My best friend was the first among our cohorts to have a baby so, sadly, she was also the first to suffer through postpartum depression (PPD). We didn't know she had PPD at the time, mostly because the majority of us didn't know it was a thing. For all we knew postpartum life was filled with nothing but joy, so anything sad or confusing that followed childbirth was just some weird fluke. Looking back, knowing what I know now, there are so many things I wish I had said when my friend had postpartum depression — especially since she suffered through it mostly alone and without any tools with which to cope.
My friend and I were talking about this time in our lives recently, and we both marveled at how naive we were about PPD back then. How did we not even recognize the signs? Did neither of us notice the complete change in her demeanor? How did her husband not know? Why didn't she tell me she was crying every day? Why didn't I ask how she was feeling and just assume that "babies make everything better"?
A few years later, when I suffered from PPD, my friend started to recognize what was happening to me, as the red flags were becoming eerily similar to what she had felt after she had had her own baby. She told me that when she was postpartum, she had thought this was "just the way things were supposed to be" when a woman became a mother. But when my doctor sounded the alarm that this most certainly was not "normal," she realized the entire six months she had spent agony weren't par for the parenting course, either. It was a wake-up call, for both of us. That was when she realized that she had had PPD back then, too. She just hadn't known what to call it, except "being a new mom who is all alone."
Luckily, her PPD went away on its own (mine required more medical intervention). But I wish I could go back in time and be a better friend to my new-mom BFF. She assures me it is all good now, but I'll always feel sad about how I let her down. If I could do things differently, this is what I would have said to her back then:
"Can I Come Over?"
My bestie largely suffered alone, in her own apartment, while I mainly did my own thing across town a mere ten blocks away. All it would have taken would have been for me to buzz her apartment and ask to come up. I wasn't really all that busy doing anything else, what with being out of a full-time job at the time. I think I was freelance writing books or what-not, but you know what? You make time for what is important. I was convinced my friend must have been on Cloud Nine because she was in the company of a perfect-looking newborn. What could be so bad about that?
"I'm Bringing You Food"
If I knew one thing about my friend (and I know many things) it was that the key to her heart was French pastries and Haagen Dazs ice cream. Food won't cure depression, to be sure, but who isn't cheered up just a teeny bit by pastries and ice cream?
"I Know You Feel Like You're Living In The Upside Down"
I had no idea that my friend was feeling like she was living a nightmare every living moment of her life when she was postpartum. This is something I could only truly empathize with after having experienced postpartum depression myself. When everyone around you, including the messages on television, are saying, "Aren't newborns awesome and the source of so much never-ending joy?" and you're feeling like sometimes you want to leave your infant with your partner and never come back, you start to feel a little crazy. Like The Madwoman in the Attic crazy.
I wish I had been able to say, "I know how you feel, but this is real, and you are not crazy."
Sometimes when someone is going through a really dark, difficult thing, it helps to know that a good friend has their back. I am this person's closest friend. I didn't have her back, though, because I didn't understand what was happening (and to be fair, she didn't either). But I should have noticed something was amiss with my BFF of forever after she had her newborn, and been able to tell her that whatever it was that was going on, she had me to lean on.
"You Are Not Crazy"
I know I touched on this earlier, but a person going through PPD often doesn't know she's going through PPD in the beginning. And in my friend's case, she never knew she had suffered it until years later, when more of our friends started having babies and talking about PPD.
My friend told me that, at the time and as she sat crying and rocking her newborn in her little apartment above a busy Brooklyn street in the sweltering July heat, she wondered if this is what motherhood is supposed to be like or if something was terribly wrong with her. She had no one to ask this question to. Some of the time she leaned toward the latter, and simply accepted that perhaps she was broken. If only I had been aware, and able to tell her that she was not broken and that nothing was wrong with her per se, but that yes, something was wrong and we needed to get her to the right professionals to help her get better.
"You Are A Wonderful Mom"
Through it all, though my friend was practically forcing herself to face every single new day, she dragged herself to the baby gym classes, and the baby yoga classes, and took her baby on long walks. Her baby knew nothing other than the fact that he was cuddled, fed, and entertained. On the nights when I visited her (still, naively thinking to myself, "Wow! She's so lucky she has a baby!") I would listen to her sweetly singing to her newborn as she rocked him in his room. Did it cross my mind to tell her she was doing a great job at this mom thing? Hell no. I didn't know that moms needed encouragement, or that she was having millions of thoughts per second about how she was failing her baby in every single way. Regrets, I have a few.
"I Love You"
I know she knew how much I loved her, because we've always been those kinds of friends, but it never hurts to say it out loud.
"It Is Going To Get Better"
If I had been the one to have experienced PPD first, there are many, many things I would have done differently for my friend. The number one thing I think I would have done, though, would have been to tell her that it does get better. You do see clearly through the fog, because eventually it lifts. You get your brain back. You don't want to run away from your baby, or leave it on a stoop somewhere and hope some other family will give it a good home. You stop hearing voices telling you what a horrible mother you are. You look forward to facing another day. It lifts. It gets better. I would have told her that again and again until she believed me, and until she saw it with her own eyes.