The Mother of my Newborn Child Has Postpartum Depression — What Now?
By Marisa Gooch
On February 24, 2016, Eric Dyches received a devastating phone call that would change his life. His wife, Emily Cook Dyches, had a panic attack while riding as the passenger in her father’s car. In an attempt to escape her anxiety and find shelter, she jumped out of the moving vehicle and was hit by an oncoming truck.
The root of her panic attack was postpartum depression (PPD), an illness that she had been struggling with ever since she gave birth to her beautiful baby boy. She described PPD to her husband as being in a burning building and trying to get to safety. Despite her family’s efforts to help her, her depression and anxiety were so consuming that they took her life.
Since then, Eric has made many efforts to spread the word about PPD. He has created a foundation called The Emily Effect. Those struggling with PPD and those who have loved ones struggling with PPD can visit the organization’s site and find resources, support, and stories similar to their own.
Emily’s case is not one in a million. In fact, one in nine women suffers from postpartum depression nationally.
Some women do not realize that they have postpartum depression, and others do not want to admit that they are depressed.
Like Emily was, they are committed mothers, compassionate daughters, and supportive friends. They love their children, and they want to improve.
If your loved one is struggling with postpartum depression, there are things you can do to help. Being aware of the signs of PPD and how to interact with your loved one who suffers from PPD will help you help her find relief, shelter, and love.
PPD vs. Baby Blues
It’s a week after your child has been born, and your wife is stressed, tired, and moody. These symptoms are common for new mothers after childbirth and constitute what is known as the baby blues.
But let’s say that one week has turned into two months. Your wife can’t sleep, and she can’t eat. She doesn’t enjoy holding the baby, getting ready, or doing simple, everyday tasks. When her friends ask if they can come over for a visit, she complains and acts annoyed. When you ask her if she is okay, she bursts into tears.
If this happens, she is not suffering from the baby blues anymore—those should only last for about two weeks. Instead, she most likely has developed postpartum depression.
Other PPD Signs
You may be thinking, “It’s normal for my wife to be stressed,” or “My sister has been moody ever since she got pregnant.” Moodiness and stress are not the only signs of PPD. When trying to tell if the pregnant woman in your life has PPD, here are the signs you should look for:
- Deep sadness
- Excessive crying spells
- Lack of joy
- Severe outbursts
- Loss of interest in sex
- Expressing feelings of shame or guilt
- Difficulty bonding with the baby
- Attempting to harm herself or the baby
If she shows these symptoms, don’t take the situation lightly. Help her seek professional treatment and provide her with the support and love she needs.
How can you help?
Helping someone who has PPD is tricky. Should you leave her alone or give her more of your attention? Which things are okay to say and which aren’t? By following these three steps, you will be better prepared to handle her situation:
Let go of reality
The first step to help her is to not blame her for the situation you both are in. Don’t be mad at her for something she can’t control. Postpartum depression often occurs from an imbalance of hormones after a mother has birthed her child. There is nothing she can do to prevent it, but once she is diagnosed with it, she can easily be treated with medication and counseling.
In addition, forget the expectation that life with a newborn baby is perfect. Your neighbor Jack may rave about how well his wife is doing post-pregnancy, causing you to compare his situation to yours. It’s important to realize that Jack isn’t telling you about the poopy blowouts, the sleepless nights, and the stress and pressure they feel like new parents. No guy wants to share those details.
Lowering your expectations of how life should be will allow you to deal with the reality of your situation in a healthy and positive way.
Meet her emotional needs
After you have come to accept reality for what it is, align your actions with what she needs. She likely has feelings of guilt and embarrassment about the way she is acting. The best thing you can do for her is to help her understand that she will get better.
Speak softly to her and never use words that create an environment of shame. None of “You need to get over this,” or “If you smiled every now and then, you wouldn’t feel so depressed.” Rather, say things like “You are a good mother even if you feel like a terrible one” and “The baby will be okay.”
Reassuring her that she doesn’t have to be perfect and that her situation will improve will help her climb out of the depression she is in.
Meet her physical needs
She not only needs words of affirmation, but she also needs you to help take care of the child. If your wife seems tired, offer to rock the baby to sleep at night or to feed the baby a bottle. Take turns holding the baby when he or she wakes up at 2 a.m. Put yourself in charge of meals so that your wife doesn’t have to stress about stocking the refrigerator. Doing these tasks will lighten her load and help her feel loved.
Most importantly, encourage her to see a doctor. Explain to her that relief comes quicker if she seeks help. Counseling and medication are meant to help people feel joy. These truths may be difficult for your wife to accept, but they will improve her mental, emotional, and physical health.
Postpartum depression is real, and it is common. While you may not be able to directly empathize with your loved one who struggles with PPD, you can help her on her journey to recovery.
As you pay attention to the signs, create an environment of acceptance, and meet her needs, she will have comfort knowing that you care. Many of us have an Emily in our lives. Let’s use our resources to find her, help her, and support her through the good and the bad.
Marisa is a writer and editor who lives in sunny Southern California. Her favorite hobbies include listening to podcasts, hiking in the hills behind her house, and attempting to surf alongside her husband who has years of experience.