Ironically, I knew that I wasn’t the only one going through this. I’d done all the reading and I’d been a women’s magazine editor for years, so I knew the basics of the “baby blues” and PPD. Intellectually, I was on top of the problem. But intellect wasn’t what was making me feel so sad, guilty and alone. That was the work of messed-up brain chemistry, lack of sleep and the internalization of the Supermom message: Sure, there’s help out there, but good moms can do it all on their own and still have time to make an awesome seared cod with black sesame seeds over a bed of lightly wilted spinach. So while I might have dropped a hint or two to friends that things weren’t all tummy tickles and stuffed animals – and my husband was always supportive if I needed to vent – for the most part I just sucked it up and trusted that things would get better.
They did. I was part of the fortunate majority that sees the worst of the moodiness pass after a few weeks, as hormone levels readjust and the family settles into the “new normal” of parenting life. Like Paltrow and Howard, I kept my experience to myself. It’s not the easiest subject to bring up in casual conversation: “Why, thank you! I think he’s adorable, too – but you’d never have guessed it from the way I used to bawl my eyes out every time he woke up from a nap!”
Stars like Paltrow, Bryce Howard and Brooke Shields come forward with their stories in the hope that other women will recognize themselves and get help if they need it. I applaud their efforts, but I’m not sure that’s going far enough – not when there’s still so much of a stigma surrounding PPD.
Hospitals routinely send lactation consultants to the bedsides of new mothers to teach them the fundamentals of latch-on and positioning. Maybe it’s time they started offering mothering consultants, too. Imagine an army of veteran moms making the rounds of maternity wards to offer comfort and straight talk: “Having a baby is a wonderful thing, but it’s also a huge adjustment. You’re going to get bone-tired and teary and scared as hell. And that’s OKAY. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom. Here’s my card. Call me any time you need to talk. And if you start feeling so down that it’s interfering with your life, I’ll find you the help you need.”
Until that happens, don’t wait for the new moms in your life to reach out to you. Let them know you’re there when they get tired of putting on a happy face. If they don’t have help during the day, offer to watch the baby while they nap or run errands. If they’re obviously on the verge of tears, encourage them to cry it out. Like Gwyneth Paltrow and Bryce Dallas Howard, your new-mom friend may not be able to cure postpartum mood swings right away, but you can let her know that you care – and that’s the next best thing.
Shana Aborn is a freelance writer and editor who lives in New York with her husband and two children.