When I became a mother, a number of friends and family members warned me about losing non-mom friends. "They won't be able to understand," and "You'll have less time for them," were just a few of the concerned sentiments shared with me. Turns out, there was no need. I had two non-mom friends in the labor and delivery room with me the day my son was born, and my non-mom friend helped me when I was suffering from postpartum depression. She didn't have to go through pregnancy, labor, delivery, and she didn't have to be in the throes of motherhood, in order to be a supportive, understanding and loving friend.
Very few people knew I was suffering from postpartum depression the first few months I was a new mom. In fact, only three people knew: my mother, my partner, and my best friend of over 10 years. I was afraid to talk about it with anyone else, as the social stigma attached to postpartum depression wasn't lost on me. I knew that certain people would think I was a "bad mom" or that I was already failing at some an important responsibility. Not my best friend, though. I knew that she would be supportive, regardless. I knew that she would be understanding and she would never judge me and she would be the one to remind that, with help, this too shall pass. She didn't have to experience it for herself to know the signs and symptoms. She didn't have to be a "mom" to be able to help me with my newborn son. All she really had to do was be a friend and, well, she's pretty damn wonderful at that.
So, if you're suffering from depression, don't think that your support network is limited to other moms. If you're a non-mom friend of a mom who has postpartum depression, don't think that you can't be helpful. The following are just a few of the ways you can be supportive:
Research Postpartum Depression Yourself...
It's not your friend's job to educate you on postpartum depression, the signs, the symptoms or the ways in which you (or anyone else) can help. Trust me, she has enough going on; she doesn't need to add "teacher" to her list of many titles. Instead, take the time to do your own research so you can be as informed, and therefore as helpful, as possible.
I can't tell you how awesome it was to not have to sit down and explain to my non-mom friend what postpartum depression was. All I had to say was that I had it, and she was figuring things out on her own. I felt understood, even when I didn't necessarily understand what was really going on with me, or why my experience as a new mom wasn't what I had initially thought it was going to be.
...So You Know How You Can Help
Because my friend had researched postpartum depression, and the ways that you can support someone suffering from postpartum depression, she rarely waited around for me to ask for help. Instead, she just did things that she knew would benefit me.
Of course, this means that your friend needs to know who you are as an individual (and on a very personal level) so that they don't step over boundaries and actually do more damage. My best friend knew me, though, so she knew I wouldn't be offended if she took the baby so I could sleep, or bring over a meal, or do one of the other many things she did that made me feel like I wasn't going through postpartum depression alone.
Don't Say "I Know What You're Going Through." Because You Don't...
Honestly, there's nothing worse than having someone invalidate your feelings, experience or story by saying, "Oh yeah, I know exactly what you're going through," especially when it's physically impossible for them to know exactly what you'e going through.
Even your friend suffers from depression or another mental health issue, they don't know what it's like to be pregnant, go through labor and delivery, and then experience the overwhelming fog that is postpartum depression. Hearing someone say they "get it," even if they had the best of intentions, just makes you feel like you have no right to feel the way you're feeling, or that your friend doesn't want to hear anything you have to say because they've "been there, done that."
...Instead, Let Your Friend Know That You're There To Help Anyway You Can
Instead of listening to my friend tell me about that one friend-of-a-friend she knows that had postpartum depression (again, not helpful) she simply asked me how she could help. She didn't try to relate to me, because she knew she couldn't, and knowing that she was someone who would support me and not someone who wanted to add to the experience by talking about her own (or someone else's) was everything.
Bring Pre-Cooked Meals Over
When I was suffering from postpartum depression, the only thing it seemed I had energy for was feeding my baby (and even that was taxing). I didn't want to shower; I didn't want to leave the house; I didn't want to clean or cook or do one of the many hundred things you need to do as an adult and as a new mom.
Thankfully, I had a wonderfully supportive friend who either came over to cook, or brought over pre-cooked meals so my partner and I didn't have to worry about dinner. When my to-do list seemed overwhelming (even though it was pretty basic) I had an understanding friend to help me cross things off that list.
Offer To Babysit...
Offering to babysit is so helpful, but keep in mind that it might be difficult (or damn near impossible) for a new mom to feel comfortable letting someone else watch their baby.
At least, that was my problem. My postpartum depression made me extremely anxious (I couldn't sleep because I was so afraid that if I didn't watch my son's chest rise and fall, he would stop breathing and die) so I couldn't bring myself to leave my son with anyone, for a very long time. Still, my friend offered to come over and babysit while I was still in the house, so I could go lay down and sleep knowing that my son was being watched by someone I loved and trusted. I found a happy medium, and the ability to rest and actually sleep, helped me get through my postpartum depression.
...Or Tag Along When She Goes Out To Run Errands
Again, just being there was helpful. I was afraid to take my son out of the house on my own, but to have an extra set up hands to assist me when I was at the grocery store or the bank or even the park, was comforting.
Listen To Her
Sometimes I didn't want to see or speak to anyone. Other times, I felt like I had to confide in someone or the terrifying thoughts bombarding my brain were going to drive me clinically insane. Thankfully, I knew I could call my best friend and, even though she wasn't a mom who could completely understand what I was going through, she would listen. Sometimes, just a pair of sympathetic ears is all you need to feel like you're not alone.
Refuse To Judge Her
Very few people in my life knew I was suffering from postpartum depression. In fact, there were only three people who I felt comfortable talking to. I was so afraid that if people knew what I was going through, they would assume I was a bad mother or that I had made a terrible mistake when I decided to become a mother or that my son was somehow in danger.
To have a friend I knew I could talk to, who wouldn't judge me or automatically assume I was an unfit parent, was a lifeline I didn't know I needed until it was thrown in my direction. The social stigma attached to postpartum depression is why so many women refuse to talk about it, but I knew I had at least one person in my life who would love me for me, regardless and always.
Compliment Her On Her Parenting, Even If She Doesn't Necessarily Believe You
I thought I was failing as a new mom, because I didn't automatically bond with my child or because I was too afraid he was going to die or because I wasn't feeling as happy as so many other new moms seem to feel. My friend reminded me that I was a great mother, and that postpartum depression doesn't mean I am failing as a mother or that I'm destined to be a "bad mom."
Sometimes, I didn't believe her. Honestly, sometimes that compliment didn't really help at all. Other times, it did. Other times, it was the perspective I needed to remind myself that I was going to get through postpartum depression, and what I thought motherhood would be like would pale in comparison to how wonderfully it was actually going to be.
If your friend doesn't want anyone to visit for a while, including you, be patient. If your friend doesn't want to go out or fails to show up to a birthday party she had previously promised you she was going to go to, be patient. She is trying, I guarantee you.
Offer To Go To Any Doctor Appointments With Her (If She Feels Comfortable, Of Course)
I was, honestly, a little scared to go to that first doctor's appointment that confirmed I had postpartum depression. Having someone there that I trust, was so very helpful. Not only could she help with the baby when I needed to focus on what was being said to me (or when I needed to answer questions or fill out paperwork) but I didn't feel alone. I could look at my friend and see her smiling back at me, reminding me that she was confident in my decision to seek out help. I could grab her hand when it all felt so overwhelming and she would give my hand a squeeze, letting me know that I wasn't alone.