I’m Jenna Steranko! Currently a stay at home mom and part time/hobbiest photographer. I have 2 kids, Jake 9 and Emma 16months. They keep us busy with Jake’s sports and Emma’s toddler terror personality. We are a very outdoorsy family, often outside and always camping in the summer! We have 2 dogs and usually a foster dog hanging around!
The ripple of change for support for post-partum mothers is turning into a title wave. There is so much more support, knowledge, studies, programs, groups, therapies, medications and acknowledgment now, in 2019 than there ever was before (9 years ago I suffered and had zero support, this time around I had support every direction I turned. And that is UN-EFFING-REAL!)
When we talk about postpartum depression, the mothers who are struggling (or in my sense barely surviving) have options. But what about the dads? While we are sitting here in our doctors’ offices getting support and help, talking about an episode of rage that happened, or why we are always sleeping or not sleeping, or why we have these terrifying thoughts and day dreams about hurting our baby or something terrifyingly bad happening to them. Again, where are the dads? They are at work. They are silently processing what is happening and has been happening. They are wondering where their wife went. Their wife that wanted this family, that loves children, that was always happy and was capable of beaming joy and light into every room.
Once my depression and anxiety medications got all straightened out, I was finally clear headed. I was able to reflect and not feel shame about the incredible roller coaster I put my family through for the last 10 months after giving birth to our daughter. I was able to ask my husband, how are you doing? He, of course, looked at me a little stunned and said: “uh, I’m good?” That wasn’t an acceptable answer so I asked again: “But no, how are you really doing? Because this has been so f*cking hard and yes, I’m dealing with these emotions and thoughts and outbursts but you get the brunt end of it. You have to stand tall and be strong so I can fall to pieces and then you have to pick them back up again. You have to sit here and watch me be destroyed by this invisible condition. You have to watch your loving, happy, full of life wife turn into this rage monster who gets absorbed completely with sorrow and darkness and panic. So, my love, how are YOU REALLY doing?”
This is bringing me to the point of this blog post. This is for the husbands/spouses who sit silent on the side lines with no control, no knowledge and no support. I made a list of questions and have 3 husbands/spouses answer anonymously in hopes to shed some light on where need to start supporting, educating and offering spousal services for before, during and after their wife is diagnosed with PPD/PPA or in rare cases, post-partum psychosis.
- Gender and age:
Dad A): Male, 26
Dad B: Male, 33
Dad C): Male, 48
- What did you know, if anything, about post-partum depression and anxiety before your wife was diagnosed or received any help?
Dad A): A fair amount. Took a few birth classes and did some personal research.
Dad B): Not much in detail; just what I knew from the odd TV show. Sometimes women get sad after having babies. And I always thought it was short term… few days or a couple weeks.
Dad C): I knew quite a bit about depression since my wife has been treated for depression since before we started dating. I knew less about anxiety, but still quite a bit. I didn’t know a lot about PPD and how birthing would affect her existing condition.
- As far as treatment measures for your wife, were you satisfied with the help she is/had received?
Dad A): Yes and no. She has been prescribed medication which has helped a great deal but has not received much as far as counselling/therapy and the counselling that was received was not helpful.
Dad B): I’d have to say in general, no. For the most part, the options for help are there but I feel that post-partem is such a roller-coaster that my wife wouldn’t pursue some options because she was feeling ‘good’ that day (or at least she was pretending to); namely the counselling. I was never prepared, especially early on to talk about post-partem with my wife. I didn’t understand post-partum and was largely in denial that my wife even had it. It took me a long time to get my head around the fact that it was an on-going issue. I wish she was ‘forced’ to talk to a professional.
Dad C): She didn’t receive any extra treatment measures outside of her regular treatment.
- Please share your experience, from the outside looking in, watching your wife struggle the way she did/does. As in, what does PPD/PPA look like from your perspective?
Dad A): Short tempers and low motivation were common. Sometimes things felt normal but there was more going on internally that I was not aware of that seemed to come up all of a sudden.
Dad B): First, I will say, I was not prepared, mentally or emotionally. I was a terrible support system off the start. I did not understand the struggle my wife was going through. I was even embarrassed that she shared some of her struggles publicly on social media even though it helped her. Also, working out of town I was able to escape and turn a blind eye. And when I did see her struggling I tried to come up with solutions and be the answer. As the ‘man’ of the house it is my job to fix problems. I was trying to be a fixer rather than be support system. In hind-site I really feel awful for how I acted.
