It used to be that when you thought of the USA you thought of freedom, triumph, and success. These days, it’s becoming more and more evident just how many ways in which that is not the case. We are living in a time where all of America’s big taboo topics seem to be simultaneously in the foreground . While the various topics under the umbrellas of equality and equity are being juggled around, it seems as though one topic in particular continues to get conveniently swept under the rug: mental health.
Whether it be PTSD, anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue, no one seems to have time to look at what’s clearly in front of them.
11-20% of women who give birth each year are reported to have postpartum depression. This number doesn’t include the countless women who suffer silently and alone.
This week in my home city here in SOCAL, a mother took the life of her 8 week old son and then took her own life.
The local news released a brief article describing the event. How sad. How unfortunate. “Please contact us if you know anything.”
My daughter is just over a year old now but the memories of those first few weeks have hardly left me. While I’m greatful that the idea of harming her never crossed my mind, I had plenty of other thoughts to work myself through.
In the immediacy of the depression I was, in fact, alone. If not for the breastfeeding support group I was (and still am) in, I fear I may have abandoned my child in some way or another. And my guilt still tells me that, for one night, I did just that.
10 hours of emotional hell is too long. Dragging yourself out by your own bleeding fingernails (metaphorically, still) is too hard.
I wish this mother had had the support that I had from a tribe of mothers unafraid to reach out and be open. A tribe of women with been-there-done-that experience and here-and-now compassion.
Here are a few things you can do to help any mother through a difficult time, whether she be a few days postpartum or a few years. Postpartum depression has no time line.
Ask her how she’s doing.
This is easily do able. Sometimes all she needs is for someone to be there, ready and willing to listen. Don’t make her feel bad about repeating the same problems you heard last week. All of it is most certainly still a problem. Just be there open and willing to understand.
Offer your hands.
The hardest things to get done sometimes when you have a child around are the little things. Dishes, vacuuming, changing sheets, restocking toilet paper. Offer to handle the small chores at times when she needs a moment to re-enter herself. Or, when she doesn’t; getting the small stuff out of the way when she’s doing great will give her the chance to get ahead of the curve.
Remind her of what’s important.
Remind her that she’s doing an amazing job. Every day she gets through, no matter how messily it may get done, is a triumph. And every once in a while, remind her that it’s OK to take time to take care of herself. Self care is one of the most important things for a mom to remember. The benefits of a shower, eating well, and drinking enough water are legion, but brushing her teeth and combing her hair are more than just mundane tasks when she’s gone two weeks without doing either. They can feel like the most luxurious spa day given enough time without them.