A new baby can be the beginning of an exciting chapter in a mother’s life. And while loved ones are often ready with baby blankets, clothes and plenty of toys, they may not be prepared for a mother who is suddenly living with depression. Although, many women experience mild mood changes during or after the birth of a child, 15 to 20 percent of women experience more serious symptoms, and need treatment and support for postpartum depression and other disorders.

So how do we help these mothers when another gift for baby isn’t going to cut it? We asked mothers in our community who had postpartum depression (PPD) to tell us the best way to support a new mother who’s in a difficult place.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Please don’t ignore me or push how I’m feeling aside. I’m asking for help in my own way.” — Michelle McRobert

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2. “Share your own experience with PPD. Remind me that everything is going to be OK.” — Esmeralda Patino

3. “Check on me. If I confided in you that I had PPD and asked you to check on me, do it. Almost no one ever does. They just ignore it, assume I’m fine.” — Kelly Christianson DeBie

4. “Just be there. If I need you at midnight, be there. If I need to cry, be there. If I need space, respect that. Most importantly, just love me.” — Sammie Prescott

5.Just hang out with me. Hang in there when I’m crying out of nowhere. Maybe set up some meals or help with laundry.” — Michelle Windish 

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6. “Ask me how I am doing and don’t accept ‘fine’ as my answer. Tell me I’m a great mother. Tell me you are there for me and then prove it. Give me a hug when you see me. Ask me what you can do to help.” — Jessica Grieves

7. “Please don’t tell me to ‘suck it up’ or to ‘get over it.’ Believe me, if I could I would. Just help me do what I can’t. And love me.” —  Jessica Wilkinson LaBonte

8. “Be a friend. Be a shoulder to lean on, but don’t be offended if we want to keep to ourselves sometimes.” — Adrien Hensley

9. “Don’t compare my motherhood experience to anyone else’s, including yours.” — Kristin Novotny

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10.Don’t tell me ‘you’re just tired’ or ‘it’s probably just your horomones.’ Validate my feelings.” — Kelly Ravensberg

11. “I still want you to call or write or tell me you care. I might not have words to say anything back, yet. But please keep asking because one day, I will say yes, and it will mean everything to me that you stayed.” — Anne-Marie Tonyan Lindsey

12. “Show your support by coming and doing ‘dirty’ things like washing the dishes or the laundry. Be available. Tell me I’m not crazy or a bad mom. Tell me you’ll help me find a good therapist/doctor and offer to make the calls for me. Help me feel positive about options like medication.” — Jessica Daniels

13. “Listen. That’s the biggest thing.” — Emily Sinicropi

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14. “Notice the little steps I take (going to the shops with baby, not waking up crying etc.) and point them out to me. Not in a patronizing way — just point out it’s not all doom and gloom and step by step I’ll find myself again.” — Jennie Angus

15. “Learn about PPD. Learn about the symptoms, possible triggers and options for treatments. Learn about changes in behaviors to look for. I may not tell you how I’m feeling; many times it’s hard to explain and even harder to confide in someone. If you know the presentation and things to look for, you will be able to identify I’m struggling and help me help myself.” — Margaret Hermosa Rice

16. “When I told someone I was having a hard time, I felt worse if she gave me the pity look. I felt better when someone said, ‘You’re brave because you’re talking about it.’ Another good thing to hear was ‘you’re doing all the right things.’ And finally, best response: ‘Tell me about it.'” — Sandy Burhouse Celauro

17. “Just don’t judge. We judge ourselves hard enough. We don’t necessarily need you to understand it, but please don’t make it worse by demeaning it.” — Kim Lecy

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18. “Don’t assume that having PPD means I don’t want to be a mom or that I wasn’t ready. I wanted this more than anything and I still do.” — Avery Furlong

19. “What we say we need is more important than ever. Make it happen; move mountains!” — Amanda Thomas

20. “Watch the baby while I nap. Resting will help me push the reset button.” — Indigo Bleu

21. “Help without being asked! I couldn’t ask for help, but lived on the cups of coffee, the laundry and the food that was done/brought to me.” — Annie Edwards

22. “Believe me when I tell you my story.” — Melissa McCoy

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*Answers have been edited and shortened.

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Dear Son,

I love you. I know I tell you that a lot, but if there’s one thing I want you to know above all else, it’s that I love you. I want you to know it effortlessly, the way one knows there is oxygen in the air, allowing us to draw breath without hesitation.

