When my best friend told me she was pregnant with her first baby shortly after I delivered mine, I was overjoyed. I couldn’t wait to watch her and her awesome husband experience becoming parents after a long road to conception (they’d been trying, unsuccessfully, for a while). And of course I was pumped about a pending instant bestie for my own little one. I never imagined that postnatal depression might become a factor.
Her pregnancy progressed, while my daughter went from newborn to crawling. As best friends, we shared a journey, chatting bumps and babies all summer until her little bundle arrived in the fall. Both girly-girls, it was kind of an unspoken thing that we each wanted a girl. And while I had gotten one, she did not. Her choice not to find out the sex of the baby before the birth had confused me. I feel that if you have a preference, knowing sooner is a good way to prepare. But when her baby boy was born, she was over the moon. All seemed well.
Within days of having her son, though, I noticed something wasn’t quite right. Of course, sleep-deprived, brand-new parents are anxious and edgy. They cry a lot. They don’t shower often. But there was a perceived air of perfection every time I went over to visit, and yet I could tell something was off with her. While she showed the world a constant smile, she confided in me that she was bummed about having a boy and feeling like a failure of a mother (already). Could it be PND, I wondered?
As the days turned to weeks, I witnessed more indicators that she might be depressed. She’s constantly angry with her husband, makes excuses to get out of social plans, and is obsessed with following a strict schedule and routine for the baby. I tried to just listen, but there were times I’d offer gentle advice, too. Newborns are unpredictable and I felt like she expected to be able to “fix” everything, when as a mum that’s just not always possible.
I felt my best friend pulling away from me, avoiding my phone calls and offers to visit. While she was pretty mum on the details of what was going on at home, more than once she did open up long enough to express envy over the stage I was at with my daughter, or the relationship we have.
“I can’t wait for him to be bigger so he sleeps through the night,” she’d say. Or, “It’ll be so much easier when he sits still long enough for me to do something for myself and isn’t so heavily reliant on breastfeeding.” But even as one milestone she longed for was hit, a hopelessness and new sense of doom and dread would circle as the list seemed to grow.
Along with these reflections, I’ve been witness to multiple breakdowns. Usually it’s about something that she’s totally equipped to handle, but she questions herself constantly. I know she’s pushing her husband away (she tells me, and I can feel the tension in the room when I visit and they’re both home). I have gotten her to open up enough to share that she’s stressed out, overwhelmed, and exhausted. But that’s pretty much where the conversation stops.
All signs lean to something bigger than the “Baby Blues,” especially a few months out from his birth. I’m no professional, but from what I’ve read and heard about postnatal depression, it sounds like that could be the culprit. Either way, she definitely could benefit from some kind of professional help. I wish sometimes that I could be that person for her, to give her the real help she needs and deserves, but I’m not. I’m just her friend.
On the few occasions I’ve been bold enough to suggest talking to someone about her anxiety surrounding the baby, she’s shut me down. I don’t know how to help other than to listen, but usually she doesn’t want to talk. I’ve tried talking to her husband about it, but that felt a little back-stabby, and anyway he wasn’t very receptive to my suggestion she might need help. Or at least, a break.
I know my best friend isn’t alone in her struggle to feel worthy and confident as a new mum. In this society where the topic is finally out there and we don’t have to feel so afraid to be open about mental health, I want her to be okay with naming what’s wrong and doing something to fix it. I feel for her because I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety myself before; luckily not after the birth of my daughter. If there was one thing I could tell my friend about her struggle, it’s that no one is going to judge her or think she isn’t a good mum. But even though I’ve tried, it doesn’t seem my attempts are helpful.
Mums, any advice for how I can help my friend? Should I just back off, or is there something else I should be doing for her?
More on postnatal depression:
- My Postnatal Depression Was So Severe I Didn’t Recognise Myself
- Why We Need to Keep Talking About Postnatal Depression
- How I Avoided Weaning-Induced Depression