My husband will tell you that he knew something was not quite right with me during the first year after our daughter was born.
He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he knew that something was “off” with me. Maybe he chalked it up to me being a new mother, maybe he thought it was something all parents go through, or maybe he was just 22 years old and had no clue what was happening. But regardless, he will tell you that while he knew something was up, he didn’t know that I had postpartum depression.
Looking back, I feel sad at the young parents we were back then. My husband tiptoeing around me, a shadow of a presence not really knowing what to do with his wife who was locked in her own world, and a new mom who loved her baby so much but felt like she was moving through a literal fog.
Part of me wonders what would have happened if my husband had known what to look for — could he have saved me from the postpartum depression that essentially robbed me of a year of my daughter’s life? Of my own life? Would his intervention have made a difference? Why are we so keen to let new moms figure everything out on their own, placing the responsibility of fathers as helpmates instead of active parenting partners?
We talk so much about the realities of postpartum depression — and it’s so, so important to raise awareness about the condition — but it may be even more important that we start pushing not only for mothers to be aware of the signs and symptoms of PPD, but also their partners.
“Partners can play a really, really important role,” explains Dr. Samantha Meltzer–Brody, Associate Professor, Associate Chair for Faculty Development and Director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Center for Women’s Mood Disorder, where she has specialized in prenatal mental health disorders for over 16 years. “Postpartum depression sneaks up on you and it’s sometimes really hard to know what’s going on, so for new moms who’ve never had a baby before, they don’t know if that’s just normal what it feels like to have a baby.”
Dr. Meltzer-Brody dreams of a day when we all acknowledge postpartum depression for what it is: just another pregnancy and postpartum complication that is both manageable and treatable.
“Partners should not feel this is something that needs to be shrouded in silence,” she notes. “We have to look at this like any other medical condition. If the mom was having a hemorrhage and was bleeding all over the floor or any other complication, you get help and don’t try to manage it quietly. Hands-down it’s the most common complication of the postpartum; we don’t need to make it this big, bad, and scary thing, but at the same time we need to say that somewhere between 1 and 8 women will have some sort of clinical mood or anxiety issue postpartum.”
By “demystifying” it away from a “big, bad, scary” thing, Dr. Melzter-Brody hopes we can make it easier for new parents to recognize what’s going on and to seek help for it. And the truth is, when you’re the one in the midst of a perinatal or postpartum mood disorder, whether that be depression or anxiety and especially as a first-time mother, it can be hard to recognize.
Even as a registered nurse who had worked exclusively in a postpartum unit where I educated every single mother I sent home about the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression, I didn’t recognize it when it happened it to me. I wrote it off as simply the normal burdens of new motherhood — I was working a lot, of course it would be hard to adjust, I was just sleep-deprived. And of course, there are a lot of triggers that go into the development of the disorder, but that doesn’t make the depression any less “real.”
My husband was absolutely aware that I wasn’t myself, but still never really recognized that something could be done to help me, and being a first-time father himself, he may have thought it was something that all new moms in my situation have to go through. He kind of just slunk away while I went through it. Looking back, it breaks my heart that I lost so much time with my daughter because of it.
We didn’t know any better, and that’s the whole point — all families deserve to know better.
If we start talking about this more, as Dr. Meltzer-Brody points out, we take the conversation for new parents away from “What’s going on?” after the baby comes to, “Oh, this is what’s happening and we know what to do.” She recommends resources such as Postpartum Support International, which has special information for dads and partners to educate them on the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression, telling them exactly how to help, how to offer their support for coping, and reminders on how to take care of their own mental health, too.
Postpartum depression affects the entire family — which is exactly why the entire family needs to be involved in preventing, recognizing, and treating the disorder.More On