Before children, I knew the statistics on mothers who experience postpartum depression (PPD), yet I never thought it would be something I would deal with. Ignorantly, I thought that because I wasn’t prone to depression, I am a mental health professional, and because generally optimistic, I wouldn’t be affected by it. But that’s not the way PPD works.
The truth is, one in seven mothers experience postpartum depression and only about 15% seek help and treatment. It’s possible that these mothers—much like myself— thought it couldn’t happen to them and felt guilty for feeling depressed after the joyous occasion of childbirth. There is more awareness in our present day, but social stigmas still exist surrounding postpartum depression and mental health. Stigma of the lack of bonding between a mother and her new baby or the need to ask for help when we are supposed to be the caregiver. Then there’s the fake illusion social media creates when we are bombarded with post after post of smiling mothers in full makeup and hair pressed rolling out of bed while holding their perfectly calm sleeping baby with the caption reading, “Motherhood is all I’ve dreamed about.”
For me, postpartum depression was something highly unexpected, especially because I wasn’t the one directly affected by it.
When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, it came as a surprise and for three weeks I refused to believe it despite the multiple pregnancy test that said otherwise. While I was in denial, my husband was the stable one, reminding me that everything would be fine. In the months that followed, I began to feel excited about parenthood as we prepared for the birth of our daughter. Then on a Thursday, I went into labor and I knew we would be physically holding our baby in a few hours. Labor has difficult, but around 4:00pm I pushed for the last time and our midwife placed our child in my arms. We stared at her in awe and gratitude for a healthy baby. The days that followed her birth were hard and far from glamourous, accompanied with adult diapers pads, raw nipples, and lack of sleep, but our daughter was well, and both Joshua and I felt happy.
Within a few days however, the high of welcoming a baby into the world had worn off as my daughter became increasingly fuzzy. While I struggled to nurse her, which was the only thing that seemed to comfort her, Joshua was beginning to feel detached. He was physically there and helped in every possible way, but he was not experiencing the same bond I was and would often stare at her with a blank emotionless face. As the days went on our daughter continued to become increasingly frustrated; and likewise, Joshua became more frustrated with her. In my eyes he lacked compassion which I didn’t understand.
At our three weeks checkup we learned that our daughter hadn’t gained her birth weight and after meeting with a lactation consultant I learned that I wasn’t producing enough milk to meet her needs. I was devastated and felt as if I had failed my child. While I worked hard to increase my supply and find donors, Joshua continued in darkness and I began to lack compassion toward him.
How could he act like this? He didn’t go through the pains of labor and breastfeeding. How selfish. How am I supposed to leave my child with him after some of the things he had said? Why doesn’t he just get out of his mood and act like a loving father.
Over the next few weeks, things did not improve for him and I began to resent him for taking away from my joyful experience of having a baby. I felt as if he had placed a dark cloud over the months after our daughter’s birth and I was angry with him for it.
Thinking back on this time, there is so much I would have done differently. Again, I KNEW that postpartum depression (or any depression) isn’t something we can snap our fingers and wish away. I knew that it wasn’t something my husband wanted to experience and wasn’t something he could control on his own. But I demanded he snap himself out of it.
Instead what I wish I would have done is:
Normalize his Experience
Let him know that what he was experiencing was normal and acceptable.
Validate his Feelings
While I felt joy and bliss, he may have felt despair and regret and that was also okay. It’s not something he wished for himself and for individuals with PPD there is often anger toward themselves. For us on the other side, we forget that our loved ones are often condemning themselves already and we don’t need to add to their negative feelings.
Give him Space
It can be hard for those not suffering from depression to understand that it is not about us. In our situation, I may have pushed my husband to make that bond happen rather than give him the space he needed to recover.
Seek Outside Help
As a mental health professional, I strongly encourage individuals to seek help when needed. There is never anything wrong with needing help. Ever. And while I did tell my husband he needed to see a therapist; I didn’t help much in the process. What I needed to do in our situation, was find a therapist and set up an appointment for him because simple tasks such as setting up appointments are not things our loved ones can do very well for themselves in moments of crisis.
Our story ends with my husband recovering after a few months. He was able to bond with our daughter and now he has a beautiful relationship with her. As for me, while I often look back at those first few months with a dark cloud looming over them (and there was) I have made amends with my husband for my feelings and resentment, and used our experience to better prepare for the birth of our second child.
Our mental health is as important as our physical health and seeking help and healing is a right we have. There are many resources (including free ones) around us to help us in our healing process. Please don’t do it alone, seek help if you need it.