There’s something I want to explain to you about that love, and about us. Your birth was the greatest thing that has ever happened to me, make no mistake. However, it was also the threshold to a very hard time in my life. After you were born, I crossed that threshold and found myself locked in a battle with postpartum anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder that would continue for years. I didn’t know it at first. I didn’t know it wasn’t normal. I didn’t know it had a name. I just knew from the moment they placed you in my arms, I was afraid. 

It’s not your fault, though, my darling boy. You are the light that shone on me, during even the darkest of days. I have had a vulnerability to anxiety and OCD since long before you were born. Looking back, even as far as my own childhood, I can identify both anxiety and OCD tendencies. They just weren’t strong enough back then to disrupt my life. Something about entering into motherhood seemed to turn the volume up, so they became quite disruptive to us both.

I won’t apologize for having an anxiety disorder, because I’ve learned it isn’t my fault, no more than it is yours. I won’t allow either of us to shoulder the blame for it. I want you to know mental illness is not a choice. It’s not a result of poor decision making. It’s neither the product of, nor the evidence for, someone being an inferior person. I tell you these things because, though I hope down to the depths of my soul it is never something you struggle with, I want you to understand mental illness for what it is. Namely, not your fault. Not my fault. Not anyone’s fault.

I will apologize, however, that it took me so long to start receiving treatment. I was scared and stubborn. I believed that I could fix myself if I just “changed my perspective.” Since I knew nothing about postpartum anxiety, I was afraid that if I gave voice to the terrifying thoughts that were attacking my mind, they might take you away from me. I kept silent because I was afraid, and for that I am sorry. If I had gotten help sooner, I may have lost less of my happiness to fear. I regret waiting two years before seeking therapy. But now, you have a mommy who prioritizes taking care of herself so she can take care of you. What’s more, you are healthy, happy and seem to have no notion of the nights I spent pacing the living room in tears, afraid to sleep, because I was certain you would die if I did.

You might notice as you get older I do things a little differently from other mommies. I’m a little more nervous at the playground. It might take me a little bit longer to feel comfortable with you having sleepovers away from home. I don’t handle change well. Or loud noises. I get very nervous when someone gets something as innocuous as a twisted ankle, so your bull-in-a-china-shop personality has almost ensured that I will be completely white-haired before I am 40. It’s OK, though, because that same personality, which is a delicate and endearing mixture of hardy and hearty, is one of my favorite things about you. You are so strong and brave, but you possess the gentlest of hearts. Plus, I have the bone structure for white hair.

I’m still in therapy. Still working on me, and the way that anxiety affects me, so you might pick up on some of my anxious tendencies as you get bigger and start paying more attention. Just know they are part of my anxiety disorder, and that I spend an incredible amount of mental energy fighting away the irrationality that drives the majority of my fears, because I don’t want them to affect you. Just know your mama has fought, and battled and clawed her way through mental illness for you. For us. Just know that, while you may share a birthday with my anxiety disorder, we are shaping that disorder into a lovely little bridge, and using it to cross into the lives of so many women who need to know they aren’t alone. I’d never be able to do this outreach work I love if it wasn’t for loving you enough to get help. Thank you.

Just know, like you know that oxygen will fill your lungs when you inhale, I love you, and I have from the moment they placed you in my arms.

Love,

Mommy


To my wife, Kelly,

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David and his wife, Kelly.

The last two months have been difficult for me as I’ve watched you fall apart and suffer. Not only have you experienced postpartum depression, but you’ve also had to endure the incredible grief and loss of our son, Mateo Aslan Wise, who was born stillborn at 25 weeks gestation. I can only begin to imagine how you feel, as I too grieve and mourn Mateo, and I too have experienced depression in my life. But nothing can compare to a mother who must hold her dead baby boy in her arms and find the courage to bury her son. Your courage, your love and your perseverance inspire me. 

I know hormones rage inside your body, and for weeks your body didn’t know you weren’t nursing our son. This just added to your feelings of helplessness, depression and loss, but you survived it, and you are still living. You’re teaching me the only way out of hell is through it. I could learn so much from you. I, who continually fall apart, loathe my existence many days because of grief and living with a mental illness, must look to you for a source of inspiration and support, but also be a loving and supportive partner. I’ve not always done this perfectly, and there have been many nights you’ve comforted me; however, I am trying to be strong, brave and live again. 

