Recently I learned that a dear friend is struggling with postpartum depression. We haven’t lived near each other since we became friends in college (and one other time when we lived close enough to visit occasionally). This is one of those times I wish I was close enough to be of real, concrete help.
Prayer counts, of course, and is very real and concrete. I don’t mean to discount that. Please do pray daily for your friends with postpartum depression. But I’d love to actually be the hands and feet of Jesus in this moment for my friend. If you feel the same way and live close to someone you know who is struggling, this post is for you.
This is not the first time I’ve had good friends struggling with postpartum depression; it’s pretty common. But you usually have to be pretty close to someone before they will reveal this most difficult hurt. (Unless they are incredibly brave.)
I have never experienced the postpartum variety myself. However, one time while in my eighth month of pregnancy, I hit a pretty extreme point of depression unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I very nearly drove myself into a ditch when alone in the car. My streak of hormonally-caused depression lasted about two hours, and then it was gone.
That’s just not the same as those who experience that level of hormonally-caused depression day in and day out for weeks, months, and years of their life. I can’t even imagine.
Almost all women experience some degree of postpartum baby blues. This is not the same either. Full-fledged postpartum depression is a very serious and painful experience, and yet it tends to be marginalized by women who think, “I survived the baby blues and you just need to get over it and you’ll be fine.” This is just not true. Some levels of postpartum depression go much deeper than the baby blues!
Depression is not something to simplify, patronize, or ignore. Not when you can choose instead to be the hands and feet of Jesus in someone’s life.
Let’s talk about some myths about depression.
- Depression is not the result of a specific sin in an individual’s life. It is a result of the fall of man, I’m not arguing that. But to walk up to a person struggling with postpartum depression and tell them they must have some unrepented sin in their life is very bad theology.
- Postpartum depression is the result of a very specific chemical and hormonal condition in a woman’s body after the birth of a baby. It’s not “all in her head.” In fact, it is just the opposite. It’s a series of uncontrollable hormones raging in her body and affecting her emotions more deeply than you could ever imagine unless you’ve experienced it.
- Depression is not something you can just “get over.” There are things that can help, and there are medications a woman can take (which come with their own set of side effects) but you can’t just walk away from depression like you would walk away from someone being rude in the supermarket. It’s going to run its course, and sometimes that course is two years or more after a baby is born.
- There is no reason for a person to “pretend” they have postpartum depression or lie about it. (There is no reason for you to assume someone is lying about having postpartum depression unless you know the person well and they are prone to lie about everything!) Postpartum depression is very real, and women who have depression are much more likely to “look” happy, act like everything is fine, and pretend that nothing is wrong than they are to tell you the truth about their struggle. That’s because uninformed people accuse women of lying about depression or tell these poor women that depression is the result of some personal, unconfessed, and significant sin in their life. Hogwash.
NOTE: If the person struggling with postpartum depression is a danger to themselves, the baby, or someone else, you need to get them medical help as soon as possible. This post is not intended to help diagnose or treat postpartum depression.
Here are some practical, hands-on ways you can help a friend who is struggling with postpartum depression.
Speak Kindly. Choose your words carefully when speaking to any new mom. Never be rude or crass or judgmental. You don’t know how many times I’ve been asked with my large family if I “know” how babies are made. “Don’t you know what causes that?” I’ve got six kids, so obviously I’ve got a pretty good handle on it. People think they are funny when they talk like that, but they are really just being rude and crass by referencing the sex life of a mom in front of her kids (or implying that mom is dumb, barefoot, and pregnant by a controlling man). Good grief.
Never say to someone that postpartum depression is not real or is silly or to “get over it” or “shake it off” or “you have this beautiful baby so why are you sad?” These are irresponsible and uneducated responses to a very real and horrifying reality for the suffering mom.
I’ve got lots of other examples of things you should not say to any new mom and especially because you never know which mom is struggling with postpartum depression! Choose kindness. Always.
Purpose to speak kind words. That’s what I’m saying. What kind, honoring thing can you say to the next new mom you pass in the checkout line or at your church? And especially to your friends. Come up with a list of things you can talk about that are kind and thoughtful and memorize that list!
Be helpful. How can you be truly helpful? Some of this really depends on how well you know the person. You might be able to take a meal over, go grocery shopping, help clean the house or yard, fold laundry, run older kids to events, or offer to babysit while mom takes a nap, goes shopping, or gets her nails painted – or whatever she wants to do.
Sometimes churches and friends will take a meal for a week or two after and then assume all is fine. Why not be the one to take a meal or two after a month has passed?
Or even just be a walking buddy! Exercise is something new moms often want or need and it is also helpful for depression, but hard to get up out of the rocking chair and make happen when you are hurting so deeply. One of my favorite memories after the birth of my babies is meeting my friend Donna each morning at 7 am for a nice long morning walk–wind, rain, and cold snow notwithstanding. We would head out for a walk before my husband left for work each morning so he could be there for the kids if they woke up.
When you are in public and see a new mom, let her go first in the grocery line. That’s a sweet gesture I have appreciated many times as a new mom! Also, share a smile! A little smile from a complete stranger or a good friend goes a long way.
Be mindful. Always think about what is actually needed and wanted before you try to help. Some forms of help (dragging an introverted friend to the craft fair or mall) might actually be hurtful. Consider carefully what would be truly helpful for each person and don’t assume anything.
If your friend is an introvert, invite her to go along on a nice quiet walk one-on-one, or just offer to come over and hold baby. But avoid trying to drag her out into crowded streets, stores, and restaurants. You might even offer to do the grocery shopping for her so she can avoid the crowds!
If your friend is an extrovert, meet for lunch, go shopping, or plan a party together.
Don’t think as much about what you would want for help; think about what your friend would want for help and take into account her personality.
To go along with the concept of being mindful: let moms with new babies or those struggling with PPD (it can start as late as nine months after a child’s birth!) out of their commitments easily. Don’t ask them to pitch in as extra nursery staff, last minute fill-in staff for children’s church, craft time at Girl Scouts, or even babysitting your child.
Listen. Listen and don’t talk. Really listen and don’t just zone out. Be present and listen. Enough said on that topic.
Read more things to say (and not say) to a woman struggling with postpartum depression in this fantastic article for new dads.