Four months after my son was born, I discovered I was pregnant again. I had just moved to a new part of the country for my husband’s job and I didn’t know a soul. I will never forget feeling overwhelmed, fear, anger, and exhaustion. Some days, I cried constantly. Others, I was in a fog.
When I heard from friends that motherhood is the most natural thing in the world, I thought I must be a terrible mom. That’s because I had postpartum depression. But thanks to good friends, I got through it. If you’re wondering how to help someone with postpartum depression, I’m here to share the qualities of the people who helped me most in those tumultuous days.
Listen and affirm more. Advise less.
In his poem Please Listen, Leo Buscaglia wrote, “When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings.” (Read the whole poem! It’s a gem!) In my postpartum depression, I gravitated toward friends who allowed me to express all the messiness without trying to “put a bow” on anything. Practice attentive body language toward your friend and allow her to speak her pain without interruption. Afterward, refrain from saying, “It’ll all be okay.” Rather, validate her feelings and affirm her in her motherhood: “I hear that you don’t think you’re doing a great job, but you’re a wonderful mom and I believe you can do this.” Or, “I’m so sorry you’re feeling this. Your baby is so blessed to have you as a mom.”
While there is much practical advice you doubtlessly could offer, realize that the deeper problem is depression. She can call her pediatrician, buy gadgets, or turn to any number of resources for practical help, but nothing can replace the balm of a listening friend.
But do advise professional help.
Momma deserves to enjoy motherhood. A licensed counselor can help moms who have postpartum depression in ways their friends can’t. And sometimes, a family should seek professional help immediately, such as when a mom has postpartum psychosis, which is a departure from reality during which a mother considers harming herself or her child. Many women avoid therapy because they believe it signifies weakness. Assure your friend that she is strong and that there is no shame in seeking therapy.
A licensed counselor can help moms who have postpartum depression in ways their friends can’t.
Understand she isn’t herself now, but she will be.
To have compassion means “to suffer together.” Standing by your friend may not be pleasant as postpartum depression sucks the energy, joy, and interest in life out of her. By the end of a visit, she may remain as depressed as when you arrived. However, when she makes it out the other side, she will never forget your kindness. Calling to check on her regularly will mean more than you know, even if she doesn’t sound enthused at the time.
Keep your commitments.
Unfortunately, in our technology-driven society, we can devalue in-person interaction and cancel plans for any small reason. During my postpartum depression, the meetups I arranged with friends were my “lifeline” to reality. When someone canceled, it seemed to confirm that I wasn’t “fun” or interesting anymore. The in-person presence of friends helped ground me in reality instead of retreating into depressed thoughts.
Help in concrete ways.
If you want to know how to help someone with postpartum depression, sometimes you just have to focus on the word “help.” A mom of seven gave me free babysitting so I could teach dance and acting at a local arts center. She is one of my heroes. Moms I met at church banded together and brought me hot dinners several times a week. (Mealtrain.com is a free organizing tool that only takes 15 minutes!) Your friend may not want to impose, so make a concrete plan and offer. Hold her baby while she naps. Babysit. Make a meal. Clean her house. She’ll receive the loving intention behind the service, affirming that she is indeed a good mom and worthy of love. And if you have kids, allowing them to get involved is a great way to teach them how to be good helpers.
Have you had a tough time when people came to your rescue? What made a difference?