Postpartum depression is real and can be difficult to manage. Therapy helps, but that alone isn’t enough. In your darkest moments, please be gentle with yourself and remember you are not alone. Like any mental illness, postpartum depression can be treated and managed, and you can live a purposeful and meaningful life again in spite of it, and heal through it. 

Kelly, you mean the world to me. I am honored to have you as my wife and the mother of our firstborn son. I wish Mateo could grow up in the safety and comfort of your arms, bask in your love and see how strong and courageous his mother is. I believe he is watching over us now and knows our love. 

Love matters. You matter. Mateo matters, and I matter. 

Love,

David


On June 18, 2015, I gave birth to my daughter. Nine days later, I was home breastfeeding when my brain began to bleed. I was rushed to the hospital; I was suffering a stroke. I woke later in the ICU without my newborn, without the ability to breastfeed and without any hope of a normal life after this event. 

Seven years prior, after the delivery of my first son, I went septic and spent the first month of his life in the hospital. 

After physical recovery from both traumas I was left with insidious postpartum
depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. I remember my first checkup in both instances. They screened me for postpartum depression after giving me a half-hearted, barley empathetic assurance that in pregnancy “things can go wrong sometimes.” After it was confirmed I did have postpartum depression, they handed me a pamphlet and sent me on my merry way out the door.

I was left with a pamphlet on depression and my own devices. It was like they were not even phased by my plight. I felt shut out by those who saw me in my most vulnerable state. It felt like the doctors who I trusted most during my nine months of pregnancy were turning their backs on me. Nevertheless, I was determined, for my children and myself, to make a full recovery and return back to the woman I was without the trauma.

Now, standing firm and strong with the confidence of my own personal journey toward healing, I have a few things I would like to say to the doctors who saw me.

1. Take more time to talk to me.

I know you do this every day; your office is packed with big bellies anxiously awaiting your reassurance. But I wait 45 minutes past my appointment time for you to take five minutes to give me a once over? You checked my urine, you found some proteins, you tell me to drink more water, give me a pamphlet on depression and then send me on my way.

Sometimes I felt like you were too busy for me while I was in my most vulnerable state. You seem to have forgotten that.

2. Don’t sugar coat pregnancy. 

Yes, you have years of schooling and I don’t, but if you explain to me what’s going on I will understand. In fact, because I suffered two birth traumas, I’m relatively well versed on your medical terminology. Tell me the truth from the beginning; do not sugar coat pregnancy. The biggest thing we need from you is to be present with us on our journey.

3. Put yourself in my shoes.

Living with my trauma alone was one of the hardest things I’ve been through. But
here I am lying in the ICU, unable to see my child, and you wipe your hands with sanitizer, shrug your shoulders and tell me sometimes these things happen? Do you have children? Do you have a wife? How would you feel if you were lying here, breasts drained due to medication, unable to see your child, fearful of the future? Would you be able to just move on? Please be sensitive to my trauma. I do not expect you to fix it, but your reaction can set me on the course towards healing or hopelessness.

4. Explain the pamphlet.

Now that you’ve screened me for postpartum depression, please don’t hand me a pamphlet and walk out the door. Please do not have the nurse tuck it in my discharge papers. I’m a ball of hormones, emotions and fear; please talk to me. Tell me what my hormones are doing. Tell me what my body is going to go through. Tell me the names of a few good therapists that specialize in postpartum mood disorders. Do not throw Zoloft at me. Send me to the right person to get me on the right meds for my personal situation. Everyone is different.

5. Tell us we’re not alone.

It was not until I joined a few postpartum support groups, began writing blogs and reaching out to people that I realized I wasn’t the only woman going through this. Although postpartum depression varies in degrees, it’s not uncommon. Why are we lead to believe it’s taboo? ?

Postpartum trauma, depression and mood disorders are something no one seems to talk about. It took me six months of therapy, support groups, Facebook forums, education and exercise to begin my journey of healing. I’ve heard from so many women along the way that they did not seek help right away, and chose to stay in the shadows in fear they would be judged. We need the medical community to tell new mothers we’re not alone, and that we don’t have to battle this in secret. We need resources and we need to know it’s OK to reach out. .

And the encouragement and empathy needs to start the minute the doctor walks in the door.

If you are struggling, you can find help at Postpartum Support International.


When you’re suffering from postpartum depression, unfortunately life can become about you getting better. It can make you feel guilty, like you’re not being the best mom for your baby.

