Postpartum Depression – A Guide for Dad’s
Aunt Becky wrote an affecting post yesterday: I Am The Face of PTSD. If that doesn’t move you, you’re probably a sentient robot, so let me be the first to welcome our new robot overlords who will never cry at a chick flick or become emotional at the end of Glory. Not only was the post inspiring, but it also alerted me to the fact that May is National Mental Health Month.
So in light of that, I’d like to talk to you about something that quite honestly came as a shock to me when I became a dad: postpartum depression. Prior to the birth of our first child, my wife and I rarely heard anything about the topic except through the news, so we thought postpartum depression was limited to those crazy moms who drove their kids into the river or something heinous like that. We rarely ever thought about the mental effects of becoming parents and instead we were far more concerned about the color of the nursery, educational toys, and all the SIDS prevention things we could get our hands on. When we considered the emotional effects of becoming a parent, everything we considered was usually warm, soft and fuzzy.
So needless to say, I was a bit surprised when my wife didn’t quite seem herself a few days after D1 was born. I attributed this to the fact that she wasn’t getting any sleep and D1 had a hard time latching on for breastfeeding. A few days later, she seemed genuinely sad and then a day later, she seemed sullen.”Uh oh,” I thought, “Is she going to harm our kid?” My mind began to race, frantically trying to figure out what to do and all I had in my arsenal were Baby Einstein toys and some Halo SleepSacks.
Before I go on, if you’re a dad, let me just say that the following is general advice. You know your wife better than I do (or you really should anyway), and since every birth, newborn, home environment, support network, etc… is different, please pick and choose what you think would be helpful to you. There’s also a difference between Baby Blues and postpartum depression. And did you know that men, particularly new fathers experience postpartum depression as well? So anywho, here’s some advice from one dad to another.
Dadvice #1: understand that postpartum depression is ok. Particularly in Asian communities, any sort of mental illness carries a stigma, so they’re rarely discussed and you certainly wouldn’t want anyone to know. So when it became clear my wife was suffering from it, I began to panic and tried to find a solution. Which leads me to my second bit of dadvice:
Dadvice #2: don’t rush to find a solution. The first thing I did was respond like most men would: try to figure out what’s wrong and fix it. How could she be so sad? Our daughter is so cute and she’s such a joy! Is it me? Am I being unsupportive or too overbearing? The best bits of advice I learned about women were from Homer Simpson:
Son, when a woman says nothing’s wrong, it means everything’s wrong. When a woman says everything’s wrong, it means everything’s wrong. And when a woman says that something isn’t funny, you’d better not laugh your ass off!
and White Men Can’t Jump.
See. if I’m thirsty. I don’t want a glass of water, I want you to sympathize. I want you to say, “Gloria, I too know what it feels like to be thirsty. I too have had a dry mouth.” I want you to connect with me through sharing and understanding the concept of dry mouthedness.
The quote from Gloria definitely applies here. I’m no psychologist, but I did suffer through several bouts of depression, and I know that there was no specific way to fix my depression. People tried to offer solutions, often telling me how great I had it, counting my blessings and all that, but nothing really worked. I just needed people to be with me. So just be with your wife. Be there for her. Listen. And don’t be afraid of counseling.
Dadvice #3: It’s ok to feel powerless. From the beginning of labor through much of the first year of D1’s life, I felt worthless. Worthless because I couldn’t do anything. Worthless because I had to sit idly by as my wife labored for hours on end. Worthless because I didn’t have the solution to help my wife out of the baby blues. Worthless because I thought I should’ve been able to prevent her from suffering from postpartum depression. But fact of the matter is, yes, I was powerless to do much of anything concerning labor and the emotions my wife was going through, but that’s very different from being worthless. When it comes to supporting your wife through postpartum depression, your value isn’t in what you can do but who you are.
Dadvice #4: Screw stigmas. In the 3 years of being a father, I often found that I made decisions based on what others would think of my parenting rather than what I thought was best for my child. Screw what other parents and their often judgmental eyes think of you. As I wrote on Nat’s blog: you’re the perfect parent for your child. In the same vein, you’re the perfect partner for your wife. Forget what everyone else thinks – do what’s best for you and your family.
So what about you? Any advice for dads from you moms out there?