According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 women will experience symptoms of postpartum depression, while some estimates say the rate may be as high as 1 in 5. Based on these statistics, it is more than likely that you know someone who has or is experiencing the darkness of postpartum depression/anxiety.
After a woman gives birth, we are given brochures warning us and our partner to look out for the signs of the baby blues and postpartum depression. Yet somehow, most new moms don’t think it will happen to them. That was my experience, at least.
Postpartum depression caught me off guard, but with medical help and the support of my loved ones, I am back on my feet and stronger than ever. More than six months have passed since the birth of my daughter, Mary Clare. Those unbearably dark days of postpartum depression appear further and further away in my rear view mirror. It has allowed me to reflect and hopefully help others.
If the woman in your life is struggling with PPD, there is no doubt you are doing all you can to help her. Consider my thoughts, knowing that they come from one mother’s unique experience with a mood disorder that manifests itself in different ways.
1. She loves that baby with every fiber of her being.
Even though it may not look like it. She may not appear to be the mother you imagined she would. She doesn’t seem to want to snuggle or hold or feed the baby. As hard as it is for you to understand, it is that much harder for her to make sense of what’s happening. It rips her up inside, to love something so much while not wanting to be around it. Nothing is more confusing. It is the most complicated and painful feeling she has ever had.
2. She can’t just snap out of it.
She is sick. Plain and simple. Just like if she got the flu, she needs medical attention. She knows she should be happy, so don’t tell her to look at the positive or try to get over it. Trust me, if she could, she would. She needs help and just like the flu, she will recover.
3. The things that make her anxious are very real to her.
When I was sick, I would cringe every morning as my husband climbed out of bed and turned on the bathroom light. I had the same internal conversation for weeks, “He’s going to wake the baby; he is flipping that light switch so loudly; he’s so insensitive.” Only once I got better, I could see how incredibly irrational it was. I felt real, paralyzing anxiety every single day over it. In no way, did it seem irrational to me. This is an example I often share with people when I want them to understand how a rational mind can temporarily change with a mood disorder. Don’t tell her she is being irrational, even when she is. By the way, the light switch has never once woken the baby.
4. More than anyone else, she wants it to go away.
She hates it. It’s eating her up inside. When I was sick, it was the first time I really understood what it meant to want to “crawl out of my own skin.” I would say, “I don’t know if I can take this for another minute.” The feeling of not being yourself, the powerlessness, it feels unbearable. Remind her, it will not break her. She won’t believe you; tell her you’ll believe for her.
5. She knows it’s hard for you too.
It’s okay to want a break. Be gentle with her, but be gentle with yourself too. Taking care of her is not easy. It can be draining to be around someone who’s so sad all the time. Just don’t tell her that, she already knows. Get someone to come be with her and go do something. Go smile and laugh and feel normal for a little while. It’s okay, really, it is.
Here’s the good news…yes, there is some. She will smile again, she will laugh again. She will once again, be the person you know. She will come back to you. I promise. After the dust settles, she will be stronger and she will be a better woman for it. All you can do is stand by her. Bring her to see a doctor. Make her take a walk. Give her a hug. Take the baby. Do the laundry. Be there. Believe in her. Tell her it will be okay. And don’t forget, in all of this, take care of yourself too.