If you also have postpartum depression, please don’t let this guilt fool you. You’re doing the best possible job you can, and if you are on your journey to recovery, you’re taking the right steps to becoming an even more amazing mother.

This is an open letter to my son, who has always been there with his smile throughout my journey.

Dear son,

After you were born, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety. Please never think this was your fault — it was 100 percent not. You have nothing to feel guilty about. I really would like to thank you.

Thank you for putting up with me. I’m sorry I didn’t smile as much as I’d like. But you must know your smile brings joy into my every day.

Thank you for all you have taught me. You might not know it yet, but you have brought the most amazing lessons into my life. As your mom, I might appear to know everything, but I want you to know — I don’t. I’m still learning, every day and every moment. Our relationship is a two-way street and as you will see, I’ll give you as much knowledge as I can, but please don’t stop teaching me.

Thank you for giving me some direction. Before you, I was just plodding along in life, mostly trying to please others. You have given me the motivation and determination to follow my dreams. You have brought meaning to my life and given me a direction. I’d be lost without you.

Thank you for being patient with me. There were many times when I’d love to have been more involved with you. However, my depression made it hard for me to move. I will forever be grateful for your patience. Always know that I love you; sometimes I just need some time.

Thank you for being so determined. If it wasn’t for your determination to get what you wanted, I would have been quite clueless. There have been times when you’ve been difficult to settle, but I know that’s because you’re trying so hard to communicate what you need to me.

Thank you for all the insights you have given me. I would never have seen the world as I see it today without you. I am truly grateful for that and I will pass onto you what I can.

Thank you for being my son. I promise I will always do the best I can by you. Your dad and I will always be here for you.

Finally, thank you for always being my shining star.

Love you, my baby.

Follow this journey on PND Recovery.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


Whether we have a baby or not, we all have our triggers: those people, places or things that can send us soaring into a frenzy on an otherwise fine day. The postpartum period (although I prefer to call it the “fourth trimester”) is a hormone-laden minefield for all kinds of things that send us into the trappings of anger, fear, mistrust and anxiety. No one warned me that there would be a day shortly after the birth of my daughter when whether I turned left or right I found fault in something, mistrusted my close circle or just outright exploded in anger over something that used to seem so small to me.

During my uphill battle with postpartum depression and anxiety, I have compiled a list of my top five triggers. Through an unwavering routine of scheduled therapy, joining a few support groups and investing my time in self-care, I have come up with ways to build bridges over my postpartum pitfalls, so during times of trouble and triggers I can safely traverse to the other side.

Here are a few things that trigger me as a mom with postpartum depression, and how I manage them:

1. Running into supermoms.

They are at the playground. They are at Target. They are in my family. They are in front of me at Starbucks. Their hair is done, their clothes match, they smell good and so do their children. They have more room in their cars and they do not have teething treats stuck to the seats. They have time to work out, they look like they have time for everything and they have more children than I do. They do not have to say a word; they make me feel small just standing next to them. I feel like I am missing the mommy card that tells me how to be busy and perfect and happy all at the same time. Their roots are not showing!

How I manage: I talk to them now. I used to avoid them. Certainly I had nothing in common with those women! I found that a simple “Hello, how are you doing” is a good conversation starter, because when they respond “Fine, how are you?” and I answer honestly, “Ugh, the baby is not sleeping and my son is not bringing his homework home and my car didn’t start this morning,” they generally open up and reveal their softer side and their own personal struggles. I have taken this honesty all the way to my battle with postpartum depression and some have opened up and admitted their own battles or asked how they can help. We are all supermoms, because being a mom is super hard.

2. Being with family.

This one is a quite obvious and perhaps quite a common trigger for anyone, post-prego or not. It is the first that comes to mind because it is so large, complex and consuming.  From the outermost circles to the very people living in my home, those closest to me can hurt me the most — from a mother-in-law who thinks she is the “mother-in-residence,” an in-law who wants to visit and will not take no for an answer, to a spouse messing up the bedtime routine, or dealing with my children and their anxieties. Sometimes the mere presence of too much family during this intimate time with my baby would create a sensation similar to drowning in a sea of unwanted company. All I wanted was some space to breathe and be me.

How I manage: Family dynamics are different for everyone, hence the need for therapy for a huge portion of the population. I found a good therapist to help me with this one.  Why? Because who do we turn to the most during times of trouble? F*cking family. And what happens more than we like? We do not get the response or support we are looking for and insult is added to injury. My therapist allowed me to open up without fear of judgement or misguided advice. She helped me come up with solutions of my own for asserting myself while remaining calm during uncomfortable family situations. Now when my family triggers me into a near-panic, I have tools to diffuse my anxiety and see the scenario with a wider lens.

