Supporting a New Mother Through Postpartum Depression
Two weeks postpartum with my second baby I sat in the pediatrician’s office waiting for him to come, I was casually handed a survey to fill out as I waited.
As I sincerely worked through each question I realized that I was not okay. No, I wasn’t sure why I even had another baby, I did think that everyone was probably better off without me and I couldn’t find the strength to be happy about things that normally brought joy and on it went into a darkness I never thought I would find myself wading through.
I had, of course, heard the term “postpartum depression,” but I really didn’t get why a mother could be sad after being a vehicle in the beautiful process of bringing a human into the world. I had seen women on the news villainized as they made the worst kinds of choices with the safety of their small children and thought that kind of evil was far down a path that most “normal” moms would never consider walking.
However, I have been a relatively stable person most of my life and most people would consider me to be responsible and trustworthy. But at this point, I did not want do basic things to take care of my baby. I did not want to nurse my baby. In fact, I really didn’t want him to touch me. And I had vivid dreams of terrible things happening to my baby and in those dreams I was less concerned than a mother would typically be.
I don’t say these things to bring about shock. I am typing these hard words because I want to bring understanding to the kind of darkness that can engulf a new mother while the rest of the world turns and no one has a clue until she is able to emerge and talk about it. Or worse, she never emerges and is never able to put words to it.
I can’t tell you how each woman gets to such a depth of darkness to be labeled as having “postpartum depression,” but I am beginning to understand my own journey. In general, I think it is a perfect storm of hormones and circumstances that lead to this valley.
For me, a long pregnancy, a long labor, a hospital stay with my 8 day old immediately followed by mastitis, and my own expectations for how life would turn out, combined with a surge of hormones that I can’t begin to pinpoint or understand, carried me to this place. Once I realized that I was not okay I really didn’t know what the next step should be, but I am a relatively honest person and have many close relationships with people I trust and love. I wanted to tell them that I was struggling, but I didn’t even know what words to use to describe my struggle. To the few people I did tell, I generally said something like “I filled out a depression survey as the pediatrician’s office and they said I am depressed.” Then, of course, people weren’t sure what to say in return. If I remember correctly I got things like “I’m so sorry,” “Are you depressed?” “Oh…”
Many people I love did their best to support me through this trial and I’m grateful for it, but I certainly realized some things that I will do differently than I would have before when it comes to dealing with women I love who are experiencing postpartum depression. My hope is that we all learn to walk beside her on this journey.
Finding joy is a journey.
We live in a world that likes to “leave it to the professionals.” In many of these situations a professional, support group, or even a prescription might be necessary, but none of these are a magic bullet to joy. Healing can come in spurts, but it can also take months or years to feel whole again. Consider if when someone we love was deep in darkness we didn’t put our hands up in surrender because we didn’t know what to say, but we also didn’t show up and say a lot of words that are probably not very helpful. What if we just show up with coffee, arms to hold a baby, and general support?
Show up and listen. Show up and clean.
I don’t want to give the impression that practical support is the only thing she needs, but if there are people just showing up when she is in her deepest depression, believing that no one cares about her and she is worthless, she can look around and see that the fact that you were there, is contrary to her dark beliefs about herself. Professional help could just be a small part of the kind of support and community that brings about healing.
Like you, I would love a quick fix for this intensely hard season for many, but we underestimate the value of presence. Many of us want to show up and have a turning point conversation that makes the darkness disappear and be the hero that said the thing that turned it all around, but we don’t want to keep walking the long unpredictable road to healing.
We are not Mr. Feeny. We are us.
We are good friends, sisters, cousins, and neighbors, and she needs us. She can’t walk alone another second. So be awkward, be okay with silence or unreturned kind words, and lend support that even you do not understand.
PPD: We are coming for you. With linked hands that aren’t afraid to get dirty and walking shoes for the long road.
Hanna Hickman is a mom, wife, blogger and Jesus lover who lives in Kansas City with husband two small children. She is one of the kindest and funniest people I know and her sweet demeanor puts everyone around her at ease.
I had the privilege of meeting Hanna through a mutual friend when she was 38 weeks pregnant and looking for a doula for her 2nd birth. It was an honor to be her doula and now friend! To see more of her thoughts and blogs, follow her Facebook page.