How to help a friend who is suffering from PPD … or simply needs a break from the trenches04/12/2011 at 3:00 pm | Posted in PPD | 12 Comments
Tags: newborn baby, perinatal mood disorder, postpartum depression
I talk a lot on this blog about postpartum depression and the resources available to new moms who might be suffering.
But I need to do better.
A recent email from a friend really opened my eyes. One of her friends recently gave birth and was diagnosed with postpartum depression. What I love about the particular friend who wrote me is that she wanted to be proactive. She wanted to know what really helped me during those dark days … what can she really do for her pal?
It got my wheels spinning. And made me realize there are probably a lot of people in her shoes, wanting to help friends, but not sure how to do it.
So here’s my attempt at a few ideas. Please (PLEASE) if you have others you’d like to share, add them to the list via the comments section. The more information we put out into the universe, the more women might benefit.
– The first thing I always do when a friend seems to be suffering is suggest that she talk to her doctor. It took me nine weeks to work up the courage to make this sort of appointment with my OB. No labs, no exam. Just her and me, sitting in her office. Me: talking and crying. Her: listening and helping. It was from that point forward that I had the capacity to put together a treatment plan. I really believe that I started to heal the moment I set foot in her office.
– Don’t be afraid to call. Really! Being a new mom is so isolating. I craved any sort of contact with the outside world. But I was too afraid to leave my home. And, I’ll be honest, I screened calls. I was ashamed and scared. BUT when I heard the voices of my friends and family who had left messages (or kept calling until I picked up), I felt worlds better. Worlds. If you’re afraid of the ringing phone waking the baby, don’t be. I kept my mobile on vibrate, so it was never an issue. And a number of my momma friends intentionally keep their ringers turned on to acclimate their babies to normal household sounds. Your call will not wake the baby. What it will do is help your friend feel loved and cared for. Even if she doesn’t answer.
– Same goes for visiting. After you and your pal agree on a time to visit, make her an offer she can’t refuse: “I’ll come over and hold the baby for an hour so you can ___________.” Take a shower. Eat a meal. Nap. Vacuum. Whatever she wants. This lets her off the hook for feeling the need to entertain or keep you company and also lets her know that you mean business: you really want to help. If it’s company that she craves, that’s great. Just give her another option. And make plans to come back.
– Another idea for a visit: invite your friend to be part of the process of cooking a meal. This might sound weird, but it creates normalcy for a new mom who otherwise feels like her world has been turned inside out. When Small Fry was a newborn, my sister and her sister-in-law came over to the house with all the fixings for waffles, bacon and fruit. Breakfast for dinner: score! But the best part of the meal was sitting with them in the kitchen, chatting and cutting up strawberries. We’d take turns holding Small Fry (who usually refused to be put down), prepping and cooking. I felt so NORMAL. It was hugely refreshing. And fun.
– If the weather permits, encourage your friend to get outside and take walks. Come over and join her for an hour. Push the stroller so she can remember what it feels like not to have another human being or piece of gear attached to her body. Getting outside was a big part of my recovery. I remember my first walk after Small Fry was born. I was so paralyzed with fear and so utterly exhausted, I couldn’t imagine setting foot outside the house. But Laura encouraged me. So we bundled up the baby and walked maybe three blocks. It was like a jolt of electricity. The air felt amazing in my lungs. The sun bathed my face. I didn’t last long away from my comfort zone, but it was a critical first step to countless other walks that not only helped save my mental health, but also brought back my pre-baby body.
Okay. My pregnant brain is maxed out.
What else would you add to this list? Even if you didn’t experience a postpartum mood disorder, what did you find most helpful from your friends when you were in the trenches? Or, tell us something you did for a new momma friend that put a smile on her face.