Do you know a mother who recently had a baby? You’re probably over-the-moon excited for her and can’t wait to ogle over pictures or snuggle her little cherub. But what happens when you call her on the phone or go to her house to visit and she confides in you she has postpartum depression (PPD)? Maybe she doesn’t share, but based on her behavior you have come to the conclusion yourself. Whatever the situation may be, your friend or family member needs your help now more than ever.
You may be wondering what’s going through her mind and how you can help. Below is an open letter from mothers with postpartum depression to anyone with a helpful heart.
1. Listen. Validate. Empathize.
I need you to listen to my crazy, but please don’t make me feel like I really am crazy. Listen with compassion and without judgment. Tell me my feelings are normal, but don’t tell me they’re irrational. (One day I’ll realize this, but I’m not ready to hear that quite yet.) If you’ve had a baby and have gone through any type of postpartum hardship, I want to hear you say, “I know exactly how you feel. I understand and your feelings are totally valid.” When you share stories about your own postpartum (depression) experiences, it makes me feel like I’m not so alone.
I may or may not want to hear “It will get better,” because right now, while I’m lost in a dark hole, the future is blurry and “better” seems completely unobtainable. I don’t want to hear how easy it was for you to bounce right back after baby; instead, I want you to give me real and tangible advice. If you don’t have any, that’s OK — just sit and listen, but please don’t judge me or run away when I tell you I envision throwing my baby against the wall. Remind me my irrational thoughts are possible, but not probable. Nod your head, give me a hug and say, “I hear you, and I’m here for you.”
2. Check In. Show Up. Do Something.
If you don’t live nearby, don’t think you can’t be helpful. Periodically call to check in on me, even if you only have five minutes to spare. I’m left at home with a new tiny human to take care of, and I feel so alone. Your thoughtfulness means more to me than you’ll ever know. If you live close by, please show up at my door and do something. Anything. Even if it’s bringing me coffee or tea and just sitting on my sofa for an hour. (Come in your pajamas, and I’ll know you’re a true friend.)
3. Read My Mind
If you call ahead and I say something like, “No, it’s OK, I’m all good,” don’t believe me right away, and don’t take no for an answer. If we have plans and I cancel on you, my flaky behavior is most likely a subconscious ploy to mask my anxiety, so show up anyway. When you come over, get yourself a glass of water. I love you, but I don’t want to entertain you. I may try to entertain you, but please don’t let me.
Can you call or come over once a week? Some days I may need you to just sit and listen, but other times I need you to do something. What I really need is for you to read my mind because my brain feels like it can’t function and it’s preventing me from knowing what I need or want. I’m scared to admit that I need help, and making decisions is way too overwhelming right now; it makes my brain feel like it might literally explode at any given moment. I’m begging you to pick something you think could be helpful: Fold my laundry, get me water, bring me food…anything!
4. Beware of My Guilt
You may think taking my baby out of the house so I can sleep (or shower) is being helpful, but the reality is I will be a big bag of guilt the entire time. Heck, even if you take my baby into the next room so I can sleep, I still won’t be able to settle. I will be thinking about how I feel like a failure and such a terrible mother because I can’t take care of my own child, while also taking care of myself. Does that make sense to you? Probably not. But that’s what postpartum depression does to my brain.
5. Don’t Wait for Me to Ask for Help
Please, for the love of topknots and Target, don’t say, “Call me if you need anything,” because guess what — I won’t. As a woman, I’m already infamous for mastering the art of not asking for help; add postpartum depression to the mix and you can guarantee I will never call you.
Instead, say something like, “I’m coming to clean your kitchen. Would 2 p.m. or 5 p.m. work better?” And if I’m plagued by indecisiveness, just pick a time and show up.
6. Be Patient with Me
Can you help me get out of the house? Some days I may be too tired and stressed, and it seems way too complicated to leave the house, but I’m also dying for interaction with someone other than a tiny, squeaky but cute, little live burrito. However, I feel trapped by postpartum depression and don’t know how to leave the house. Even the simplest of tasks is overwhelming, so please be patient with me when I have a panic attack over packing a diaper bag.
You need to know it hurts when you don’t call or check up on me. I know I’m messy right now and you’re busy and may feel like you’ll just get in the way, but please don’t turn your back on me when things get hard.
7. Know that Postpartum Depression Looks Different for Everyone
Just because I don’t look sad or depressed, doesn’t mean I don’t have PPD. I am a raging machine, consumed with anger over every little thing. I may not even know I have PPD because I’m too far deep in the fog. My PPD can have a vast range of emotions and may not fit the mold of the brochures on display in the OB-GYN offices. I could be sad, full of rage, mad, anxious, obsessive-compulsive, neurotic, frustrated, disconnected, extremely exhausted, plagued by guilt, nauseous, worried, flaky, snippy and/or angry.
I might also be really good at faking it. You may see me and think, “Wow! She looks fantastic. She doesn’t even have a belly anymore, her laundry is perfectly folded and she doesn’t have spit up on her shirt!” And please, whatever you do, don’t believe what you see on social media. For 15 seconds, I can put a bow on my baby’s head, smile, filter out my dark eyes and make it look like we just take cute pics all day long. While I may outwardly and physically appear like I have it all together, there’s really a giant firey ball of hot mess trapped inside my head! I may be hiding my PPD because I don’t want to admit I’m not connecting with my baby, and I’m most likely carrying a lot of guilt and feeling selfish for thoughts of longing for the life I had pre-baby.
8. Know that PPD Doesn’t Just Happen After Birth
It’s been a year postpartum and everything has been pretty smooth…until now. My postpartum depression showed up nearly a year later, or after I weaned from breastfeeding. Those shifts in hormones are no joke! Just because I don’t have an infant anymore, doesn’t mean my symptoms aren’t real and I don’t still need your help.
9. Know You Helped
If I ever forget to say it, thank you! Thank you for your time, energy, and prayers during what will probably be one of the hardest times of my life. Your generosity, selflessness, and compassion mean the world to me. I will never forget it.
Important: In extreme cases, a mother may experience suicidal thoughts or behavior. In those situations, she should seek emergency medical help. If her spouse or family is not around or available, please help her obtain immediate professional help.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255
Postpartum Support International
Is it baby blues or something more? Read up on the differences between baby blues, PPD, and postpartum psychosis.
Photo Credits: Unsplash