Here’s another response to reader requests … more information on dads. How do you talk to them about postpartum depression? What if they aren’t helping, or make matters worse? Today’s guest author is the wonderful Lauren Hale, blogger at Sharing the Journey.
Support for a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder like postpartum depression starts at home. This means your husband or partner needs to be dialed into your diagnosis and the necessary steps for recovery, and to enable a positive atmosphere in which you can recover.
In the real world, a dialed-in dad isn’t always the case.
As women, we often expect dad to be as maternal as we are, and if he fails the test we have created in our minds we convict him on the spot even if we have not taken the time to ask him to help us out. Often times dad is just as nervous as we are, if not more so. He’s learning too, so try to be patient with him. And above all, LET him help. It’s not fair to accuse dad of not doing anything if you are not letting him do anything. He is perfectly capable of changing a diaper even if it’s not the way you would get it done. Dad may also be nervous about your diagnosis and not know where to turn in order to help you.
When you talk to dad about what’s going on, avoid using accusatory language. He will tune you out faster than a soap opera. Instead, use phrasing like “When you (fill in the blank) it makes me feel (fill in the blank). How can we solve this problem?” Making dad feel valued and an important part of the solution is a positive way to engage him in your recovery. Sit down and split household tasks up with him taking the majority of tasks until you are feeling up to it. Check into getting a postpartum doula. You may even luck out and find one in need of hours to complete certification. [Great tip!] If this is the case, you’ll get either a free or highly discounted doula. You can find doulas by googling DONA or CAPPA and then locating doulas in your area.
Another practical way to engage dad in your recovery is to create a Sensory Delights List. Take the five senses and write them down on a piece of paper. (That’s taste, touch, smell, sight and sound. I always forget at least one!) Under each sense, write down five of your favorite things. Taste could be chocolate; touch could be a certain fabric (or him if you’re up to it!); smell, a favorite perfume; sight, a favorite movie or piece of art; and sound, a favorite CD or song or windchimes, etc. Post this on the fridge and keep at least one item for each sense in the home at all times. (He can procure them.) This will provide him with ways to help focus the attention on you. That said, dad buying you chocolate and silk will in no way cure postpartum depression but it will sure be a nice treat along the way!
If dad has specific questions about postpartum mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum depression, you can always direct him to your caregiver or to Postpartum Support International’s Chat with the Experts service, a weekly toll-free conferencecall for struggling women and their family members or friends. He call also call the local PSI coordinator or the dads’ coordinator to ask questions.
If after attempting to engage him in recovery or get his questions answered he is still not supportive of your recovery, it may be time to take more drastic measures. Start by talking with your caregiver about the lack of support at home and ask for any strategies he or she may suggest. Consider that his lack of support may be a sign of his own depression. Studies show that up to 50% of partners of women with postpartum depression develop depression themselves. You can read more about paternal postnatal depression here. He may also hear the term “postpartum depression” and automatically equate your diagnosis with Andrea Yates (and yes, I heard that one). It is important to help him understand that postpartum psychosis is rare. Even with psychosis, good care and good support can lead to recovery.
If you partner or husband becomes abusive while you are recovering, you certainly owe it to yourself and your child to remove yourselves from the situation. Call your local police department and ask for information about women’s shelters.
Most dads are really not clued in to how much you are struggling because when you have postpartum depression direct communication is one of the first casualties. Mine had no clue how bad things were until he had to pack my clothes and breastpump for me because I was being admitted to the psych ward. I held my anger about the entire situation back. I was jealous that he got to go to work every day and interact with adults. I was jealous that he was not tethered to the house as I now found myself. Turns out he was jealous of ME. Jealous that I got to stay home with the kids and did not have to go to work and deal with idiots all day like he did. Once we got back on track with our communication by talking WITH each other instead of AT each other, things improved immensely.
I’d like to provide a few ideas for you to pass on to your husband. These come straight from a dad who’ve been through postpartum depression three times so he’s familiar with the “drill”.
1. Realize that this is something you can’t fix. Once that was cemented into my head, I was free to just be the best husband/father I could be.
2. Take over duties and chores. Taking away the stresses — cleaning, cooking, etc. — that I could seemed to free her mind to think about the kids. Along with this, I also had the freedom to flex my hours at work. I stayed home until the kids were fed and clothed. I was home for the bedtime routine and cancelled my evening appointments. This isn’t easy, but this speaks VOLUMES to your wife. You’re making her a priority.
3. I went with her to her first postpartum depression support group meeting. I wanted to show my support, even if it was just driving her to the wellness center so she didn’t feel like she’d get lost. Along with this, I made her being able to go to her support group a priority. I rearranged my schedule to make that happen.
Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are tough on everyone. It truly takes a fight to survive. The key is to remember that it’s all worth it and there is always hope. Both of you have to listen to the other. Don’t accuse, and don’t nag if he doesn’t do the dishes or diapers quite like you. After all, it’s better if they get done imperfectly than not at all!