This edition of What I'd Like For You To Know is one that is especially close to my heart; I had my own painful struggle with post-partum depression (PPD) after the birth of my third child. From e-mails I've received, I know it's all too familiar for many of you, as well.*
I laid on the floor, curled into a fetal position, in the hallway of our home. I had given birth only eight days ago. As I lay there with the rough carpet scratching my cheek, I knew I did not want to move – ever again. The unending nausea and physical pain would not go away, nor the inner turmoil that was trying to convince me life could not go on like this. I could still picture the scissors on the kitchen counter...
As hot tears poured from my swollen and tired eyes, I cried out repeatedly, "I can't do this anymore!" I could hear my husband in the background speaking urgently with the doctor about taking me back to the hospital. My head was swimming. What was I thinking, having a baby? I could not even look at my son much less hold him, which was so heartbreaking to experience after praying for him through two and a half years of infertility.
To this day, my heart hurts when those memories cross my mind. I was in the valley of the shadow of death and I hated that I knew exactly what that meant for me. I was in the throes of postpartum depression.
PPD is a serious illness that affects more women than you realize. It happened to affect me very quickly after my son's birth, but it can affect a mom anytime within the first year after giving birth. Postpartum mood disorders affect approximately 15% of women, regardless of whether it's a first child or subsequent children.
Through my journey, I learned a lot about postpartum mood disorders as well as how to help those women who come behind me suffering from them. It is my life's passion now to let them know they are not alone. I share my story freely in the hopes that another woman will make it out of the valley instead of succumbing to the despair.
What I'd like for you to know about what NOT to say: The underlying rule of thumb in this category is to not say anything at all. Just listen. Here is a top ten list of what not to say:
- "I don't see how anyone who just had a baby can be depressed!" (Said to me by the sales clerk when I purchased Brooke Shields' "Down Came the Rain.")
- "You need to have more faith." (My faith is all I have right now and I'm hanging on to it with everything I've got.)
- "You just need to pray more." (If you think I'm not praying to even take the next breath some days, then you'd better think again.)
- "Christians don't get depressed." (Oh, really? Read Psalms, David sure did struggle a lot.)
- "Just buck up and get over it." (Does that work for your cancer? Your diabetes? You try it and let me know.)
- "It's supposed to be the happiest time of your life! Enjoy it!" (I'm angry that it's supposed to be the happiest time of my life and I'm not enjoying it, but for now I am sick and do not need to hear the obvious.)
- "You should appreciate what you have; a thousand women would die to have a baby in their arms." (We went through infertility treatments, too! Infertility alone puts women at risk for PPD for a variety of reasons.)
- "It's just the baby blues." (There is a big difference between baby blues and PPD. See the chart here. And its really not helpful to minimize or shrug-off what someone is going through.)
- "You asked for it." (Referring to our prayers for our baby due to infertility issues. I did not ask to go through this. We prayed for a baby, not postpartum depression. PPD is no respecter of persons.)
- "You don't need medicines for this, those are just for the crazy people." (I believe God granted some amazing people with the gifts to create medicines that truly help people overcome and/or cope with serious illness - cancer, diabetes, heart disease, a headaches just to name a few. If you take medicine for any of those, how is a legitimate illness such as PPD any different? An anti-depressant helped me recover in a significant way and was a major contributor to saving my life.)
What I'd like for you to know about how to help a loved one going through PPD:
- Listen, love, hug.
- Practical help. Just show up and do something. It will be very hard for her to call and ask for help.
Take her out for coffee, a walk or a girls' night out.
- Email her a Scripture-a-day or a note of encouragement.
- Let her know she is a great mom! Her self-confidence is shot and her sense of what is "normal" is out the window.
- Husbands need a break, too. Most likely, the stress and worry is taking a toll on him. Encourage your husband or another guy to take him out for lunch.
- You may have to be more bold in your friendship if you notice she is not herself, suspect PPD, and need to question her and take her to the doctor yourself. It is ok to do that, just use wisdom.
What I'd like for you to know if you are suffering from PPD:
Please do not be ashamed of what you are going through. This is a legitimate illness and you need medical attention and counseling if you have not already sought it out. Talk about how you are feeling and ask for practical help with your child(ren) and around the house and don't feel badly for it! There is time enough later to "pay it forward" for someone else who will be hurting later. You can find more help at Out of the Valley Ministries and Postpartum Support International. And most importantly, you are not alone, this is NOT your fault, and you WILL get better!
*I second Tara's good advice: If you suspect you may be suffering from depression (post-partum or otherwise), I urge you, wholeheartedly, to seek medical attention right away. If you're too overwhelmed to seek help, find a friend you trust and ask them to help you take the next step.