I can remember the day we learned we were expecting. The fear and excitement overwhelmed me. Well, mostly fear.
I had just become an adult myself and wasn’t even married yet. How could I raise a child? I wasn’t ready — I didn’t feel ready.
But I quickly got over the fact that our situation wasn’t ideal and decided we would try our best. I did my best to learn everything I could about parenting through books. They helped me find comfort and feel more secure in our situation.
But there’s one part of the baby books I wish I had paid more attention to — postpartum depression.
I can remember thumbing through the chapters that described it and convincing myself it wasn’t a concern for us. After all, I was a present dad, there to help support my family. I worked hard so that my partner didn’t need to juggle work and a child. I felt like PPD was simply not in the cards for us. But I would soon learn that I was wrong.
The pregnancy was actually a breeze for both of us. I fell more in love with the idea of becoming a father as it approached, and we were thrilled to find out that we were expecting a baby girl. I can remember getting home from work, eager to grab the baby doppler and hear how our little girl was doing. My unborn daughter moved around a lot around 5 pm every day, anticipating my arrival. I found myself limiting the things I did outside of work and my family, because these became my priority. I was content.
September 19, 2006 rolled around and we were scheduled to arrive at the hospital. I felt confident as we walked in. I had packed everything we would need, and the house was fully set up and baby-proofed. I had taken time off from work to be there for my girlfriend after the birth. I thought I had it all figured out.
Little did I know that the birth wouldn’t go as planned.
After a long day of contractions, my girlfriend had to have an emergency C-section. I can remember holding her hand as they cut into her and rescued our baby girl. Moments later, the sound of little lungs erupted in the operation room and we both cried with excitement. Though the C-section wasn’t planned, we would get through it together. After all, now we had our sweet little Emma Rose.
The nurses took our 6 lb. 7 oz. bundle of joy at 9:21 pm and cleaned her up before handing her to us. I still remember how hard it was to hold back the tears in front of all of the people who were there to celebrate the birth of our child. Emma was the first grandchild for both of our families and she had quite the crowd waiting to meet her. I felt like with that kind of support, we were going to do great.
The first week at home was more difficult than I expected and we were met with many challenges. Healing from the C-section was difficult for my girlfriend. She was in pain, wearing adult diapers, and struggling to breastfeed. I could already see the defeat in her eyes. I tried my best to support her because I saw the struggle she was experiencing on the outside. I found myself reassuring her constantly — saying she’s beautiful, telling her that she’s a good mother even though she couldn’t have a natural birth, and explaining how her inability to breastfeed was common for some, and not to worry. I had hoped that my words would sink into her, but all they did was sink.
Soon the scars healed and she seemed to be back to her normal self. Looking back on it, I think she just did her best not to show how she really felt because even though she didn’t say so, she had changed. I soon began to see why. For nine months, she was the center of attention. Everyone wanted to know how she was feeling and what she was up to, but now they mostly paid attention to Emma.
After a few months, we began to fight. Soon she found an escape with alcohol — and this caused more fighting. Then she became very insecure about our relationship and would constantly accuse me of cheating. I can remember her giving me the silent treatment for a week, only to find out it was because I had smiled at another girl who walked by us at a traffic light. This constant fighting was tearing me down; it made me escape into my work. I grew tired of how she treated me. The beauty I once saw in her slowly began to fade away.
When my daughter turned a year old, we split up. At first, I would go long lengths of time without being able to see my daughter. I didn’t give up though, because Emma needed me. Her mother was still not healthy. She soon found comfort in partying and doing drugs. I gained full custody of Emma soon after.
I knew she was just trying to numb herself, but I could never figure out what it was from. It is now nine years later and she still suffers from the path of destruction that followed as a result of her postpartum depression. Looking back on things now, I can’t help but feel as though I should have done more to get her help. I didn’t realize how common it was for a woman to feel that way.
When I asked friends of mine to describe what postpartum depression feels like, they often refer to it as the “silent killer.” It makes you feel ugly, but you don’t know why. It makes you feel like a bad mother, even though you know you aren’t one. It makes you feel empty, even though your heart should be full — and along with all that comes the guilt. It destroys your spirit and can even make you regret having children, even though you know you love them. Everyone I spoke to had experiences with this, which makes me further regret not taking it seriously in the beginning.
Most of what is written about postpartum depression is from one woman to another. But it’s important for partners to be aware of the warning signs, and learn how to truly be the support system she needs.
I wrote this for men like me; the men that want to be supportive and want to gain understanding. The men that realize their role is important in the family. So check on the mother of your child and see how she is doing. Learn to recognize the symptoms and understand that they will not always recognize that something is wrong. Be the ear she needs to explain how she is feeling.
Most of all, don’t skip the chapter on postpartum depression — because it happens to so many women, and I believe we can play an important part in preventing it.