One of the things that breaks my heart the most is when I see or hear feedback from moms with spouses or partners who don’t support them.
I’ll mention first that living with someone who has depression, anxiety, perinatal mood disorder is incredibly challenging. It’s very hard to know what to do or even recognize it as an illness at times. My own husband, who has always been an advocate of mental health struggled at times while I was going through perinatal depression.
However, I feel that one of the main reasons that I got through what I did was due in part to his unwavering support. I’ve written before about his kindness, understanding and generosity. He felt powerless and didn’t understand how I could say some of the lies that depression was feeding me. He didn’t blanch when I wanted to leave him and run to Europe. He knew that the depression was twisting my mind in ways that I was helpless to suppress.
So let’s talk about how to survive when your partner is going through postpartum depression.
- This isn’t the time to question your relationship
Remember: this isn’t about you, partner. It’s hard not to take this personally, but you’ve got to keep in mind that this isn’t a statement on your relationship, this doesn’t define who your partner is as a mother, wife, girlfriend, etc. She is going through an illness that is warping her brain. She can’t help the things that she’s thinking. But they’re not really her thoughts. Her anger, her sadness, her disconnection is not really hers. So listen and validate…but don’t take it personally. You may have issues in your relationship that need addressing, but you might not. You should not make any major life decisions while your partner is going through a major depressive episode. You’re not dealing with the real her. This is the time for unconditional grace. You can deal with any relationship issues later, when she’s healthy.
- Get smart on postpartum depression
Read books like The Postpartum Husband. Look at the articles online about postpartum depression and anxiety. Remind yourself that this is a disease. Your wife or partner’s hormones are not handling things very well and it’s creating a toxic chemical cocktail. She isn’t just sad. Her mind is literally filling her thoughts with lies. She isn’t weak and she can’t just snap out of it, she needs support and good treatment.
- Fill in the gaps
She’s afraid to be alone with the baby. She doesn’t have the energy to care for the baby. She doesn’t have the energy to do her share of the household chores. She’s not lazy; the depression just saps her energy to literally get out of bed, some days. If it seems like a lot, just remember she carried your baby for 10 months and birthed your beautiful child. Step in and fill in the gaps. I know you’re tired from working full time. But this IS temporary. When she’s better, she’ll help out too. You’re just carrying the team for now.
- Advocate getting help and be her assistant
If she needs it, call the doctor for her. Stepping into the dizzy and complex mental health world is tiring and overwhelming. Do research on a therapist and a psychiatrist. Go with her to the doctor and help her express her symptoms. Look up to see if there are any postpartum support meetings in the area. Tell her you’ll watch the baby while she goes to meet with other women who are suffering. Tell her she’s a good, strong mom for seeking out help.
- Validate her and cheer her on.
Tell her she’s going to get through this, every day. Tell her postpartum depression is very treatable. Tell her that she’s not a monster and she’s not a freak. She’s just sick and she’ll get well and when she does get well, she’ll have a beautiful baby and loving partner waiting for her. Tell her that she’s not alone. Tell her that there’s anywhere from 10 – 20% of women out there who are going through exactly the same thing.
- Take time for yourself
Caring for a partner (and a new baby!) with depression is a huge, overwhelming job. Call in reinforcements. Take an evening off when your partner is having a good day. If she can’t handle it, see if the grandparents can come in and help out with chores around the house and the baby. It’s painful watching a loved one go through postpartum depression. So take time to grieve and care for yourself as best as you can, when your partner can handle it. Keep reminding yourself that this is temporary and you will get through it.