My husband Frank surprised me with this yesterday, which he wrote from his heart and asked me to share with you. It is about our experience with postpartum depression from his perspective, and what he'd like husbands, fathers and partners to know:
I am writing this because my wife has made it her life's mission to illuminate the pain, anguish and recovery that surround postpartum mood disorders. I have felt compelled for some time to reach out directly to men because postpartum mood disorders are devastating for the entire family. It requires a family effort to recover, and husbands/fathers are critical to that recovery.
First of all I need to share a little of the story. Katherine and I waited to have children until we were older, feeling we'd be more prepared. While she was pregnant, I sang "Don't Worry, Be Happy" to our baby and felt that all was right. We had our son Jackson in what ended up being a horrible delivery. Nothing seemed to go right. He was jaundiced, had to stay at the hospital, wouldn't breastfeed and Katherine was wrecked physically. We were as exhausted as any new parent is, but I expected the joy to set in naturally. When I noticed things like my wife not taking care of herself, obsessively writing everything down, being exhausted all the time and scared to death about everything to do with Jack, I attributed it to being a new mother. When she couldn't seem to handle the baby, I did what all guys do — I worked to fix the issue mechanically. I took care of all the baths and other childcare when I came home. I came to see her at lunch. I dove into my job.
After days stretched into 8 weeks and beyond, I noticed we were talking and spending more time on how bad she felt. It didn't go away. She cried frequently and was hypervigilant about Jackson. She would not bathe him. [Katherine's note: That's because I was afraid I'd drown him, not because I'm against bathing!] She and I talked and talked, but I was overwhelmed. I wondered what had happened to the competent woman I married and wanted to have a baby with. Eventually one night I told my wife I could not help her and that she needed to get professional help. She did. She got real help and recovered and is a light to other women, but it was a struggle.
In retrospect it all seems so clear to me that she was suffering postpartum depression, but I didn't understand it at the time. I would like to give the other fathers and husbands out there the following important advice:
1) Be there for your wife. Many guys dive back into work because having a baby can be scary and really get us out of our comfort zone. But you need to pull your weight and more. Whatever your best is, give it now.
2) If you sense something is wrong, talk about it with her. Shame is a prevalent part of PPD. My wife was ashamed that she wasn't feeling joyous and happy. You need to talk to her about how she's feeling and let her know she is safe to share her thoughts with you, whatever they are.
3) Watch what she does, not what she says. OK, so I told you to talk to her, but talking is not enough, because she might not tell you the whole story. Pay attention if after a week or two she doesn't seem to go back to the things she normally does. My wife is a Southern belle, who takes care to do her makeup and her hair, and it should have set off alarm bells for me when she stayed in her robe for more than a month.
4) If you are worried, take action. God gives us gut instinct for a reason. Trust it. Reach out to a doctor for professional help — not just your friends or mom or sister. Sometimes family members will be so scared that they will tell you not to worry, it's just baby blues, because they don't want to see the truth themselves. Talk to a doctor. You will never find a man who has lost a wife or a marriage who will tell you he wish he'd done less — he'll wish he'd done more.
5) Get in the boat with her. Realize that recovery from PPD is a family project. Go to the therapist if need be. Talk to the doctor. Participate with her. As guys we don't like talking about our feelings, but it will be the most manly thing you'll ever do.
I'm thankful that great therapy, medication, love and selfless giving have allowed my wife, once so heartbroken, to fulfill her life's purpose. I wish I had known the five tips I just shared with you so I could have been more fully there for her. I hope this will help you and your family to suffer as little as possible.
P.S. If you are a woman and are having a hard time talking to your husband about PPD, just print this out and give it to him.
For more resources for guys, visit Postpartum Dads at http://www.postpartumdads.org/.