Guest Post by Sara Elizabeth of A Mama’s Story:
*A note from Emily: I’m thankful to have Sara Elizabeth sharing some of her experience with Postpartum Depression and how to help a mama you may know who is struggling. Since dealing with some strong baby blues after each of my babies’ births I can agree with how important it is to offer a new mother help without judgement.
Recently I wrote a post regarding my journey through postpartum depression (PPD), hoping to help women who are struggling but are afraid to ask for help. After speaking to a few others, I learned that many know a woman suffering with PPD but don’t know where to begin to offer assistance. My hope is to give insight into the thoughts and feelings she may be dealing with, so that you might help.
- It’s hard to ask for help when the doctor comments on how strong I am.
- I’m afraid people will think I’m a failure, if I tell them how bad I feel.
- Others say they look up to me. What will they think if I tell them that I’m struggling?
- I believe that children are a blessing and hope to have more children. If I admit that I need help or that I’m depressed, it will only fuel the naysayers.
- I’m afraid others will question whether I’m truly a Christian.
The above comments are a sampling of what I received when I asked the ladies on my Facebook page to share why they believe it’s so difficult for women to ask for help or to admit that they’re struggling to get back on their feet after their births.
While visiting Parents.com, I read of different postpartum traditions in other cultures. For example, in The Netherlands, a mother and her baby may be sent home within a couple of hours after giving birth, but a nurse provides home health care throughout the first week, a benefit that’s covered by insurance. The provider not only tends to the mother and baby but also helps around the home and provides medical care, as needed.
What a difference compared to the US, a country in which women give birth, are sent home as soon as their insurance companies decide, and are expected to “get it together” as soon as possible, with little to no support. If she can’t “keep it together,” there must be something wrong.
During my pregnancies, others understood when I was sick and couldn’t leave my home. They were quick to help with my other children, frequently asked how I was doing, and of course called relentlessly to find out if the baby had arrived. But after the birth, they began to wonder why I wasn’t back into a routine, even as early as two weeks postpartum. I remember telling my doctor, “It’s not the children I can’t handle. It’s the grownups!”
If you know someone who is dealing with PPD, here are some suggestions:
- Don’t trivialize her emotions. What may seem ridiculous to you may be very real to her.
- If you know a new Mama, offer to bring a meal, but give her some space. Don’t drop in unannounced. Gift cards to a restaurant are nice, especially if she needs to get out of the house for a change of scenery or fresh air.
- Whether she says she needs to rest or to get out of the house, don’t argue. After I had my fourth child my husband thought he was doing me a favor by suggesting I stay home, while he and the children went out for the evening. What he didn’t realize was that I desperately needed to be among others.
- If she needs extra time to get on her feet, so be it. Be there to support her. It’s probably not a good idea to share how you prepared dinner for your family immediately after birth, how you were back in shape a week after birth, or how you were into your usual routine within a couple of weeks.
- Listen. Especially if you’re one of her closest friends. She may have thoughts she’s too embarrassed to share with anyone else.
- If her birth experience didn’t go how she planned, be supportive and positive. I know women who desperately wanted to have low-intervention and drug-free births, and felt like failures because they opted for pain medicines or required a c-section. Birth experiences stay with us, and she may need to heal emotionally as well as physically. Also, avoid comments such as, “You should just be happy to have a healthy baby.” She likely understands the blessing of a healthy baby, and saying such a statement doesn’t make PPD or birth trauma go away. Also, she could misunderstand your intentions and feel you’re insinuating she isn’t grateful.
- Offer to run errands, help around her home, or watch her other children so she can get some rest.
- Motherhood is a blessing, a ministry and a calling. Even if well-intentioned, avoid statements such as, “If you’re struggling now, perhaps you shouldn’t have more children.” Not only does this insinuate that her mothering skills are lacking, but also that this is the status quo. We know babies grow fast—too fast. There will likely come a day when she will again manage her home and family, and even long for another baby in her arms.
- Telling her that she must not be a strong Christian can be very hurtful. Most Christian counselors view PPD as a physical issue, not a spiritual one, and the only One who knows her heart is her Heavenly Father.
- Gently share your concerns, possibly with her husband, and encourage her to share with her Midwife or Doctor. Remind her that she’s not alone.
Out of my five pregnancies, I only experienced PPD after my second. While it took a year to get back on my feet after my fourth, that was due to my attempt to maintain order. The day I told a woman I had six children in four years, I realized that I’d had four children in six years and needed to cut myself some slack. But not before breaking down in tears at my local Wal-Mart, telling a dear stranger that I was “just so tired,” or huddled in a heap of tears on my closet floor at 4am. If you encounter a woman who looks or sounds overwhelmed, help her see the big picture by pointing out the positive things she’s doing and reminding her that it’s OK to let the little things slide.
After my fifth baby, I learned to laugh at frustrating situations. We keep our safeguards in place and I’ve had to let a lot of negative comments roll off my back. As a perfectionist this is difficult, but my family is my priority, before outside obligations and activities. Taking care of myself enables me to take care of my family. It can be easy to judge another with the stance of “What I see from the outside,” but the problem in looking in from the outside is that you’re not privy to what’s actually happening on the inside. If she isn’t getting back into a routine, based on your standards, remember that it’s her husband’s and family’s needs that she’s aiming to meet.
I understand the shame, guilt, and embarrassment many women feel. If you know a Mama who is struggling, avoid judging her and making assumptions, but reach out to her, pray for her, and ask how you can help.
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