This post is a little different to my previous ones, and I’m somewhat taking my ‘counsellor hat’ off and talking to those who are supporting others rather than those looking for help for PND themselves.
Following on from my previous post on Postnatal Depression (PND), I am primarily aiming at this post at those who are caring for/are in contact with/are in any way aware of and somehow connected to a woman who is struggling with their postpartum mental health, and/or the struggles that motherhood brings. (Disclaimer: as with my other post, whilst this is mainly aimed at Mums, this can apply to Dads too!)
Motherhood can be brutal. After the struggles of pregnancy (sleeplessness, sickness, pain, constipation, endless poking and prodding at medical appointments, negotiating maternity leave) comes childbirth (which, for some, can be horrendously traumatic and leave women life-changing injuries and PTSD). After this follows recovering from childbirth (ouch), while navigating sleepless nights (what day is it again?), potential breastfeeding struggles (engorgement, cracked and bleeding nipples, cluster feeding in the early months), and exploring their new identity as creator and carer of the little human that appears to live permanently in their arms. Then, through the ‘help’ of both mainstream and social media, Mums are then help up to impossible standards by society; with how they look, how quickly it takes them to get back into their pre-pregnancy jeans, whether they are breast/bottle-feeding, whether they provide organic healthy food during weaning, and whether they sleep through the night being a minutiae of the things that place Mums under the microscope.
New parents are often isolated from their families, and sometimes friends too. In previous generations, new parents often lived in the same town as their own parents, with the new Mum often staying home to raise the children in the early days while the Dad went out to work; meaning baby groups could be attended and new Mum-friendships formed, and access to physical/mental support (and an occasional break) was only a short walk or drive away. The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” was never more relevant.
Nowadays, families are often split up due to the younger generation moving away to seek work or studying opportunities that aren’t available in their home town, and with rising rent and stagnating wages they live where they can currently afford (which may not be anywhere near their families). Both parents working full-time and relying on (expensive) childcare is far more commonplace now too, so a network of friends in the same situation could be harder to come by or maintain once back at work as baby groups are usually on during standard working hours. Sometimes Mums who choose to stay home build up good friendship groups, then can lose touch with the vast majority who choose to go back to work full-time, and end up isolated again. When putting all of this together, it often results in Mums who don’t get a break at all (assuming Mum is the main caregiver – as it’s usually Mum who is carrying the ‘mental load’ of the household, which can be exhausting and can build resentment). Where is the village to help?
With the above in mind, I was browsing online and came across a post entitled “To the Mom Who Never Gets A Break, I See You”. Initially I thought “What a brilliant post! We need to acknowledge and help the Mums out there who never great a break, as it contributes to PND!” I then came across this in the article:
You tell her to be kind to herself. You tell her to forgive herself when she forgets PTA meetings or to pick up the dry cleaning. You look her hard in the eye and remind her that she’s doing the very best that she can. You tell her that there is love in her house and that her children are warm, safe, and happy. You tell her that this, too, shall pass. But you don’t say it in a patronizing way. You simply remind her that her break will come. You tell her that she will feel rested again. Someday.
Now, I’m sure the author meant well when writing this – after all, aren’t we always telling people to be kind to themselves? I know that this is something I also say to my clients.
But this could also be seen as part of the problem. As a society we seem to be very good at telling Mums to be kind to themselves. What we don’t seem to always be very good at is doing things that are kind to help Mums!
As motherhood can be relentless and isolating, doing kind gestures can help someone either not develop PND, or to recover from PND. Support is essential in prevention and recovery. Mums may find it hard to ask for help, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it, so please offer. And if they do ask for help, please do not brush them off (for example, stating you didn’t have help when you needed it – this isn’t your story, it’s hers, and she needs help now).
What can I do to help?
If you live with/nearby Mum
Give her time to take care of herself. Self-care is essential to a persons wellbeing. It doesn’t have to be long or fancy – it involves meeting your basic needs to achieve a sense of wellbeing.
- Organise meet-ups together outside of the house, even if it’s a quick cuppa in the local supermarket cafe, to encourage her to get up and out of the house.
- Consider watching the children to allow Mum to have a longer bath instead of a rushed shower with the children crawling around the floor, go to the toilet without an audience, have a full nights sleep, and get her hair cut if she wants to feel (and look) looked after. Side note: This is not to be confused with giving someone a break – basic grooming does not constitute a break!
- Offer to watch the children when she attends appointments relating to her health. Post-partum, women often have to attend private or intimate appointments (such as 6-week checks, smear tests, pelvic floor physiotherapy, follow-up checks and ultrasound scans in the case of 3rd and 4th degree tears, and counselling/psychotherapy appointments), and either end up dragging along a screaming baby in a car seat, or are not allowed to attend at all due to not having suitable childcare. This is especially true in the case of stay-at-home mothers, who do not have childcare provisions already set up and childminders/nurseries do not usually offer ad-hoc sessions to parents whose children are not already on the books.
Give her a break!
- Mums are people too! They had interests and hobbies long before finding their new identities, and deserve the space to recharge their batteries and retain a sense of who they are. Again, it doesn’t have to be long or expensive if that’s not what she wants or what you are able to provide, but if she liked going out for lunch, to the theatre, or climbing at the local climbing centre, consider facilitating her to do that.
- This is true in equal measures for Dads (they also have hobbies!), and for the couple together. Couples need time alone to give their relationship a metaphorical lick of paint from time to time – why not offer to watch the kids so they can go for dinner, or for a walk?
Help out at home and with the baby
- If Mum is breastfeeding, this doesn’t have to be a barrier to helping. You can still change nappies, give the baby a bath, or make sure Mum is comfortable and has snacks/drinks/the TV remote when feeding. If Mum is comfortable with the idea (and supply is established), expressing and bottle-feeding occasionally could be an option, but this shouldn’t be forced on Mum.
- If you’re popping over for a visit, ask if you can run the hoover round or fold the washing if you can see it needs doing. Alternatively if Mum isn’t comfortable with this and wants you to watch the baby while she does it, do that!
- Bring round healthy home-cooked meals to freeze for when they are too busy to cook
- For those living at home: Remember that housework isn’t just for Mums. You all live there, you all can play a part!
If you don’t live nearby
- Keep in regular contact. Never underestimate the value of a kind message, or a check-in of how they are feeling.
- Send little pick-me-ups. This doesn’t have to be anything expensive, but a surprise card or handwritten letter can put a smile on someone’s face.
- If finances allow, send an occasional gift that shows you’re thinking of them (I once received a coat for my child and a scarf for me in the post – it was incredibly thoughtful with the colder weather approaching!); or maybe offer to pay for a one-off deep clean of part of the house if Mum is struggling to keep up and doesn’t have support at home.
- If you see anything Mum (and baby) might enjoy in the local area – such as an through an event on social media – let them know! They may not be aware of it, and it could give them the motivation to get out of the house.
- If they come to visit/stay with you, or you’re visiting them, consider some of the suggestions in the previous sections too – why not recommend a local cafe or gallery they can visit?
These are just a few suggestions of ways we can help Mums (and Dads) through the isolation and struggles of PND and mother/father/parenthood. I appreciate that some of these suggestions may not be suitable for everyone – my aim isn’t to provide a tick-box list for everyone to follow – and that’s okay. If you take anything away from this post, please let it be that by being kind we can help pave the way to recovery from PND.
If you would like to book an appointment, please get in touch via the Book An Appointment page.