95% of the time post-partum is quiet to the outside observer. You wouldn’t really know it was there unless you were really looking. It was like a lurking monster in the shadows. When it did show its face it was scary; emotional outbursts, depression, etc.
Dad C): Again this is hard to measure because existing conditions make changes difficult to measure. For the most part when I see my wife struggle I take it on myself that I’m not doing enough being supportive enough which is difficult when you don’t have enough energy for yourself in the first place.
- Explain your feelings, emotions and struggles during this time.
Dad A): It is hard to understand and hard to know what to do to help. It can be difficult to have to be the support for someone struggling with mental health when we are also caring for a new baby and probably balancing work as well. I have often struggled with understanding mental health so it has been a learning experience for sure.
Dad B): It took me a long time to realize that I couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to understand what was going on inside my wife’s head. I am glad she is doing better but I do wonder if it will come back again.
Dad C): Changes in the family and changes for our eldest made coping difficult at times. Some days you really reevaluate if having another child was the right choice. Today I don’t doubt that decision at all and things are better.
- If there was an option for a post-partum depression and anxiety and psychosis class to take before the baby is born, would you attend? Do you think this would be helpful? Why?
Dad A): I feel like having it in the typical birth-prep courses is helpful. There can always be more information given. Awareness and providing tools to work through it is important.
Dad B): Looking back I would definitely attend. It took me so long to really grasp the gravity of the situation. I wish I could have been more knowledgeable and more mentally prepared.
Dad C): I definitely would attend a class if offered. I can at times feel down and overwhelmed by many things and understanding what is regular for me versus what is added due to the changes in family would be helpful. Strategies for reconnecting with your spouse would be good as well. Often times I get so caught up in my own brain that it is difficult to relate to and respond to my wife as I know I want to and need to. The hardest days were the first ones back to work after having taken some parental time to be with the family. Those days I really wished I could be in two places at once.
- Did you attend any doctors’ appointments with your wife? Were you offered any help to cope ie: counselling, therapies, information resources like books/pamphlets/documentaries?
Dad A): I did not attend any appointments in regards to her mental health. I attended most of the appointments during the pregnancy. I do not remember what we received for information.
Dad B): Yes I went to one doctors appointment which was after one of our bigger fights. This was after a long road of me not understanding, trying to fix the problem myself, make things better. The documentary: When The Bough Breaks was also a turning point in my understanding. I would suggest anyone having a baby to watch it.
Dad C): I didn’t attend any counseling sessions with my wife. I did help take care of our youngest when appointments were difficult to schedule.
- What would you say to another husband/spouse with a wife that has post-partum depression/anxiety?
Dad A): It does get better and it is more common than people think. I guess the most important thing is not to take things too personally. I often find myself shaking my head and walking away instead of arguing back.
Dad B): I would say seek help ASAP. Address it early on. I would say don’t try and fix it. Don’t even try to understand it because it is next to impossible to put yourself in someone else’s shoes; especially in a situation like this. Just accept that it’s there and support your wife needs. Listen. Ask how she’s doing even when she seems fine.
Dad C): The cliché that you aren’t alone. We really all feel terrible some days and parenting is not always an easy task. Knowing that there’s others that just need to get out and walk with the kids or just hang out at the park is comforting.
- How are you really doing?
Dad A): I’d say pretty well. It is very hard and the gratitude that I might want isn’t always there but I know that doesn’t mean I’m not appreciated.
Dad B): I am okay. I still find myself trying to understand what is going on her head. If a bad mood is post-partum or just a bad day. Is it still there? Or is it gone? Will it come back? But overall I am happy. My wife seems to be doing much better.
Dad C): Now, I’m doing well. Things are back to normal or at least to a manageable routine. I still struggle getting the sleep I need and finding enough time to work a job, spend enough time with both kids and still connect with my wife. If I had another five hours a day it would probably all disappear as well. But there’s a rhythm to life now that is comforting.
- This isn’t a question, but a point. Being someone’s rock is HARD AS F*CK. Thank you, even when we don’t have a clear head or don’t seem like ourselves. We will get there, eventually, and we couldn’t do it without our rocks. Dads need love too, so know that we see you, appreciate you and love you.