It is hard to know where to start this story but I guess it began once we found out my wife was pregnant again. The first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, which was quite devastating, but we’re not ones to give up. So, we gave it some time and tried again. This one took and we thought the worst was behind us. Filled with a new sense of optimism, we progressed through what I would call a relatively normal pregnancy.
Halfway through the pregnancy we took your typical birthing class, covering the birth, medical intervention during the birth and afterwards. The only mention of postpartum depression was on the last day of class. The nurse basically boiled it down to crazed mothers drowning their children. The looks around the room were of disgust – “Who could do such a thing?!” everyone robotically responded! To be fair, the only knowledge I had of the subject was the couple of high-profile cases featured on TV. Apparently it was an epidemic – crazed, overloaded mothers succumbing to demonic voices.
Our birth was traumatic. My wife chose to go as natural as possible and 19 hours later, at 6am, we had a son after a night of no sleep. At this point things are probably pretty familiar to most – birth is hard, exhausting, but everyone does it and everyone emerges with a newfound sense of glee. Right?
My wife’s placenta wouldn’t come out and she hemorrhaged. Bad. We both saw everything. She had no pain medication. It was brutal. A horror show. Our son was on her chest for no more than a couple minutes when they had to take him away and do the standard checkup. She needed to have surgery and I had to say good-bye. It was rough. I stayed with our son and he turned out to be relatively okay.
Eventually we all regrouped in the maternity ward and it was amazing. We were a family. And yet something felt off. In any case, they discharged my wife, without counseling or any time to recover from her massive blood loss.
We went home and were back in the ER that same night because our son wouldn’t stop screaming. The doctor literally told my wife she was starving her child. She ordered a blood test and the staff proceeded to torture my son by pricking his feet no less than 20 times. They screwed up the procedure and came back to do it again, eventually telling us he just needed formula so he wouldn’t starve. My wife was devastated and imploding. They told her the last thing she needed to hear, and it didn’t matter if it wasn’t true. And down the rabbit hole we went.
The expectation was that she would be breastfeeding 110%. Anyone familiar with the subject knows there’s just a bit of peer pressure on that subject. Her milk never came in due to the blood loss – something we weren’t made aware could happen until later. But the damage had been done — you’re starving your child — and the guilt and anxiety had been thoroughly implanted. As a husband, it was the most devastating and disappointing thing I ever experienced. It was a 24-7 task to keep our heads above water.
For a long time my wife just couldn’t forgive herself for “starving” our son, as the doctors had called it – even as he gained weight from formula. Most people didn’t want to hear our story. For a while I was her only crutch so I had to push down any feelings or traumatic images from the birth. Just keep going. Don’t stop. They need you. And that’s what I did for 18 months. But she just kept beating herself up. She never once harmed the baby. I never thought she would, even thought she had postpartum depression. But I can’t lie, the level of her self-loathing was painful to watch.
Even now, just writing about it tightens my chest like I’m stuck under a steamroller. But we did make it out the other side and today my wife and son are healthy and relatively happy.
There are a few things that did help after understanding her situation better. Medication proved to be an effective patch for her potholes and made her stable enough that therapy had a chance to work. That treatment combined with the amazing support of our midwife got us on the right path and to the right people. My advice to anyone in a similar situation is never hesitate to speak up if something doesn’t feel right because only a parent knows the right thing for their family. As a partner in this situation, be kind, caring, loving, forgiving and just listen. Give your partner time away to clear her head. Give her time to get cleaned up. Take extra days off. If people aren’t being helpful, send them away. When you get the chance, get into therapy yourself – you will be a better partner in these difficult times.
If I could wish for anything out of all this it would be that there was a support network for partners – because we’re the first-responders and deserve a little love and care too.