How Partners Can Help, Even When They Don’t Understand

Share Button

dadbabyI am so lucky to have an amazing husband; he is a friend, partner, father, and the passionate love of my life. When I struggle hardest, however, it doesn’t look like the marriage I just described. I want to share his most helpful insight with all of you, here, because the sheer simplicity of it knocks my socks off. I should add: when I’m in a good place. When I’m in a dark and scary place, I sometimes want to throw things when he does this.

He says, “I don’t understand, but I don’t need to.”

He says this when I call for help with the baby in that desperate tone, and then ask him with so much accusation in my voice, “What?! Why are you looking at me like that?” It’s an explanation, and it gives him a graceful exit, babe in arms.

This is helpful because in those desperate moments, I am usually feeling intense anxiety and often rage, and I need a safe space to let that pass. If it’s just me and the baby, then the baby goes in the playpen, while I wait for it to pass, sometimes just around the corner, where I can’t see him cry for me. It’s a lot easier to wait it out, though, when Daddy can distract our baby from my confusing disappearance with a game or a story or a toy. In those moments, I long to be understood. I want it to be normal, not scary, something every parent feels. But it isn’t something every parent feels. It’s my illness. It is ok–feelings are not dangerous. Thoughts about doing something to release feelings of rage are not dangerous. Only actions are dangerous, and that’s not something we have to fear. My illness may drown me in feelings and thoughts until I feel like I’ll never get my head above water again, but I don’t act on them. My husband does not fear that I will act on them. We all know that we are safe.

When he says that he doesn’t understand, and he doesn’t need to understand, my husband is helping by making our family as comfortable as we can be, when my illness shows its ugliest side. In the moment, it releases us from talking about it. I have a hard time talking about these feelings after they have passed. I’m not in any shape to talk about them during the middle of it all. His words explain the look on his face, a look I used to interpret as disgust or fear. “The Look” happens because he doesn’t understand. Knowing that releases me from the fear that it means something bigger and uglier.

So, why the second part? Why does he say that he doesn’t need to understand?

Partners, spouses, parents, grandparents: if they haven’t experienced the feelings that come with anxiety, depression, postpartum rage… they they just don’t know what those things feel like. They can’t know, no matter how I try to explain it. I’m good with words; I’m a writer. I can’t make it happen any more than a writer can make me taste something I’ve never eaten. Everyone understands certain levels of anxiety, sadness, anger, etc., but that doesn’t make it any easier to understand why I my child taken to another room, because I feel so full of rage that his touch upsets me, and his laughter sounds taunting.

There’s another level to this, and it’s something I’ve only very recently come to appreciate–in order to truly understand what I’m going through, my husband would have to feel these feelings. I wouldn’t wish them on a complete stranger, let alone my life partner and father of my child. I have found a community of mothers who really understand this, through Postpartum Progress and #ppdchat on Twitter. I can go to my phone or computer any time of day or night and find someone who has been to this awful place. But when I call out for help with the baby, it is really nice to know that I’m going to get help from someone whose emotions run a more even course. I am sure that we’d be ok, if he did know these feelings, and that the chances of both of us feeling this at the same time would probably be slim. The plus side of not my husband not understanding what I’m going through, though, is that I don’t have to worry that he’s going through the same thing.

I do not mean to imply that moms like me don’t need understanding, or that we can get everything we need from friends. This is not a phrase that I hear often, by any means. It’s not an excuse to avoid me or to avoid talking about feelings. My husband came up with this after years of talking about feelings, anxiety, my illness, then, after the baby was born last year, postpartum rage. I need my spouse to talk about feelings with me, his feelings and my feelings. My point is very specific: when fear and/or rage feel like they will overwhelm every molecule of my being, my husband is comfortable caring for our child, even though he sees the intensity of my mood but does not relate.

He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t need to understand. We need acceptance. He needs to accept that I feel something so intense, that I want our child to be in another room, if possible. I need to accept that these feelings have come, and that they will go. These are the words we use to communicate that that is happening. We make for a truly awesome team, especially during those moments.

