Just a few days ago Nashville star Hayden Panettiere made headlines when she checked into a medical facility to undergo treatment for postpartum depression. Now, Panettiere hasn’t exactly been secretive about her struggles with depression after giving birth to her daughter, Kaya Evdokia last December – her first child with fiancé Wladimir Klitschko. Just last month, on Live! With Kelly and Michael, she said:
“It’s something a lot of women experience. When (you’re told) about postpartum depression you think it’s ‘I feel negative feelings towards my child, I want to injure or hurt my child’ — I’ve never, ever had those feelings. Some women do. But you don’t realize how broad of a spectrum you can really experience that on. It’s something that needs to be talked about. Women need to know that they’re not alone, and that it does heal.”
So why is PPD suddenly in the headlines? I thinks Panettiere summed that up, too:
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding — there’s a lot of people out there that think that it’s not real, that it’s not true, that it’s something that’s made up in their minds, that ‘Oh, it’s hormones.’ They brush it off. It’s something that’s completely uncontrollable. It’s really painful and it’s really scary and women need a lot of support.”
When it comes down to it, PPD is frighteningly common – between 5% and 25% of women might be affected by postpartum depression – and even more frighteningly not talked about. In my own prenatal care, I didn’t get much information about postpartum depression beyond a few questions about how I was feeling at my six-week post-birth follow up. I said I was fine because I was, but I just as easily could have said I was fine because I was scared or ashamed to admit I wasn’t.
Considering how common PPD is, chances are good you know someone who has struggled with it even if none of your mom friends has ever mentioned it. Maybe they never will. But if you suspect a friend who recently or even not so recently is only just hanging on, here are some ways you can help:
Just listen – there is a lot of stigma attached to post-partum depression and plenty of overt criticism, too. As sad as it sounds, you may be the only one who simply listens to what your friend has to say. Accept that what she is feeling is genuine and not just a phase. Don’t assume it’s just a regular case of ‘baby blues’. Even if some of what your friend says is shocking (suicidal thoughts are not uncommon), resist the urge to judge.
Be patient – you may think you have all the answers because you’ve struggled with motherhood yourself, but zip your lip if you feel like you need to start rattling off “helpful” suggestions. It’s not that your mom friend doesn’t understand something is wrong – she does – but that she doesn’t need more information about essential oils, yoga, the power of fresh air, or how mindfulness will make it all okay.
Offer to take the baby – not in a ‘go sort yourself out and I’ll sit’ kind of way but framed as you wanting very much to spend some time with that gorgeous baby. A few hours alone isn’t a cure-all for post-partum depression but a breather for mama can definitely help ease feelings of distress in the moment. Again, don’t make it seem like you felt like your mom friend was asking for help since many of us moms feel really guilty about needing help. And if she has older kids, take them, too.
Bring food – don’t ask if you can bring it, just make something you know she and her family will eat and drop it off. Best case, she really needed it that day. Worst case, it goes in the freezer until she really needs it. Feeding a family is hard enough with a baby; when you’re battling serious postpartum depression it can feel impossible. Just don’t drop in unannounced because that can be very stressful for a mom who isn’t feeling like herself.
Go behind her back – if she isn’t open to talking to you about treatment, talk to your mom friend’s partner. He or she may feel unable to help your friend find her way back to normal and because of needs of the baby, may not have the bandwidth to go digging for resources. Postpartum Support International and this list from Postpartum Progress are two great places to start searching for help.
Remind her that she’s not alone – she may feel alone, but she’s not. Thousands of women suffer with postpartum depression. There are many online communities and in person support groups waiting to embrace your mom friend. And of course you are there and she has other people who care about her. Look for ways to lighten her load without being asked and encourage your social circle to do the same.
Don’t disappear – when a mom friend isn’t returning calls or emails and isn’t showing up for social activities, people in her life may assume she wants space and retreat. But right now your friend with PPD is fighting a tough battle and may need you more than ever. Assume the ball is in your court until further notice and just check in with her regularly. Respect her boundaries but don’t assume that not wanting to chat today means she won’t want to chat tomorrow or the day after.
Remember, the road to healing might not be easy for your friend but it will be better because you are there.