When I had postpartum depression, I could barely leave the house. In fact, I barely left the house with my new baby for almost six months. I was lucky if I could get out of bed and get dressed, let alone do the things that used to snap me out of a horrible mood. Getting my nails painted with the latest gel color wasn't going to fix anything. Girls' night out was the last place I wanted to be. Showing up on my yoga mat wasn't going to happen. Retail therapy wasn't therapeutic at all.
Postpartum depression is so much more than just being "moody." It's not an exaggerated form of "that time of the month." It's going to last longer than those two weeks of "baby blues." It's a serious mental illness that can present itself in so many different forms and requires medical treatment. Each woman's journey and struggle will be unique to her, her symptoms, and her risk factors.
As a result, many new mums don't even recognize they have postpartum depression. They find themselves flooded with guilt, wondering how they could feel so miserable during what they thought would be the best time in their lives. They feel too ashamed to tell anyone because they don't realize that one in seven women will have some form of what they have. And like me, they don't find any solace in the activities that used bring them joy.
Postpartum depression is not a one-size-fits-all illness, which makes it difficult for outsiders to process. While every mum can get better with treatment, there is no magical formula that predicts when. Some women suffer for a few months, some for much longer. I battled for a year. Husbands, family members, and friends want to help, but don't always know how. They don't always understand what mum is going through. What should they do? What should they say? Other mums might not even get it if they didn't have postpartum depression when their own babies were born.
Because of this, sometimes knowing what not to say is just as important when it comes offering your support. Here are five things you should never say to a mum battling postpartum depression.
1. "Go to the gym, and you will feel better."
A trip to the gym is not a cure for Mum's postpartum depression. No yoga class or elliptical ride will change what she is going through. It doesn't matter if she practically lived at the gym or was addicted to running or boot camp before she got sick. She has a mental illness that is most likely leaving her feeling sad, anxious, overwhelmed, exhausted, and disconnected. As she gets better with treatment, she will make her way back to her old self and then likely to the gym that she once frequented.
2. "Treat yourself to a manicure and pedicure, and you'll feel good as new."
Sending mum off to the spa for some cuticle cutting and nail polishing will not make her feel better and will definitely not cure her postpartum depression. A better idea would be to send Mum to her room to rest and take care of herself. If she expresses the desire for some type of beauty treatment to temporarily take her mind off how she's feeling, why not bring the spa to her and have a nail technician or a friend come over and pamper her in the comfort of her own home where she doesn't have to worry about showering or changing out of those sweatpants?
3. "You just need to get out of the house and be around other mums."
Leaving the house and spending time with other mums is probably the last thing Mum wants to do right now, especially when she most likely feels immense guilt over her illness. While she struggles to take care of and feel attached to her baby, watching other mums gush over theirs could make her feel worse and as though she is failing at what everyone else seems to be rocking, both of which are absolutely untrue. Mum needs to get better with treatment and feel more secure with herself, her health, and her baby before she might be ready to throw herself into those mummy-and-me classes.
4. "Don't worry, all new mums feel this way."
When you use the phrase "all new mums," you minimize what this new mum is going through. While it's completely normal to feel overwhelmed and exhausted after bringing a baby home, postpartum depression is so much more than that. Telling Mum that she is just like everyone else could prevent her from realizing something is actually wrong and that she needs to seek help. Mum should not have to suffer in silence because she thinks her feelings are the norm and will go away on their own, because they might not without professional help.
5. "This is supposed to be the happiest time in your life."
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT ever tell a new mum with postpartum depression that you don't understand how she could feel the way she does because this should be the happiest time in her life. She probably already feels like this without you throwing it in her face. Until given a diagnosis, she probably has no idea what is happening to her or why, causing her to mistake her illness for the belief that she is a horrible mum and a failure. She was taught to believe that having a baby is a fairy tale and she would feel nothing but love when she met her baby.
With postpartum depression, she might instead feel trapped in a horror story with little to no bond or attachment to her baby, unbearable sadness and anxiety, and maybe even the thoughts that she made a mistake becoming a mother and that her baby is better off without her. What she needs is compassion and help accepting her illness. She needs to understand that there is nothing wrong with her as a mother, she is not alone, and will get better with proper care.