I have a special treat for you guys today! I asked my husband, Andy, to write on the blog for the first time! Unfortunately, he has personal experience with the subject: what husbands need to know about post partum depression.
While this post makes me feel extremely vulnerable, I know that women with PPD are not the only ones struggling. Husbands are desperately trying to understand and help their wives navigate the murky waters of depression.
(Please consider sharing this article on social media. There are those who need to read this information but might not be seeking it out.)
My wife has said many shocking things to me.
“I’ve never seen ‘Last of the Mochicans'”. “I think we should move to Texas.” “I think we should only buy organic food from now on.” “You’re going skydiving for your birthday!”
And who could forget, “We’re pregnant.”
Yes, she’s full of surprises. But as I sat with my 5 month old son on my lap looking up at my gorgeous bride in her new role as a mother, I heard the most unexpected words pass over her lips. “I’ve thought about killing myself.”
I didn’t process the words at first. It was partly due to the child held in my lap screaming at the top of his lungs like he had been for the past 2 hours, but mostly I just couldn’t navigate the emotional path my wife had traveled from experiencing the first few months of parenthood to thoughts of suicide. True, our oldest was an exceptionally difficult baby, screaming his head off when he was awake and only sleeping for short increments, but there had been smiles too. We both adored our new son, and there had been many family members and close friends there to support us and lend a hand.
How could it have gotten to this point?
Probably the hardest part for a father (but plenty difficult for a mother too) is living with the effects of Postpartum Depression and not realizing it. I often found myself asking, “What am I doing wrong?”, or “What can I do to make her happy?”
If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, first, I’m sorry. I know it’s painful, and frustrating but second, please allow me to disillusion you. You did not do this. Postpartum Depression is a clinical illness caused by the myriad of hormones that have overloaded your wife’s system for the last few months. (I know there are much more accurate medical explanations; bear with me) So be encouraged that this present darkness is not your doing.
Recognizing PPD in Your Wife
Recognizing the signs of PPD in your wife can be really tricky. Caring for a child is stressful, frustrating, and exhausting. The pressure will be the fuel for a few marital spats. Add to that a debilitating lack of sleep, and maybe a few more of these
children pint-sized relationship assassins and its easy to see why it would be hard to draw the line between normal parenthood rigors and depression.
One of the things to look for are the “Calls for Help”. (Well that doesn’t sound too bad does it? “Call for help”, that’s like a damsel in distress searching for her gallant knight in shining armor. Right? Wrong.)
“Calls for help” in my limited experience, have been one of two things. An expression of debilitating hopelessness, or uncharacteristically biting, mean, comments.
It’s a nasty spiral. She was expecting to feel contentment and joy over her new baby. Instead she feels overwhelmed and out of control. Adding to this are all the changes that her body has just gone through during pregnancy and is continuing to go through after birth. Enter PPD. Instead of concluding that it is normal to feel overwhelmed and understandable to be discouraged at the difficulties, the PPD convinces her that she is the only mother that has felt like this.
That thought makes her feel incredibly guilty; both about her supposed shortcomings as a human being, and about her feelings toward her child, because, of course, in reality, she loves that adorable poop-machine. PPD has convinced her that this is never going to end. Life will always be like this now, and there is no way out. That’s the kicker. That’s what drives the situation from feeling bad into the realm of depression.
So, what will this sound like? Depression doesn’t always manifest itself as sadness, often times it looks like rage, or anxiety and worry. “I’m the worst mother ever!”, or “I can’t live like this.”, “What if I screw up and the baby dies” or “My child hates me.” It is not her normal demeanor, and it usually seems like an over reaction to the situation. My wife would fixate on escaping her situation via drastic means like running away or suicide.
Women will often take out their feelings on their husbands. For instance, she may not be able to let the little things go. Small character flaws or habits that she doesn’t find particularly endearing will be extra grating now. Forgotten chores will set her off like they never would have before. PPD makes it so she has little capacity to deal with life and no patience or grace to cope with your shortcomings.
What Should You Do?
OK, you’re pretty sure it’s PPD, now what? Dads, please please please, don’t do what I did and get defensive. I understand the reaction. You have my every sympathy, but you need to take some time to understand what I’ve been telling you. She doesn’t feel like she can handle things in her life anymore. She feels like she isn’t able to do what is best for her child, and she thinks it’s never going to get better. Please do not make her feel like she is under attack from you too, her best source of empathy, and strength, and help.
What should you do?
First and most importantly, get help. Find a counselor, find a Psychologist, find a medical professional that is qualified to diagnose and help deal with this. It is not a cowardly response, it is not a shameful response, it is not a cop-out or a dismissal of another problem. Remember, you, neither of you, caused this, and neither of you can fix it by yourself, and it is not worth putting your family’s life or health on the line thinking that you can.
After that, Dads, get ready to be the big strong hero… by taking every verbal punch she may throw at you. You can take it, and now you are going to prove it. Also, be ready to serve her like crazy. Nothing is too unimportant, and nothing is beneath you. This is what being a Daddy is all about; putting yourself out there and being willing to hurt so your wife doesn’t have to.
Moms, I will never really know what you are going through and neither will your husband, so if I may humbly suggest it, I would advise you to seek out a mom that has gone through PPD before. She will be an invaluable source of hope to you and a real physical evidence that it does, in fact, get better.
I hope this has been helpful to your family. Please remember I am not a profession, I’m just a witness, and these are just guidelines and experiences that I have found helpful.
Read more about our family’s journey through post partum depression.