To the mommas that are on the verge, sorting through the muck, or stepping into the light – I know what you’re feeling. I know how you’re hurting, I understand your fears, but I have a story of hope. You will be okay. You will make it into the light. You will be whole again.
To the family & friends witnessing her pain – you’re going to be okay, too. This is a season.
So many questions I get revolve around the “stages” of postpartum depression – how I knew I had it, what my treatment was like, how I knew I was on the recovery, & what family & friends can do to help.
Postpartum depression can be such a nasty thing to diagnose, because the truth is that it looks different on everyone. I thought that it meant tears – lots & lots of tears. So when the tears didn’t come but I was angry & resentful of my fresh baby, I did not recognize it as a problem with depression – I thought it was a problem with me.
- Frustration over the smallest tasks
- Resentment of my husband & new baby
- Feeling that I made a mistake
- Detachment (aka feeling like he wasn’t my baby)
- I thought about giving my son up for adoption.
- Irrational thoughts about harming myself, my family, my baby.
- Zero interest in food.
- A fixation with keeping the house absolutely spotless at all times.
- Inability to fall asleep & stay asleep.
- Taking long showers. (this seems to be a common thread as a way to hide crying & escape responsibilities)
- Constant complaints of exhaustion.
Do you know a new momma that feels this way? Any of these? Here’s the thing – you can help, even if you’re not a licensed therapist or OB/GYN.
- Make that momma some good food. When a friend dropped off a casserole that I just had to pop in the oven, it was bliss. Especially if there was a frozen one to go along with it. Tip: Make something SIMPLE that she can recreate with no pressure. Do not pull out the big gourmet guns because it may just make her feel more worthless that she can’t match your standard.
- Keep her company. Sit at her feet while she feeds the baby -my husband did this & I enjoyed the security of his presence in a situation where I felt vulnerable.
- Don’t tell her that a clean house or a perfect nursery “don’t matter.” They DO matter to her & it hurts to have someone brush it off.
- Guys, leave her alone for sex.
- When you ask her how she’s doing, more than likely she’ll lie & say “fine.” Pay more attention to her reaction to the baby’s cries, her sleeping patterns, & whether she’s still “engaged” in life.
- Simply state that you think she’s hurting & you hate to see it because she deserves better. She deserves to love motherhood because she is so wonderful at it.
- Remind her that they will not take her baby away from her.
- Remind her of that again.
- Then suggest that she seek help with her trusted OB/GYN.
This was the hardest part for me – the fight. Believe me, any momma that is in the throes of postpartum depression is FIGHTING. You’re fighting for motherhood, for love, & sometimes for your life. It is exhausting. It can really toll on a marriage. It can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel some days. But it is so worth the fight. For some, therapy alone can help pull the darkness away but for others (like me) it took a combination of medication & therapy. For a smaller portion (like me again), it takes intense therapy that is usually done in a hospital setting.
Some options for treatment:
- Talk therapy with a licensed therapist or psychiatrist.
- Sleeping aids
- Light therapy by solar lamp.
- Exercise therapy.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
As a spouse, family member, friend – you are her most important asset outside of her medical professional. You see her every day. You speak with her, watch her interact with her baby, watch her run her home. You can make the difference between making it or breaking it.
- Love her unconditionally. Remember that above all, she is hurting all the way down in her soul. So be gentle with her.
- When she says she cannot do something, like change a diaper or feed the baby, do not force her. Trust that she knows her limits.
- Gently ask/remind her to take her medication in the morning (this one is for spouses or very close friends only)
- Go with her to therapy sessions. (spouses once again)
- Remind her that this isn’t forever. She will beat it. She is strong enough. She deserves happiness.
- If she works outside of the home, remind her to tell her human resource department about her treatment. She is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- How is she responding to treatment? Is she responding? Remember, there are all kinds of medications that react differently with different body chemistry. Don’t be afraid to ask the doctor if doses or meds should be altered for better results. Don’t be afraid to switch doctors/therapists, either.
- Is she getting worse? Are her symptoms exacerbating? Is she showing new symptoms? If so, tell her medical professional IMMEDIATELY.
- Remember that there are good days & bad days.
Coming through the storm can feel like a big sigh of relief – you see that light & you just want to race, race, race towards it. Freedom! Relief! Wholeness! Life!! Beating postpartum depression has been my greatest achievement, past growing & sustaining another human life. I am so proud of my hard work, so thankful for my family & friends, so absolutely humbled to simply be alive after falling into hell.
How I knew I was whole:
- When my son cried, I wanted to respond. I wanted to make him happy & care for his needs.
- I was waking up refreshed after sleeping the entire night.
- I enjoyed the “small things” in life again – sunshine coming through the windows in the morning, a good movie, making cinnamon rolls with my boys on Sundays.
- I started performing well at work again.
- I felt like he was my son – I began enjoying that he had the same eyes that I did & I began realizing that he reached for me first.
- When emergencies/stressful situations occurred, I was able to face them. I don’t always handle them with the most grace, but I do not crawl under the covers & pretend it’s not happening anymore.
- I could go eight weeks between therapy sessions easily.
So many folks wonder what they can do to help speed up the process & “get back” their wife, daughter, friend….but the best thing you can do is let her take things at her own pace.
- Be willing to listen as she sorts through what happened -the truth is, she’s been through something traumatic that has changed the way she views life & motherhood & it is a lot to process.
- Understand post traumatic stress. She may have recurring nightmares, or irrational fears about certain tasks or events.
- She may have a bad day here & there where the PPD seems like it’s coming back. It’s okay & normal. Remind her that tomorrow is another day.
- Make sure she’s taking time for herself – as she heals, the guilt may make her feel like she cannot be away from her baby. Get her out the door by herself at least an hour per week.
- When she says she can handle it, trust her. That can be a huge leap of faith for those that love her, as they’ve been pulling her through the recovery, but it is important for her to take her life back fully.