Even if you don’t consider yourself a particularly “spiritual” person, the process of creating life is arguably pretty miraculous. Nine months of excitement and anticipation ultimately culminate in the birth of a beautiful baby. A brand new life. Therefore, one would assume that the period directly following this grand event, would be the most exquisite of times. Deciphering every tiny coo and cry, memorizing every adorable feature, and leisurely taking in everything there is to know about this tiny, little person. A sort of falling in love, in reverse. In which some people fall in love wholly and unconditionally first, and then get to know later, bit by bit, and day by day. (Although, to be fair, this is not what happens for all people.)
However, for many mothers, the season after pregnancy is an incredibly exhausting, trying, and difficult time. The labor and delivery, paired with the seemingly never-ending sleepless nights with a newborn, quickly deplete physical energy stores. Furthermore, aside from the physical relationship of carrying the child, some moms may feel little to no emotional connection with them. Instead of sporting the “glow” of new motherhood, these moms may feel overwhelmed, saddened, unsure, or anxious around their new arrivals. While some weepiness is common during the first two weeks post-partum, otherwise known as the “baby blues”, persistent and more intense symptoms may be a sign of postpartum depression. Loved ones may find these emotions and behaviors bewildering at first, but rest assured that there are plenty of ways that one can help someone suffering from postpartum depression.
I mean, honestly, is there any situation where food isn't appropriate? Even if it doesn't "help" it sure as hell isn't going to hurt. This is at the top of the list because it's one of the simplest and most effective methods to take care of a new mom. The hustle and bustle of adjusting to life with a newborn means that mothers often take care of themselves last. She’ll likely be eating whatever is fastest and easiest, if she is eating at all. Bring healthy, pre-cooked dinner options that need only be warmed. If you, like me, are no Julia Child in the kitchen, you might be tempted to simply order a pizza or grab some greasy to-go food for her — don’t (unless she asks for that stuff specifically, in which case, totally do). Instead, bring some chopped up fruit, veggies, or nuts for an easy grab-and-go snack. There is a growing body of research on the mind/body connection, and in the days and weeks after birth, she will need to fuel her body with healthy, mood-boosting foods in order to get back to tip top shape.
Help Out Around The House
No need to comment on the fact that the house may be in shambles, or announce your intent to help tackle the mess — just dive right in. Take a look around and start working on whatever seems to be the most pressing. Laundry and dishes are usually big stress culprits for new moms, with the dramatic influx of things like tiny pajamas and baby bottles in constant need of washing. If she asks what you’re up to, throw her a lame excuse about drinking too much coffee and not being able to sit still. The idea here is to help, not to make her feel shamed or judged.
Offer To Babysit
When newborn snuggles are up for grabs, everyone's first in line to swoop in and offer to watch the baby. However, this is not always helpful. For a new mom, the idea of being separated from her baby can be incredibly anxiety provoking. Be sensitive to this notion and offer to watch over the baby, for short periods of time, in her own home. This will allow mom enough time to briefly rest and recharge with a shower or a nap, without causing any undue stress. If she has older children, it is also helpful to offer to take them for a few hours. (Now those you can take out of the house.) This will help assuage any mommy guilt she might be experiencing and allow her time to bond with her newest addition.
Encourage Her To Get Out Of The House
No matter how large your abode, it will begin to feel suffocating after days or weeks without leaving. Cabin fever is the pits. Try to encourage her to get out of the house, even if it's just for brief spurts of time. Something as simple as a short walk together around the neighborhood can impact mood regulation. Research has long-since found that exercise lowers cortisol levels, and the fresh air can’t hurt either.
On the other side of this is an important counter-point: Encouraging your friend to get out of the house, and helping her create space in her day to do so, is great. But don't push. She might not want to go out. It might trigger anxiety, or maybe she just... can't, at this point. If this is the case, a great thing to do would be to immediately shrug it off, like, "Cool, then let's watch a movie! Even better!" The goal should be to support her in doing things that are good and healthy, but to also support her in doing just literally whatever she needs in any given moment. It's not about pushing, and it's not about judging, and it's definitely not about making her feel like a failure for the "positive, healthy, normal" things that she feels unable to do.
Listen To Her
One of the most powerful tools you will have at your disposal is also one of the simplest. If your friend is ready and willing to open up about what she is thinking and how she has been feeling, then listen. Just listen. Be with her in the moment and reserve your judgement. Truly hear her out. Offer your empathy and friendship. As difficult as it may be, try not to listen with the intention of “fixing” anything. There are some things that only time can fix. Just listen with the intent to be supportive.
Offer To Bring Her Into Your Moms Group If You Have One (Don't We All? Isn't That What Facebook Is For?)
When I first had my son, one of the first things I did was seek out a new moms group. Despite my hermit-like, introverted personality, I knew I was way in over my head and needed support. For me, the transition into parenthood was difficult and isolating. Because my husband worked, and I stayed home with our newborn all day, even he couldn’t relate to my experience entirely. Finding other like-minded moms who were willing to be vulnerable and share their ups and downs with me was my saving grace. For this reason, I suggest finding a support system of moms to any and all new moms I cross paths with. For someone suffering from postpartum depression, the idea of finding and seeking out a moms group might feel overwhelming, so maybe do some leg work for her. Suggest a few great groups that you find online or through the grapevine. Perhaps even offer to attend a meeting with her until she feels comfortable enough to branch out on her own. It is remarkably healing to find other women who are right there in the trenches with you.
Support Her Seeking Professional Help
If she has tried various DIY solutions to no avail, or if her symptoms are severe and persistent, or hell, even if she's just like "eh, best not f*ck around with my health — time to enlist the pros to get me back to good!" you should never be anything but unwaveringly supportive of whatever path your friend chooses to treat her PPD. Postpartum depression is common and treatable, but that actually means it requires treatment. So cheer her on as she bravely pursues the help that this affliction very much requires. Remind her that things can and will get better, and that you'll be by her side the whole time (and that yes, you'll bring pizza if she wants it).
Images: Allison Gore/Romper; Giphy(7)