I was ten months postpartum when my husband said to me that my feelings of sadness, anxiety, and overwhelm might be a sign of something more. At the time, I didn’t believe it because everything I read about postpartum depression and anxiety said that as you get closer to the year mark you should be feeling better. “Should” is the keyword here because feelings aren’t a one size fits all kind of thing. As we all know with parenthood, what works or doesn’t work for another family may turn out to work differently for you. If that’s the case with sleep training, pacifiers, and swaddling, why do we often feel different when it comes to having the baby blues or postpartum depression.
For the first nine months after becoming a mother, I thought that I was supposed to feel overwhelmed, scared, anxious, protective, and rigid when it came to motherhood. I thought everyone cried at the end of most long days and had a hard time waking up the next day to do it all over again. I believed that being a mother was hard work and that maybe I just wasn’t cut out for the job after all. Even though I knew I was doing my very best, I continued to feel like it wasn’t enough and that I was continuously letting my family down.
For the first nine months after becoming a mother, I thought that I was supposed to feel overwhelmed, scared, anxious, protective, and rigid when it came to motherhood … I believed that being a mother was hard work and that maybe I just wasn’t cut out for the job after all.
That day ten months in when my husband talked to me so openly, I made an appointment to see a therapist, and a few short weeks later, she diagnosed me with postpartum depression. I was equal parts distraught and elated. I was distraught because I didn’t want to be depressed, and I’d already had these feelings for ten long months. I didn’t know what would come next, and I didn’t want to feel judgment from those around me. But I was elated because I no longer felt crazy, and her diagnosis told me that I had a chemical imbalance in my brain and that this wasn’t just a series of bad or tough days.
While labels in life aren’t always important, having one in this situation gave me a starting point to begin my recovery journey.
The other difficult part of the journey is figuring out what kind of help and support you need from your loved ones. During this time, we are learning how to care for our mental health in ways we maybe never have before and some of that care comes from asking for help from those around us. No matter who you are, asking for help is rarely an easy thing to do, and when it comes to asking for help with parenting, many of us have to let go of some pride when we’re asking for more support.
If you’re struggling to find ways to ask for help, or you’re reading this and know someone who might postpartum depression and you’re not sure how to help them, here are a few ideas to start with.
1. Do not judge
Maybe this goes without saying, but when it comes to someone’s mental health, there is no place for judgment. It doesn’t matter if the person is struggling with the baby blues or postpartum depression; either way, their thoughts and feelings are serious and powerful to them. During these times, especially if these feelings are new, the person is likely beating themselves up for what they’re thinking and feeling, so the last thing they need is for that to happen from an outside person.
Postpartum depression involves feelings that live on a wide spectrum. The feelings can range from very mild to very severe or anywhere in between. That being said, we can rarely fully understand exactly how deep these feelings run, so we must try to approach conversations and scenarios with compassion and an openness to understand.
2. Keep an eye on them from afar
When we watch someone struggle emotionally or mentally, we tend to hover around them making sure to watch their every move so that we don’t miss anything in case they need us. Speaking from experience, that can make someone feel like a child who can’t be trusted, and they can feel smothered.
Instead, give the person a little space to breathe and let them know that you are always available if they ever need you for anything. From here, continue to check in with them at a cadence that feels right for you, which can be daily, every other day, or weekly. But not letting them do things on their own and at their own pace sometimes can do more damage than good.
3. Take something off their plate
In light of the above point, if you can, try to take something they find daunting off of their plate. If this isn’t something you can do permanently, try to help them with this from time to time. Maybe the daunting task is grocery shopping, making appointments, cooking, or cleaning out their car. Whatever the task might be, even if it seems simple to you, when dealing with depression, the smallest of tasks can sometimes be the hardest ones to tackle.
Doing this not only gives them one less thing to think about, but it also shows them yet another way that they’re not alone in all of this. Sometimes when you’re struggling mentally or emotionally, it can feel isolating and like you have to do it all by yourself. Showing this person that that is simply not true by doing something helpful can be a great way to show them you’re here to help however you can.
4. Listen as much as you can
You may not understand their thoughts and feelings, and you may not even be able to put yourself in their shoes, but the one thing you can do is listen. Many people, whether they’re mentally struggling or not, often say that their minds are going at rapid speed all day long. That being said, a good tool for someone struggling with postpartum depression is to get out of their heads and tune in to their intuition as much as possible. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible to do alone.
You can help someone slow down their rapid thoughts and quiet all the noise by simply asking them how they are, what they’re thinking about, or what they need and then just listen. This listening session isn’t about trying to solve their problems or even take their problems away. You want to listen just so they have a place to share their thoughts and feelings in a safe space.
Postpartum depression isn’t talked about enough in the mainstream media. Even writing this article and sharing bits and pieces of my story feels scary because I’m afraid of being judged or seen as an unfit mother. Regardless of how others feel, suffering from postpartum depression is hard, isolating, and sometimes scary. No one should walk through it alone, and I hope with this article that fewer people have to.
Editor’s Note: If you, or someone you know, are experiencing postpartum depression, please seek help from your health care provider or reach out to a close friend or loved one. If you are having suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of hurting your baby, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 1-800-273-TALK.