Dear partners, friends, and family of a woman with postpartum depression:
I know these times are confusing and scary but they will get better.
You are navigating life with a new baby. You are in the midst of sleepless nights, rigorous feeding schedules, and extreme joy as you soak up your little miracle. But the woman who gave birth to this bundle of joy is off, something isn’t right. You look at that woman you thought you knew so well, but suddenly you don’t recognize, and you might be feeling scared.
She might be crying a lot, treating you differently than in the past, she might be angry. She might act like she doesn’t want you around but also tell you she wants you to stay close by. She might fear being alone with the baby. She might be overly critical of how you change a diaper or bathe the baby. She might lose it over things that appear relatively small, like spilled milk. She might be difficult to be around.
You might be tempted to tell her to “chill out,” or to yell back at her. But, there is a reason for all of this and right now she needs you to be there and support her (even if she is making it difficult).
All of these mood swings, depression, anxiety, everything she is struggling with right now is not her fault. She has postpartum depression and anxiety. As angry or frustrated as you are with her right now, she can’t help it. She might not even realize how badly she is treating you. She might not recognize that she is always snapping at you. Inside she is torn apart. She feels awful. She hates herself for feeling the way that she does. She also doesn’t recognize herself. This time in her life was supposed to be amazing and beautiful and full of happiness and love but it’s not. She feels trapped in a mind and body that aren’t her own. She is trying so hard to be a good mother while feeling like she is failing at the most basic of things.
This woman, this mother, is probably struggling with feelings of self-worth. She looks at you and doesn’t feel worthy of your love and affection. She looks at her baby and wonders why on earth she was gifted such an incredible thing when she is so undeserving.
She is probably feeling very overwhelmed as she navigates this new life. She is beyond sleep deprived and still healing from the trauma of childbirth. There are so many things happening in her mind and body that she has no control over. Her hormones are struggling to regulate themselves. She hates this person she has become and she desperately wants to change it, to feel better, to treat you kinder.
Postpartum depression and anxiety cause women to respond to some of the most basic things with terror. That feeling inside of them, of the very worst happening, is very real. That is why going to the grocery store with the baby might be the scariest thing or leaving the house in general—what if I run out of diapers? What if the baby starts screaming? What if the baby gets hungry? What if the baby won’t nap? These seemingly simple things can cause a downward spiral of emotions.
So as much as you want to yell at her and be angry with her, she needs you. Instead of returning her unkind behavior with your own unkind response, take a moment to pause and tell yourself “This is out of her control. She can’t help it. She is struggling. She needs my love and support.” Then respond with empathy.
Get her help. Talk to her about how she is feeling. Reassure her that she is doing her best. Make a counseling appointment for her with someone who is trained in helping women postpartum. Take her to the appointment, hold her hand.
The kindness you show to her now will go a long way towards helping her heal and recover. I know it is hard to be kind when you feel hurt by her actions, but it is a path to a healthy, happier future. If you remember and focus on the fact that her actions are not personal, then it will be easier to let it go. I get it. No one wants to be treated this way. No one wants to see someone they care deeply about extremely upset and irritable all the time. But, trust me. She doesn’t want to feel this way. She doesn’t want to treat you this way.
Remember where you started. Remember how much you love her. These feelings won’t last forever. Eventually, in a few weeks or maybe months, you will start to recognize her again. She will start to show you love and affection. She will be able to leave the house without fear. She will get herself dressed and care for herself again. Everything will be ok.
Ready to begin counseling in Pennsylvania?
Our professionally-trained and licensed postpartum counselors have openings for online therapy. We work with clients throughout the state of Pennsylvania, including those in Lancaster, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Williamsport. Just call our office at 717-462-7003×1 and speak to our administrative assistant to help get started to feeling better. Postpartum depression and anxiety don’t have to dampen this beautiful time in your life. We can help.
Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC
Alison is the Founder and CEO of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice for women with three locations in Lancaster County, PA. She is passionate about reducing the stigma related to accessing mental health services. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.