3. Going on social media. 

As a proud mother, social media was a place where I could pridefully post pictures of my postpartum life. Everyone loves to see a cute baby and a happy mom, right? The thing is that behind that beautiful edited, filtered photo of us snuggling is a tired, sore, lonely lady who is home with no more than the company of an infant and an iPhone for most of the day. I felt validated by sharing my experiences and posting my photos. It can be fun for a time, but then comparison comes creeping in. So-and-so is losing weight faster than I am. This person is out on the town looking so happy in their marriage while we argue over who forgot to clean the baby bottle. They are going on vacation to Maui with an infant? How would I even get mine across a pond on a plane without screaming? I became more insecure than built-up by what I saw, and we all can admit that what we see is usually not what we get. That picture of little Susie smiling as she splashes in a rain puddle was probably pre- or post-tantrum about having to wear her new Hunter rain boots in the first place.

How I manage: I could not deactivate. I know people who do, but I love social media and I would be making a false promise to myself if I said I could go on a “Facebook fast” during the time of life when I am homebound with a baby and not much else going on. So I became a supporter and a cheerleader. I began to reach out and really connect with women in similar situations as me, women struggling with their own uphill battles. We message and support one another and spur each other forward. I also stay away from reading the News Feed. If I want to know something about someone, I go to their wall for the most part. That way I am not spending mindless time scrolling over the highlight reel of regular life.

4. When my children get sick.

Caring for sick children is awful, postpartum or not. Caring for sick children with a C-section scar, a very needy infant and a messy house in the middle of winter with no help is a terrible trigger for me. There is the fear that the illness will sweep through the entire home within days, striking first the school-aged children, filtering down to the baby, hitting the hubby, then lastly, as I am barely able to stand from the exhaustion of caring for everyone else… I go down. When my children are sick I feel helpless, and anyone who may have been helpful usually flees at the first word of the flu. I am left to manage this home myself, lose sleep over spiking fevers, wash puke blankets for days on end, and then somehow have sympathy when a grown man gets it and lays in bed all day?Forget it. It is anxiety-provoking and exhausting.

How I manage: Self-care is so important. It was the last thing I wanted to do when my son was ghostly white, barely holding anything down and the baby was screaming with an ear infection. It took several rounds of over-exhausting myself in this situation before I finally realized that if I do not stop and pour myself a glass of water, take a shower or step outside to breathe some fresh air, I would go down with the ship (and if mom goes down in my house, it takes weeks to catch up). Hand-washing, keeping the baby away from the other children, napping when they nap and letting life get messy for a bit became necessary for survival in my home. Now I can say I am not so freaked out when I see a fever around these parts.

5. Going back to work.

I loved my career before I had children. I was able to dive in and be present in my workplace. That all changed once the little ones came along. I heard the CEO of Pepsi say in a speech that women can’t have it all. We must choose where we want to invest our strength: in our home or our children. I found it pretty damn impossible to balance both. When I worked too much, I missed my kids and they missed me. Then they would act up, triggering my anxiety. When I stayed home, I missed my identity as someone outside the home. My children became very dependent on me and it was hard for them to let me out of their sight, triggering my anxiety that I was raising sociopaths. No matter which way I chose, I could not find balance, or so I thought.

How I manage: I loved my job and I love and want to raise my children. So we sacrificed. We can no longer have the fancy food in the fridge or blowout weekends with the kids. I work doing what I love on the weekends, and it gets me out of the house and connects me to other parts of myself that go missing when I am in mommy mode. I have become creative with the grocery list, and accepted that I do not need to be as stylish as the supermoms right now… after all, someday I am going to lose this baby weight — when I can balance life a little better than I do now with a brand-new baby.

Life is full of circumstances that can send us into a tailspin if we let it. The idea is to spin those triggers in the opposite direction, reframe them into positive situations. Once I could see the common areas of my life where my postpartum pitfalls occurred, I had a decision to make. Was I going to give in and continue to fall into the trappings of fear and a false sense of reality, or was I going to begin to build a bridge using the tools of mindfulness, confidence and self-compassion that would lead me safely to the other side? I chose to begin building.

Follow this journey on Q’s Kitchen.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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