As I continue to use my voice as an advocate for moms who are struggling with PPD, I keep returning to the same questions that my family asked me. How could we have helped? What could we have said that would help you get help sooner? Thank you to my mom and my sister for inspiring this post. Here are the things that would have helped me through PPD:
1. “You will get better.” Repeat this often to the loved one that is struggling. She will need lots of affirmation and reassurance that she will recover from this. Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are temporary, and she will recover with time. When your loved one is in the depths of depression or in the grip of anxiety, she is in survival mode. She cannot imagine that she will make it through another day. She needs the support and hope from her family members.
2. “You are a great mom.” Depression tells a struggling mom the lie that she is a horrible mom. She feels like she is the only one who is struggling with motherhood. All the other mothers around her seem to enjoy their babies and have it all together. She feels like she is the only one with ambivalent or negative feelings about motherhood. Also tell your loved one specific examples of how her actions demonstrate that she is a great mom. Depression causes distorted thinking. A crucial part of recovery is learning to combat the negative self-talk with positive affirmations.
3. “I am here for you.” A struggling mom will isolate herself from friends and family. It is important to visit her and just let her know that you are there. Sometimes all she needs is someone to sit with her and hold her hand and hug her. A loved one’s mere presence can bring comfort to a struggling mom. Face to face is best. If you are unable to visit her, send her a handwritten card. Send her a text. Write an e-mail. Pick up the phone.
4. “You are not alone.” Loneliness coupled with the tendency to isolate makes a struggling mom vulnerable. The support of her family and close friends aids in the recovery process. She will not expect you to fully understand her struggle. If you have not struggled with a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder, you would not be able truly understand the experience. What she needs the most is empathy and kindness.
5. “I am thinking of you.” I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping the lines of communication open with your struggling loved one. You do not have to say much. It is your presence and your encouragement that means the most. This simple phrase lets your struggling loved one that she is not forgotten and that she matters.
6. “I love you.” Unconditional love and support is what a struggling mom needs throughout her entire journey of recovery. Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders do a number on your loved one’s psyche. She may feel that she is not lovable. When you tell her you that your love her, you are giving her validation that she is loved, loving and lovable.