For me, one of the most difficult parts about postpartum anxiety was talking about it. I just didn't know how. I was constantly worried — about my baby, that something horrible would happen, that I was a bad mom — but I didn’t want to tell anyone. I just knew people would judge me. When I found out my friend had postpartum anxiety, too, I didn't know how to talk to her about it, either. Looking back, there are so many things I wish I said to my friend with postpartum anxiety. After all, I've been there. I just didn't know where to start.
It probably would have been best to begin a necessary conversation by telling my dear friend that I was worried about her. When I had postpartum anxiety (PPA), I thought what I was experiencing was just "normal" new mom stuff. I didn’t know it wasn’t normal to sit awake at night staring at my newborn, worrying that they might stop breathing the moment I closed my eyes. Or to obsess over wet diapers, ounces of breast milk, or diaper rashes. I didn't realize it wasn't normal to obsess about what might happen if we left the house, which kept me inside, alone, and isolated.
I also wish I had told my friend there's help waiting for her; that she didn’t have to suffer; that enduring internal pain isn't the benchmark of good parenting. I knew, from experience, that therapy and medication can really help. I knew how helpful calling your doctor or mentioning how you feel during your postpartum appointment could be. Not only did these help me deal with my anxiety in a healthy way, they also helped with physical symptoms like insomnia, loss of appetite, restlessness, and dizziness, too. I wish I could have been brave enough to talk about my own anxiety, so I could have ended up helping my friend face her own.
Mostly, I just wish I had told her that I was holding space for her. I didn't need her to need me or to be ready to get help or talk about her anxiety if she wasn't feeling up to it. I just wanted her to know that if she needed to unload, wanted advice, or just wanted to sit in silence without having someone expect anything of her, I was there. I wish I had spoken up. I wish I had said the following things:
"I've Been There"
I’ve been there. It’s scary to feel like your worst new-mom fears are coming true. While my experience might be different from yours, my dearest friend, I understand the kind of anxiety that causes you to obsessively count diapers, listen for swallows, track ounces of formula, and stare at your baby all night long.
I wish I had told my friend that I was her person if she was looking for commiseration.
"Step Away From The Internet"
Dr. Google is the anxious new mom’s worst enemy. No matter how bad things are, I guarantee that Dr. Google will make them seem so much worse. I wish I had warned her to set down her phone.
"Talk To Your Doctor"
PPA is super common. It’s commonality isn't all that surprising, either, if you consider how stressful, hormone-filled, and intense postpartum life truly is. If it all becomes too overwhelming, though, it’s definitely worth a mention to your doctor or midwife. They can help where your other supports leave off.
"Don't Do This Alone"
I wish I had told my friend how important getting support was (and is, and always will be, honestly). Even if it wasn’t from me, my friend deserved the help she needed. It’s so important to find unbiased, nonjudgmental people to help support you through this adventure called parenthood. You don’t have to do it alone. There’s a village to help.
"Medication Might Help"
Medication might be needed to help stabilize your mood and reduce your anxiety. I wish I had stressed the importance of not being ashamed to ask for meds, or to accept them if your health care provider thinks they are worth a try.
Then again, I know how hard it can be when you think people will judge you for your private, necessary health decisions. Trust me.
"I’m Here If You Need Me"
I wish I had told my friend to call me. In the same breath, I wish I would have said that if she didn't want to call or text me regularly, that's OK, too. (Believe me, I totally get it).
Most importantly, I wish I had checked in on her once in a while, because I get how hard it can be to reach out. I know what it's like to feel embarrassed, as if you're burdening someone else with your problems.
"Here’s What Works For Me"
My best friends that have helped me combat my anxiety have been a combination of medications, therapy, support groups, and self-care. Even a short work out, shower, or some breathing can help. Not only do I wish my friend new I had PPA, but I wish I told her what I tried that helped me make it through.
"You Don’t Have To Come To [Insert Social Function Here]"
I wish I had told my friend that although I was not going to stop inviting her out or over to my house, I understood if she didn’t come. Sometimes leaving the house with a newborn can be (or feel) overwhelming. The last thing I want is for my invitation to cause more stress.
"I’m Holding Space For You"
When I reach out for help or accept help from someone, the worst feeling is feeling like I am expected to do or say the right things. It makes me so anxious. I wish I had told my friend that I would be there for her no matter what — on her terms, not mine — with no judgement and no expectations. That's one thing she could definitely check off her huge list of worries.