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ASK FOR HELP: It can be a matter of life and death

I don’t have a problem asking for help. 


That’s partly because

  • I don’t pretend to be strong and independent if I’m not feeling that way at the moment (Honey, will you go with me to my mammogram, I’m nervous).

  • I don’t worry about what others might think (Yes, I am happy to make a fool of myself and embarrass my adult children if I have an irrepressible need to express something that I am not happy about.

  •  I am shameless when it comes to sharing details of my bodily functions that no one really cares about (I need a restroom before I start my presentation, where is the closest one?) 

  • I am unimpressed if my own healthcare providers think I’m a pain (I know this is the    third time I’ve called in two days, but no one has gotten back to me. Why has no one gotten back to me?)

  • I don’t think twice about asking for something that others who have more class or             consideration wouldn’t ever say aloud (Excuse me, could you please take this back?)   [undercooked food, uncomfortable shoes, imperfect anything]

  • I don’t mind if others perceive me as weak or incapable or needy even when I am perfectly able to do someone on my own (I would rather not do this myself, can you come? help? assist?) [Whether it’s folding the king size sheet or going to a medical procedure]

Here is the point:

I may be good at getting (most of) my needs met, however, I am certain all of this would be more challenging, if not impossible, if I were thwarted by an incapacitating symptoms of an emotional illness.

This takes me to my work with postpartum women who often have difficulty expressing what they need. Symptoms get in the way. Clarity is compromised. Women with postpartum depression and anxiety are often scared into silence, paralyzed by their thoughts, their panic, their fear of judgment, and their shame. Furthermore, after decades of promoting awareness and educating medical providers, misinformation continues to permeate the healthcare system.

Still, women should be reassured that healthcare practitioners are beginning to listen and they are starting to ask the hard questions. Some women are taking the leap forward and jumping in, hoping they have found a safe place to fall. Others, understandably, remain tentative. Asking for help when one is not one hundred percent confident that the recipient of the request is in a position to help, is risky. A risk that women with postpartum depression are in no mood to experiment with, nor should they be expected to.

Postpartum specialists who have approached this from both sides, trying to educate both moms who struggle and the medical community poised to offer relief, are seeing a faint, but positive shift.

Asking for help means

  • Find a provider you feel safe with. (before or after you talk to your partner)

  • Express yourself as clearly as possible. (details, feelings, thoughts, fears, symptoms, panics, worries, guilt, hopelessness, for example)

  • Be specific about what you are most worried about.

  • What do you think you need from your provider? How do you think they can help you the most?

  • If you are afraid to hear their response to your disclosure (medication, therapy, dismissal, patronizing response, blank stare, referral to psychiatrist, their own anxiety), ask anyway. This is about you, not them. They may not be right about what they recommend. Or, they may be. Listen to the options they provide. Write them down if you need to.

  • Asking for help is easier when it comes from a place of strong self-esteem and worthiness but these emotional states are not readily accessible to women with postpartum depression and anxiety.

  • Remember that you can be fearful or reluctant, and feel fragile or terrified yet still ask for help. Do not surrender to the anxiety that makes you hesitate to ask.

How to ask for help

  • Take a deep breath.

  • Believe that you are entitled to feel better.

  • Remember that your provider is there to help you.

  • Start with an introductory statement: I need to talk to you. Or, Can we talk about something I’m worried about? Or, I need a couple extra minutes of your time.

  • Come up with a sentence that feels comfortable for you. Practice it ahead of time. Say it out loud. Here are some examples:

-I don’t like the way I am feeling.

-I don’t feel like myself.

-I think I might be depressed.

-I am having thoughts that are scaring me.

-I need a referral to a therapist who specializes in the treatment of postpartum depression and anxiety.

-I am feeling bad.

-I’m not sleeping, I have no appetite, I’m scared all the time, I can’t think straight.

-I have a history of depression and I’m familiar with this. I am not okay right now.

-I need help for the way I am feeling right now.

  • This is the point where your provider should sit with you and listen. It only takes a couple of minutes to see that you are serious and to follow up with a couple of questions. You should be given a list of referrals for you to follow up with.

  • IF your provider responds inappropriately or in any way that makes you feel worse, acknowledge to yourself that you tried and acted on your own behalf and then, go find another provider. 

Many of us are working hard on the education, public awareness, medical community instructions, advocacy, and legislative side of things. Postpartum women need to continue take a stand and speak on their own behalf. They are their own best advocates. Moms are talking to each other for support. Social media is exploding with information and guidance. It's wonderful to witness a national conversation unfold after so many years of silent suffering. Still, we have a long way to go.

The bottom line message to postpartum women who are struggling is this: Postpartum depression and anxiety are very treatable. No matter what your symptoms are. No matter how bad you feel. No matter how high your distress is.

Be informed. Get information. Find your safe person. Talk about it. It doesn’t matter what others think, if they are misinformed. It doesn’t matter how embarrassing it feels. It doesn’t matter how many other moms may or may not be feeling this way.

What matters is that you get the help you need.

Ask for help.


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