by Virginia Pillars
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
How many of us watch helplessly as our sister, daughter, or friend struggles with postpartum depression? We want to help, but don’t know how to reach out. When my daughter battled mental health issues, I started with the golden rule. How would I want someone to treat me? This helped me look at my attitude and change to meet her needs. I resisted the temptation to take over the situation with my idea of support. Instead, I discovered how to bolster her feelings of empowerment and motivation.
The words we use can help open the door of support for our loved one. I repeated several phrases almost daily: “It’s not your fault,” “I’m here for you,” and, “You’ll get through this.” Our words of affirmation can demonstrate love.
Offers of help may provide balm to the wounded spirit for a new mother who feels overwhelmed: How are you doing today? As she answers, listen with your heart as you look into her eyes. If she assures you that she’s fine, look past her pat answer. Make offers for specific tasks: May I bring a meal of homemade soup? Do you mind if I fold this basket of laundry? Do you care if I take the older children home to play with my children for a few hours? May I hold the baby? Would you like to take this time for a bubble bath or a nap?
The golden rule for postpartum support
When we offer help in the form of a specific question, assistance becomes a choice for her and not a hostile take-over. It also serves as an act of service, another expression of love.
A simple meal or healthy snacks for the household or a new bottle of lotion are expressions of caring that can speak to the heart of a new mother who feels loved through gifts. The price tag doesn’t matter. It’s a concrete way to show our concern that expresses acceptance to an overwhelmed mom.
Would you like to take a walk together? How about I make us a cup of tea? Some mamas feel supported by time spent with loved ones. Helping with her toddlers, such as reading a book with them can give her company if she feels alone. For some moms, support comes through physical touch. A brief hug, a hand laid gently on her arm, holding her hand, or sitting beside her as you give her your full attention show her that you care.
It’s important to look at the depth of your relationship with the new mother. We want our actions to support her, not make her feel inadequate. If possible, determine which method of expressing love means the most to her. Even a note of support or sharing struggles you overcame in a letter can encourage her from a distance while preserving her dignity and offering hope.
Our actions can bring hope to those who hurt.
About the author
Virginia, author, speaker, mental health volunteer, wrote her journey into mental illness with her adult child in her memoir, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith: Lessons of Hope Through a Child’s Mental Illness. She lives on a farm, along with her husband of forty-four years. Mother of four and grandmother of four, she has a passion for reaching out to families who are also affected by mental illness. She volunteers as an educator and a support group leader for the National Alliance on Mental Illness and is certified in First Aid for Mental Health. Virginia speaks on the topic of mental illness and the effects it has on families. She strives to offer hope to others in their own journeys.
Broken Brain, Fortified Faith, published in September 2016, won the Selah award for best memoir and earned the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval in 2017. Find additional writing by Virginia in the forward for Free the Strange, essays in Grief Diaries: Poetry, Prose & More, Whispers in the Pew: Voices on Mental Illness in the Church, Sharing Your Catholic Faith Stories: Tools, Tips, and Testimonies, on TheMighty.com, JoyAlive.net, and CatholicMom.com. She blogs at virginiapillars.com.