Ask Ada: Pre-Eclampsia, Postpartum, and Desperate. Help!

Plus: what to do when you know someone's cancer diagnosis, but you're sworn to secrecy.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

Dear Ada,

I just recently had a baby girl, and everything went wrong in the last few weeks of my pregnancy. I developed pre-eclampsia and was bedridden and then the birth ended up being an emergency c-section. I’m only a couple weeks postpartum, and I’m still in so much pain and working to manage my blood pressure which has improved since the delivery but is still a problem.

But I’m not getting any help. I feel like I’ve been split open (which, I guess I have) and I feel like all I do is bleed, leak breast milk, and want to cry. My family and my partner’s family always say they are willing to help, but nobody actually does. My partner is usually up with me all hours of the night, but because of this, he has been so grouchy with me, and honestly, I think he could do more. I need help, but I don’t know how to get it. What should I do?

Congratulations on the birth! The days and weeks (and, let’s be honest — months) after delivering a baby can be such a trying time in the best circumstances. Dealing with pre- (and potentially post-) eclampsia while recovering from a major surgery in addition to these newborn days can be utterly overwhelming.

You are absolutely right in that you need help, and it sounds as if you do have a support system who can help give it to you. The disconnect here is simply that your family and your partner’s family don’t know exactly how to help you. When they don’t see an immediate need—such as changing the baby’s diaper for you—they assume that you don’t need them.

The best way to handle this is to be direct with both families — and be specific. Know what it is you really need help with.

The best way to handle this is to be direct with both families — and be specific. Know what it is you really need help with. In your case, it might be driving you to doctor’s appointments, or simply sitting at home with you and passing you the baby when she needs to be fed so you don’t have to continue to stretch your wound. You may need assistance with household tasks like cooking and cleaning. You simply might need to take a shower or get more sleep.

When you determine what you need, initiate a conversation. Say something like:

“Thank you so much for your offer to help out during these newborn days. I’m finding recovery to be harder than expected, and I’d love to take you up on your kind offer. I’d love any help I could get with (insert your requests here).”

If you’re feeling anxious about speaking up, send that message as an email or text. If you’re feeling more confident asking for assistance, call your family members now. Find out how soon they can come over and then just be receptive to their assistance.

On a separate note, your partner is likely struggling because he sees how hard things are for you. Yet, he feels helpless on how to make anything better, especially if the baby relies on you for nourishment. At this point, he’s basically on holding and diapering duty.

It’s wonderful that your partner is present with you when you’re up at all hours of the night, but it sounds as if you both need some sleep. Harvard Health Publishing reports that lack of sleep can lead to depression, anxiety, and a slew of other mental and physical health issues. His overall crankiness might be because he’s not well rested. Can you stagger your sleep schedules so that the both of you are able to get a little more rest? Maybe you can get the more concentrated sleep in the first half of the evening (even if this means going to bed shortly after dinner) while he is in charge of the baby and then you can switch halfway through the night?

Your husband is in the trenches with you on this, but he doesn’t know how to “fix” it. Make your needs clear.

Similar to your families, your partner might feel as if he doesn’t know how to help you. Sure, he is in the trenches with you on this, but he doesn’t know how to “fix” it. Make your needs clear. If you need him to change every single diaper because leaning over rips at your C-section stitches, then tell him. This is a transformational period in your relationship. He can’t be left to guess at you want from him. Asking for what you need now will improve your communication as parents. However, it’s also his responsibility to step up to the plate on his own. You aren’t his mother. Encourage him to take action without instructions from you.

And remember, you’re all in this together. It takes a village to raise a child. If people are offering to help, accept it. Your body needs to rest and recover from the trauma it’s experienced so you can be the healthiest mom—both physically and mentally— for your little one.

Photo by Nicole De Khors from Burst

My Grandfather Has Cancer, But I’m Not Supposed To Know. Help!

Dear Ada,

I somewhat accidentally just found out that my grandfather has cancer and is refusing treatment. The prognosis doesn’t look that great and his doctor has given him less than a year.

My mother let it slip in conversation when she was telling me about some of the stressors in her life, but I know this was supposed to be a secret, and now I feel like I have all this knowledge heavily weighing on my shoulders. Plus, I can tell my mom feels anxious about the slip. She says she feels guilty that she’s placed this burden of knowledge on me, but she’s also very anxious I’ll tell my siblings, and my grandfather has made it extremely clear he doesn’t want anyone beside her to know.

My siblings love our grandfather, but honestly, they don’t spend enough time with him. Part of me wants to tell them so they can make an effort to make memories with him before he passes, but I know breaking my mom (and I guess grandfather’s trust) would be a huge deal. I’m stuck. What would you do in this situation? I feel like I lose either way and my anxiety is beginning to spiral out of control here.

The first step to getting unstuck is to look inward and analyze what precisely is making you feel this way. Your anxiety is spiraling—but why? Is it because you don’t know whether you should keep the secret or not? Will your anxiety dissipate once you commit to a decision? Is it the guilt of knowing something your siblings don’t that’s bothering you? If so, will telling them reduce your symptoms? Or, is your anxiety brought on by sadness inside you by knowing you’ll face a major loss in the near future?

Answering some of those questions will help you determine how to proceed. You may decide to keep the secret and seek grief counseling to help you process your feelings. Or, you may choose to sit down with your mother and explain that you cannot bear this knowledge alone. The truth is, while it was an accidental slip on her part, it isn’t really fair to ask you to keep a secret like this, especially if you’re completely uncomfortable with it. She will need to inform your grandfather that she shared his news, and because of this, need to also tell the information to your siblings.

The first step to getting unstuck is to look inward and analyze what precisely is making you feel this way. Your anxiety is spiraling—but why?

But before you make any decision, I want you to take a moment to consider why your grandfather is asking for this privacy.

It’s likely because he wants his family to treat him as someone full of life and not someone who is dying. He wants you all to look at him how you always have, and not with a sadness in your eyes. He wants to live his last days on earth and not be reminded that he is dying.

If you’re willing to keep his secret, know that there is a way you can involve your siblings without telling them what you know. If you all live close to each other, invite them to come with you and visit him. If you’re far away, use your phone to Facetime with your siblings. You don’t need to make a big deal out of anything. Spending time together is all the counts in his final days. Here is where the memories are made.

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem.