There is a habit I have witnessed within a multitude of places in the perinatal support realm. It is the habit of treating women who are struggling as if they were instead their infants. The habit of “Oh, she’s not well enough to do this yet, tell her to do x,y, or z instead” or “What is she THINKING” when a mother attempts to regain her foothold in the world at large as a normal human being.
It disgusts me.
Mothers with mental health issues are still adults.
They have a sense of self, intelligence, a sense of the way life is meant to be lived, and they know how to do what needs to be done. Right now, however, they may need a little bit of support. That does not mean, however, that we lay them down, swaddle them, stick a pacifier in their mouths, and treat them as if they are infants who need every thing done for them.
Why on earth is it that we do this to those who are suffering and struggling?
Their very fight is one dedicated to returning to the person they once were and want to be again. When you treat them as an infant, you decry their struggle. You strip the person they once were completely out of the equation, turning it into a pointless battle. In fact, when you treat them this way, you are doing more harm than good.
I would not want to be demeaned when I reached out for support – would you?
When a mother reaches out for help, she has managed to gather enough courage to say “I can’t do this on my own.” Respect her strength and audacity.
When a mother reaches out for help, she expects to be heard. Hear her voice, her adult voice, and respond in kind.
When a mother reaches out for help, she expects to be met with compassion and respect. Do that. Do not belittle her behaviour or her requests. Guide her, refer her, but dear God, do NOT tear her down any more than she has already been torn down.
One of my primary goals when women reach out to me for support is to respect them as adults, as humans, as independent women who are temporarily scared shitless by the dark hole surrounding them. They do not need me to baby them any more than a soldier needs to be babied after being injured during war. They don’t need me yelling at them either, but you get what I mean.
Strike a balance. Be compassionate, respectful, firm, and guiding, but do NOT demean, belittle, or treat a woman as incapable of participating in her own recovery. The second you deem a woman as incapable of participating in her own recovery, you have opened the door to defeat.
If we expect to help others recover, we must empower them without condescension. If we cannot do this, we absolutely should not be in the field of helping others because we are only harming.
Hear, respect, respond, guide, empower, let go.
These are the basic rules by which I operate. Simple. Straightforward. Rooted in compassion.
The next time someone reaches out to you with a mental health issue -postpartum or not- keep these words in mind. You might be surprised at how far it will get you – and how many lives it will save.