May is Postpartum Depression Awareness month. It’s reported that 1 in 5 women will experience postpartum depression after giving birth. This is a painful and very real affliction for many women and can affect not only the mothers but also loved ones close to them. It can be hard to know what to say if someone you love is experiencing postpartum depression (PPD). The following are things to say and ways to help your friend or loved one suffering from PPD:
1. This will pass.
The lie that depression tells us is that the pain will last a lifetime. Postpartum depression is particularly painful in that it comes with guilt and fear of being a bad mother to a new baby. Every mom experiencing PPD feels worried that she is not giving her best to her child and feels trapped in a prison of sadness and fear. Let her know that this is temporary and not her personality, destiny, or curse. Tell her she will overcome this and be stronger on the other side. It’s only a matter of time before she feels like herself again. Tell her often: This too shall pass.
2. You’re a good mother.
This will be hard for her to believe. She’s in a space where she feels totally disconnected from herself, her life, her body, her loved ones, and most especially and painfully, her baby. Point out to her the ways that she is succeeding as a mother. Her baby is healthy, smiling, chubby, beautiful, safe, whatever the case may be. Let her know she is doing a good job mothering even if it means she needs time away from her baby. She is doing what is best and healthiest for both of them despite the incredible pain, and that takes courage and a great mommy instinct.
3. You’ve got this.
The story the mind tells mothers with postpartum depression is “You can’t do this.” This will be the inner monologue of many PPD moms. “I can’t do this” will play over and over in her head during tasks which normally seem attainable. Waking up, feeding her baby, and clothing and feeding herself will seem overwhelming and at times impossible. If you hear her say “I can’t do this,” remind her that she already is. She’s doing it. Despite how painful or hard or impossible it becomes, she’s doing it. Tell her she’s got this, she’s strong, and you’re proud of her.
4. Fear is love.
Many mothers with postpartum depression and anxiety experience debilitating fear and dread. The overwhelming new job of being a mommy with PPD makes many women feel that there’s something wrong with them. They believe that other women are stronger than they are, or braver, or just have the mommy gene that they lack. Let them know that their fear is a good sign. It means they care enough for the baby that they are feeling fear; it’s just a disproportionate amount fear because of the hormonal imbalance. It’s not their fault; it’s a hormonal exaggeration of healthy fear. Tell them when they feel fear, to embrace and breathe into it. It will pass, and it’s a sign that they love and care for the wellbeing of their child.
5. You’re not alone.
As stated above, 1 in 5 women will experience postpartum depression after a birth. It is completely normal, and PPD moms are not alone in this experience. There are support groups and other moms ready to talk with her or through it, as well as professionals who are well-acquainted with her symptoms. If you are a mom, let her know about some of your trials early on in motherhood and point to how they worked out for the best. She needs examples of how she is like everyone else, and that she, too, will see a happier, easier side to being a mommy soon.
6. I’ll be right there.
If and when you can, be prepared to drop everything to help a mom with postpartum depression. If you can visit with her, walk with her, get her out of the house, buy groceries for her, or care for her child for a period of time, this will make all the difference in her sense of hope and optimism. She feels as if she’s buried under the pressure of being a mom, while failing and suffering. Help relieve this pressure by showing up.
7. I’m right here.
If you can’t be there physically, remind her also that she’s not alone because you’re there. Postpartum depression can make moms feel disconnected from love and support because of the effects of depression. It feels isolating and alone, and even though she may consciously know she has friends and loved ones, she can’t feel it in the darkest moments. Remind her. Call her. Text her. Write or post on her Facebook wall. Tell her you’re there for her and she’s not alone.
8. What can I do?
Moms with postpartum depression can feel helpless and hopeless. Ask what you can do, whether it’s something small like make them laugh, buy them flowers, or even something large like babysitting or helping her set a routine or ritual for coping. Help her with whatever it seems may be too much for her to handle. Ask what you can do and be prepared to deliver. It will mean more than you know.
9. What does it feel like?
Sometimes it just feels good to talk. A person in pain wants to be heard, even if it is difficult to articulate. Ask her what it feels like and don’t judge or offer suggestions of how she can feel better. Try to avoid advice like, “Be positive” or “Look on the bright side.” She’s in pain and needs to get her pain out in the open so she isn’t dealing with it alone. Hear her, see her, and be with her and her pain. This will make her realize she’s not alone in her suffering and that she has the genuine support of loved ones holding a space for her.
10. Take this one moment at a time.
Depression is painful, but it can also teach us to live in the present. It is said that if you are depressed, you are living in the past, and if you are anxious, you are living in the future. In the case of postpartum depression, moms are mourning for the life they had before their baby and worried for the life they fear they can’t provide in the future for their baby.
Sometimes the only way we can get through intense moments of suffering is to just take it one moment at a time, one second at a time, one breath at a time, one episode of Modern Family at a time. Tell her she’s doing it, it’s passing with every breath, and to embrace and hold on to the present moment. Every moment that passes is a moment she is healing, even if it doesn’t feel like it. One step at a time and she will be past it, stronger and more courageous than ever before.
If you or someone you know is experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety, there are many resources and ways to get help. Most importantly, know that you are not alone. Go to www.postpartumprogress.com or research support groups or therapists in your area. A postpartum doula can also help greatly in this time of need, and some will volunteer their time if they know you are suffering. Don’t go it alone and know you’ve got this.