Because right now, things are kind of confusing.
No matter how well a woman plans out her pregnancy and the birth of her child, there's one thing most never expect to happen — postpartum depression. Feelings of embarrassment, shame, or guilt cloud her thinking and are the number one reason why women with postpartum depression are too afraid to get help.
Sadly, other mothers who have never experienced the debilitating impact of postpartum depression confuse matters. Because they don't really understand the difference between what's called "baby blues" and the depths of despair a woman who had clinical postpartum depression feels. As a result, they may give advice or say things that hurt more than help.
Although the baby blues and postpartum depression share similarities such as fatigue, feeling overwhelmed, and poor memory, the differences are quite significant and longstanding. A mother experiencing post partum depression can become so gripped by depression she not only feels sad, in extreme cases, she may contemplate suicide.
There's also some misunderstanding on why it happens.
It doesn't matter if you are able to be home with your child for an extended time after birth, or if you have to rush back to work at the 6-week mark. Postpartum depression does not discriminate on social status, economic circumstances, or how much support a mother has when baby arrives. It happens, and it's extremely confusing to the woman who experiences it.
For me, there was lots of confusion as to why I had postpartum depression.
I never knew anyone else had experienced what I felt. It didn't run in my family. My mother gave birth to four children and never experienced it. My sister with her first unexpected pregnancy worked while pregnant and returned back to work shortly after her child was born. She glowed while pregnant and was even more radiant afterward.
I wasn't so lucky.
It didn't matter that was able to be a stay-at-home mom, or give birth naturally and have no problems breastfeeding — I was hit hard with depression anyway.
It made no sense. I thought I did things right. I was in love with a wonderful man and the mother of his first child. My baby was healthy and strong. Then, a few weeks later, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. Depression struck out of nowhere. No matter how "right" everything was, I couldn't run from the dark cloud that poured over my emotions.
It's not easy telling others how miserable you feel when everyone thinks you should be happy. It's even more difficult to open up about how sad and lonely you are when your symptoms don't reflect your circumstances. Sometimes depression, after such a beautiful life experience, can make you feel like a failed mother when in actuality, you're doing great. You might ask yourself, "How can I be depressed?" and no answer resolves the problem.
Outside of encouraging the mom who struggles with these emotions to get help, There are a few things a mother struggling with postpartum depression needs you to know as you support her during this tough time:
1. These feelings are hormonal and do not mean I regret having my child.
The most confusing part of feeling this way is that I love my child more than anything in this world. I need you to help make things less confusing right now, not more. When you say that, it shuts me down, and right now, I need to be open.
2. Focusing on the joy of motherhood does not help the sadness go away. Sometimes it makes it worse.
Sometimes my depression gets the best of me. It tells me I'm weak, I've failed, and that things will never get better. Some days are easier than others. Right now, I need self-care as I care for my child. Please don't make me feel guilty for doing both.
3. My feelings don't make me a bad mother.
If you see my baby is happy, fed, safe, and well-cared for please let me know how proud you are of me. If you see me struggling, offer to help.
4. I know this will pass. I just need you to remind me that it will be okay in time.
The day before I worried that tomorrow I'd still feel this way. When I feel hopeless, it's your encouragement that pulls me through. Read up on the problem and others who have shared their story. I need to hear their stories. I need you to tell them to me.
5. I may want your company and help, I'm just too afraid to keep asking. So, offer when you can even if you think I'll say, "No."
The reason I might decline is because I'm afraid you'll judge me. See beyond my moodiness and offer anyway.
6. Invite me to be active.
Suggest a walk at the mall or a park. Exercise helps, but my depression sometimes keeps me from doing the right thing. Our time together is an opportunity to remind me of the beauty in life. I may say I need to rest but depression can make me tired. If I tell you I've been sleeping all day, help me do the next best thing. Exercise is good for me.
7. Don't tell me things that minimize my feelings.
I know you mean well, but trying to take my mind off of how I feel by saying that "It's normal," "You just need to be more productive," or suggest I need to go on medication will not help. Instead, listen to my fears. Hold my hand. Show me that you're my friend. Your love means the world to me right now.