Share Button

Depression In Men: A Dad’s Story of Male Postpartum Depression

Share Button

paternal postpartum depressionMen get depressed in the first year postpartum, too. Whether you call it paternal postpartum depression or something else, what we do know is that new fathers’ suffering can impact the health of their children just as the depression of new mothers can. It’s important for men to recognize when they have depression in the first year after the birth of their baby, and that something can be done about it. Here, counselor and dad Craig Mullins shares his own story of postpartum depression, and how he now works to help other men get through it at his Colorado counseling practice. 

As a husband, a father and a professional counselor specializing in working with men I was particularly moved by Postpartum Progress’ recent series from “Warrior Dads.” I found myself relating not just professionally, having heard similar stories of successes and failures, but relating personally as I recalled those early days and months often feeling like I was a flailing new dad.

We were so excited to be pregnant. Our friends and families showered us with congratulatory gestures and gifts beyond expectations. It was exciting and I was proud.

We got the typical cracks such as, “You better sleep now,” but they just rolled off my back. In all the hundreds of supportive comments only one cautioned us of the realities of how hard parenting a newborn can be … only one, and she was cutoff mid-sentence as she was scolded for speaking such words.

Even if every person were more up front about the potential pitfalls, I don’t think it would have mattered. I read The Expectant Father, I eagerly participated in birthing classes, and I read the research about how much better kids do when dad is present, nurturing and connected from infancy. I had even written papers and given presentations on the importance of a father’s involvement!

I represented the new generation of dads who’d participate willingly in caring for their infants. With bravado I embraced the impending change of fatherhood for I was sensitive, strong, nurturing, resourceful, and prepared … and within the first few moments of my daughter’s birth it quickly became apparent I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. [Read more...]

Share Button

For The Dads: Why You Need Support Through Her Postpartum Depression Too

Share Button

postpartum depression dadsMy husband had one more thing to add to our series last week from dads on postpartum depression: how important it is for dads to watch out for themselves, too.

I wrote a piece a couple of days ago focusing on the three things men should know and do about postpartum depression to help their wives or partners.  Out of necessity, your primary objective will be to help your wife recover, recognizing what to do and how to get help.  One thing that I felt was lacking in my story, though, was any real discussion about the emotions involved for dads as they live through their wives’ postpartum depression.

Now if you’re not into talking about guys’ emotions, that’s cool. Respect. Go have a bourbon and soda; it’s all good.

But one thing I’ve never written about was just how scary that stuff was. For me. I’ve never shared how close it came to destroying our marriage.  About how I gained 20 pounds from the nonstop stress of it all.  It became the driving, all-consuming force in my life for a while. Not my new baby, not my wife, but that terrible disease.  The support of my wife and getting through her postpartum OCD became everything my life was about, whether I was facing it or actively ignoring it. [Read more...]

Share Button

Dads Speak Out on Postpartum Depression, Part 6: Trying To Understand

Share Button

postpartum depression menIt’s been an amazing week of input from the dads. I hope in the future we can continue to share stories from fathers so that dads seeking information and understanding can see they’re not alone.  Today, we wrap up with a few brief comments from dad Paul Malinauskas, who has been in the throes of PPD with his wife:

Trying to describe the combination of sadness and bewilderment that I feel is difficult.  I know, in my head and in my heart, that my wife is suffering for reasons beyond her control.  I know that she is frustrated beyond words that she sometimes doesn’t feel like she’s really our son’s mother, or that it’s never going to get better.  I have heard her say that she was disappointed by the whole birth experience, that it didn’t go the way she wanted.  I know all of this hurts her, and I’m so sorry because I can’t make any of it better.  But in my selfish moments (which I seem to have too often) I don’t understand why she can’t just forget the way the birth went.  Why can’t she move on?  The baby, and I, need her here, and now.

When I find myself thinking like that, the hardest thing is to put the brakes on it and remember that none of this is voluntary.  She really does love our little boy.  She is still who she always was, and I believe there is hope for tomorrow to be better than today.

Paul, thank you so much for your honesty. I’m sure that many fathers whose wives and partners are going through postpartum depression or related illnesses have similar thoughts. I know my husband did.

I hope you have all enjoyed our series!

Share Button