When I was a new mom, my friends surprised me: they loved me in ways I didn’t know I needed. This is a post from the archives about what I learned about caring for friends going through postpartum after experiencing it myself. This conversation is by no means complete, so if you have anything to add–jump in the comments and let’s learn from each other.
Originally written May 13, 2013.
On a Tuesday afternoon, a week after Keegan was born, my phone rang. I recognized the area code, so I answered, hoping it would be someone with answers to something.
“Hi, is this Anne Wilson?”
“Hi, Anne! I’m one of the nurses from your hospital. I was just calling to check in and see how you and your baby are doing.”
“So . . . how are you doing?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? Honey, are you crying?”
“Oh, sweetheart. It’s going to get better. I wouldn’t go back to the first few weeks with my first for anything. I know it’s so hard right now, but it does get better.”
“When? When does it get better?”
I was standing in my kitchen, letting the tears flow into the sink with water running, hurling down handfuls of granola, forcing myself to eat something—anything—that resembled nourishment and substance. I was in full-on-ugly-cry-mode, the kind that makes everyone in the room uncomfortable, and all I could think was, “When will this baby sleep?” I was exhausted, nerve-wracked, and recovering from a serious surgery. All my hopes and dreams of childbirth, nursing, and motherhood seemed to be laughing back at me and the only word that came to mind when I looked into my son’s eyes was simply . . .
Nothing was going as I planned. Nothing seemed to work. Where was this feeling of euphoric love mothers wrote about, spoke about, told stories about? I didn’t feel it; I could only think about sleep. And now that I know him, I so desperately wish I could go back to that time, stare that woman in the face, and say, “You can do this. All those people who say ‘it’s going to get better’? They’re not lying to you. It will.”
A few friends have asked us since if there was anything that would have helped us through that time. And honestly, there isn’t. We just had to make it through. But, there are some words of wisdom I can share with those that are close to someone going through postpartum.
A few disclaimers: I am not a psychologist or a doctor. I write this purely as someone who’s been there, not an expert. Also, every woman is different. Some may snap out of it (like I did), and for some, it may linger for months, if not years. If you are close to a woman battling postpartum depression, be her advocate and delicately tell her if you think she may be suffering from depression. There is no shame in getting help.
1. Love her well, and from a distance.
I don’t mean that you can’t go over to her house. I wanted to show Keegan off to the entire world. But try not overstay your welcome, as it can be very nerve-wracking for the new mother (and father). She’s just trying to keep her head on her body, and the added pressure of hosting a guest for a long period can be a little much.
2. Be specific.
Most mothers I’ve talked to aren’t sure how to brush their teeth during the newborn fog. So when someone says, “Just let me know if I can help you!” it’s overwhelming and quite frankly, goes unnoticed. We know the intentions are genuine, but we don’t know what to say back. Instead, offer to do something very specific, like, “Can I come rock a screaming baby for you?” or, “Can I come do your laundry?” or, “Can I come clean your kitchen?” Then follow that with, “Give me a time and I’ll be there, no pressure to entertain me.” Then? Show up. One of my friends came over one morning, and after leaving her downstairs for five minutes, I came down to a clean kitchen and empty dishwasher. I could’ve cried. Another friend came one night while Keegan had been screaming 2+ hours and rocked him to sleep while we sat on the couch and stared at each other. Had we had the hydration necessary to produce real tears, Kyle and I both would have cried.
3. Just go with it.
Your friend might not be recognizable to you for a month (or two, or three). Just go with it. You may go days (or weeks) without hearing back from her after you’ve texted or called. Choose not to be offended. Try to avoid comments (even joking) about how she’s “a little hormonal” or “going crazy.” She knows she’s not quite herself, and she wishes she was, and all she needs now is encouragement, love, and support. Save the jokes for a year from now. They’ll (most likely) be funny then. But not yet.
4. Feed them.
During our first weekend home with Keegan, Kyle and I went an entire day without eating real food. No, we didn’t eat paper, but we chugged down glasses of milk as substitutes for food because we were that sleep-deprived. I was so grateful for all the people who brought us meals that took mere seconds to prepare. If I thought about it before, I would’ve drafted a letter to give each one of them about the meaning of food and how their gift was like a thousand birthdays. Because it was.
5. Give the husband a big hug. And a cup of coffee.
I can’t speak to this because I’m not the husband, but from the wife’s perspective, I wish I could go back to that time and thank him so much more than I did. He did everything for us those first few weeks, and I didn’t have the energy to give him the thanks he deserved.
So there’s my non-professional input on how to help a friend who just brought a bundle of screaming love home from the hospital. She is going to be wearing different skin for a while, and that’s okay. Just go with it.