While I don’t think anyone can ever be fully prepared for PPD, I think it vital that moms-to-be and their support networks be informed about it and aware of what can be done to help a struggling mother. I share my story to help others be prepared and to show how God has worked even in the darkest of times. If you are struggling with postpartum depression or think you might be, please do not just read my blog but get help from your doctor/midwife, church, husband, and friends.
Through both of my battles with postpartum depression, I have been surrounded by good help. I couldn’t have gotten through the darkness without it, and wanted to share what I found most helpful (you can find someone else’s thoughts here).
To better understand what PPD is, check out this and this.
– If she has told you in the past that she’s struggling or is worried about having PPD, ask directly: “How are you doing with postpartum depression?” Saying just “how are you?” may make her think you are just engaging in small talk.
– If she hasn’t confided in you but you’re concerned, ask less directly, but more specifically than a general “how are you?” For example, “How are you doing? You seem down.” Or “How are you adjusting to motherhood/having 2 kids?”
– Don’t interrupt, give them looks of surprise or shock, etc. Some of the feelings and thoughts of postpartum depression are shocking. They may require help and counsel, but don’t make her feel worse by your reaction: she likely already feels horrible about what she’s thinking and feeling.
– Give her as much time as she needs and don’t be bothered by her tears. You may need to ask questions to prompt further explanation, but be patient if she doesn’t talk right away and know you may need to leave it for another day. Offer to communicate via email at first if she doesn’t want to say it out loud.
– If she seems to be making light of it but isn’t meeting your gaze and is restless, then it’s probably worse than she says.
– When you do talk, make sure you repeat back to her what you’ve heard, making sure you acknowledge the very real and difficult things she is dealing with.
– Be willing to say nothing. Job didn’t need his friends’ comments; he needed them to just sit with him and mourn.
– Ask how you can pray for her and her family, whether that’s specifically regarding PPD or just generally in motherhood and life.
– Then pray aloud for them or at least let them know what you are specifically praying for. That way they know you’re not just saying you will, and it offers them extra hope and support.
– Remind her other times, in texts throughout the week, etc. that you are still thinking of and praying for her.
– Don’t just ask “Can I bring you a meal sometime?” but be SPECIFIC. “Can I bring you a meal on Wednesday?” “If it would help you, when this week can I come over to give you an hour to yourself/do the dishes/watch your older kids/take the baby on a walk?”
– If you don’t have a specific way in mind to help or don’t know what would be most helpful, ask – “how can I help lighten your load this week?” or “What do you most need/want right now?”
– If you don’t have the time to go over and help yourself, suggest a mutual friend – “I won’t tell her what you’re going through unless you want me to, but I can ask so-and-so if she would come over to bring you a meal and keep you company on Tuesday.”
– Help her come up with a plan of healing, whether that’s a new routine, seeing the doctor, remembering to take vitamins, etc. She may need a reminder that she doesn’t have to constantly entertain her baby. Check back in later to see how that’s going.
– Point her to God, but know God may feel far away and she may be angry with Him. Remind her of ways God has helped her in the past, or has helped you in a similar circumstance, or of ways you see Him at work in her life right now. Give her unchanging hope (who God is, Christ, salvation, heaven, etc.) to hold on to and help her really grapple with the difficult things she’s feeling and fight them with spiritual truth and physical help. Give her scripture, but help her apply it to herself.
5. Be careful
– Of comparing : “I had baby blues so I know what it’s like,” “We were moving across town right after baby was born so I understand” (if the person is moving across the WORLD that’s way more stress and a change of community as well). That’s not to say don’t offer sympathy/empathy but just be careful. For example, it would help me to know that you’ve struggled with depression, even if not postpartum, so that I know you understand the darkness. You can share how it was for YOU but don’t assume that means you understand what she are feeling or that it’s the same for her (even if you did have PPD)… even this blog post is what was helpful for ME. Someone else with PPD may read it and have something totally different to say. An example of helpful words, from something a mother said to me this time: “I have never been there myself, but having a newborn and a toddler is hard enough without postpartum depression thrown in. I will be praying for you.”
– Of saying what she’s feeling is normal. YES, it’s normal to feel stressed and upset by some things, and she’s not the only one who has ever felt like she’s not connecting with her baby, is struggling with intrusive thoughts, etc. BUT it’s not “normal” in the sense of how it should stay for the rest of her motherhood. It’s not “normal” in that every mom feels that way and she just isn’t up to par. But it is “normal” in that she’s not alone in how she feels, there are explanations for it, and she’s not so crazy there’s not help for her. That hope can and should be offered. This article may be helpful.
– Of quoting truisms without context – instead of saying,”God is faithful” point me to HOW He was faithful, legitimize the pain and confusion by showing me the Psalms, etc. PPD is being nearsighted, unable to look beyond now, unable to look up at God, unable to connect His promises and His word. We know He is faithful in theory but can’t apply that to ourselves and to just say “God is faithful” can feel like you’re ignoring the pain.
6. Keep it up
– Postpartum depression can start any time in the first year and can last beyond that. So don’t assume that just because baby is six weeks, three months, six months… that it won’t come if it hasn’t already or that we’re “better” and that it’s not an issue any more.
– Moms can ALWAYS use extra support, especially when they have a baby under a year (especially the first 6 months), and that’s even more true if PPD is a factor as well. Even if you have young kids and all you can offer is a feeling of normalcy that you have sleepless nights and are impatient sometimes too (while not making it seem ok to be impatient!) can be so helpful (keeping point #5 in mind).
– Remember that we may not look like we have PPD or seem like we’re struggling with it, especially a bit further down the road when it seems like it has passed, but it may still be there. Some days are good days and we may seem and feel perfectly fine, but the next could be awful.
That was a bit of a novel, but to summarize, if I could only say two things, it would be: lighten her load and offer hope.