The day after I arrived home with my new baby boy, I was hit with severe postpartum depression. I never thought that could happen and it completely blindsided me. I went from filling out all 1’s on the happy scale the nurse gives you before sending you home to be responsible for a new tiny human, to being at home thinking I had made a terrible mistake becoming a mother.
I knew something was very wrong when instead of obsessing about my adorable baby boy, I found myself obsessively thinking of ways I could get sick or hurt so I could return to the hospital where everyone would have to take care of me and I never had to take care of a baby. Riddled with feeling of guilt and failure and confusion, I wondered what these crazy thoughts meant for me as a mom. And what would others say about me if they knew?
How could I be honest with my friends who were so excited about the new addition to their mom tribe? What would they think of me when they realized I didn’t feel anything close to the magic, bliss, and love a new mom is supposed to experience? How could I tell them the only thing I felt was paralyzing anxiety that made it difficult to do anything but cry: cry in my bed, cry in the shower, cry on the bathroom floor, cry as I fed my son, while simultaneously appealing to a higher power to make it stop so I could just love my new baby boy and be a good mother to him?
How could I admit I resented them for being so much better at motherhood than me? So much better at breastfeeding. So much better at simply wanting to spend time with their babies. And so much more confident about leaving the house alone with them, something I was terrified (and took me almost six months) to do.
Not one of my friends had suffered from postpartum depression. I didn’t even know postpartum depression was the reason for my crazy thoughts and newfound inability to stop crying until I found the right therapist who diagnosed me.
Not only did I have postpartum depression, but now I had to start taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicine to cope with motherhood. Again, what would my friends think? From what I knew of other moms (close friends and the ones on social media I didn’t know personally), motherhood was easy and came naturally. I only saw myself as a horrible mom and a failure. I failed at breastfeeding. I failed at Pinterest. I failed at wanting to be a mother. I failed at loving being a mother. Would my friends judge me as harshly as I judged myself?
The answer is, of course not. Even though none of my close friends could fully understand what I was going through, they never abandoned me or made me feel ashamed. They supported me, educated themselves about PPD and were my biggest cheerleaders.
Here are seven ways my friends helped while I battled postpartum depression.
1. They didn’t push.
None of my closest friends experienced postpartum depression, which made it very difficult for them to understand what I was going through. The anxiety, the tears and the exhaustion made it difficult to have to explain it–-the therapy sessions, the procsss of finding the right medications, the not wanting anything to do with my son, the desire to never leave my bed ever again, the overwhelming guilt and so much more. My friends never pushed me. They never forced me to answer questions or explain what postpartum depression was like for me. They let me know they would always be there to talk when I was ready. They took the pressure away of having to explain myself, a huge relief for me.
2. They didn’t judge.
My friends never judged me for having an illness they couldn’t fully understand. They educated themselves about what I was going through and always kept an open mind. If I felt like sharing something shocking such as wanting to run away and never come back or that I wasn’t sure I had any feelings for my new baby, they never made me feel bad. Not once did any of my friends try to assert their opinions or views about formula feeding or medication or my aversion to mommy and me groups. They never pretended to know better. They never made me feel guilty. They supported all my choices and tried to help me remember that I was sick with a real illness, that I was not a horrible mother.
3. They reached out without expecting anything in return.
During the long months of my postpartum depression battle, my friends regularly called, emailed, and sent text messages filled with encouragement and love. “I love you.” “I’m thinking about you.” “You’ve got this.” “You’re strong.” “I’m proud of you.” “I’m always here for you.” “Your baby is taken care of and lucky to have such a fighter as his mom.” And not once, did any friend expect a response. They all knew that socializing was exhausting for me, but they selflessly kept in touch anyway.
4. They talked behind my back.
After I got better, I found out that my friends had a group email going back and forth for months. If anyone had spoken to me, they told the group. If I made progress, they told the group. One friend who usually came over to check on me and take me for walks regularly updated the others. When I got better, I felt extremely loved and cared for knowing I had my own personal cheerleading squad rooting for me to get healthy and happy.
5. They kept me fed.
While the anxiety and depression made it difficult to eat, my friends always made sure there were meals delivered to my house. Not having to worry about who was cooking or where meals were coming from gave me more time to focus on myself and getting better. It also took that responsibility away from my husband who had to take on so much extra with me being sick. And you know my friends are the real deal because they never forgot to include dessert.
6. They checked in on my husband.
My husband needed support too. With me incapable of taking care of our son, he had to step up and parent for both of us, often after a long day of work and on much less sleep. He needed people to vent to. He needed an outlet. He needed breaks. My friends checking in on him allowed him to feel less helpless about a frustrating and unexpected situation, because all he wanted to do was snap his fingers, give me extra hugs, even buy me a present and make me better. I was grateful that he wasn’t forgotten about during my postpartum depression battle.
7. They celebrated my recovery.
When I started to turn the corner and finally felt like myself again, an email went out from one friend to the rest of the group with the subject heading: “She’s baaaaaaaaaaaaaaacaaaack!” The email was a result of this friend watching me engage with and love on my baby boy who was now six months old. She could immediately see the change in me-the light that had returned to my eyes, the smile that was no longer fake, and wanted to celebrate it by letting my other friends know too.
I still get emotional when I think about all the support, empathy and messages from my friends who constantly reminded me of how strong I was, how proud they were of me and how happy they were to have their Jen back. If battling postpartum depression has taught me one thing (it’s actually taught me many), it’s that no part of motherhood, especially postpartum depression is meant to be done alone.
20% of new moms will suffer from maternal mental health issues. If you are a mom suffering or know one who is, visit Postpartum Support International for more resources and support. And if you’re looking for mom friends who have been there in the darkness and will help you feel less alone, visit MOTHERHOOD | UNDERSTOOD on Instagram and at their Website.