a pretty bad few months.   Everything’s going to be different for everyone, of course, but I offer this because it worked for me.


Posted on June 2, 2009, in beauty, Birth and Breastfeeding, health, herbal medicine, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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