Postpartum depression (and prenatal depression) doesn’t just affect a mother, it affects the entire family. When I was in the deepest, darkest throws of depression, my husband stepped up to the plate and exclusively handled all night feedings, among a litany of other things. He picked up and dropped off Little Buddy at day care. He got Little Buddy ready in the mornings and was on standby if Little Buddy got sick. He cleaned the house, cooked dinner and basically held us together. I’ve written about this before in my post “Carrying the Team“.
But it’s important to understand that while you have to take care of the mother, you have to ensure that the baby is well taken care of and that the partner is mentally and emotionally cared for as well.
A couple of ways to do this is to have in-laws and parents step in, if that’s an option. On the weekends it was especially challenging for my husband, because he wasn’t able to get a break from the baby. It’s hard in those first four months, because the baby needs so much attention and can only play by himself/herself for a small amount of time. So, both my parents and in-laws stepped in. We’d travel down to my in-laws house and watch football. Everyone relaxed, but there were more hands available to hold the baby. There was less pressure on my husband and he was able to whittle away at his dissertation (because our lives weren’t complicated enough – he was wrapping up his PhD), while Little Buddy hung out on his grandpa’s lap, watching the ‘Skins game.
Another way to provide total family care is to ensure that the partner fully understands what the mother is going through. I’ve frequently heard from moms that their partners really don’t understand what they’re experiencing. They can’t understand why the moms aren’t happy or why they don’t have energy. Even my own husband who understands depression and anxiety very well, still felt at a loss of what to say when I was at my lowest. He couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just snap out of it, even while simultaneously comprehending that that’s not how mental health works. A great option for partners is “The Postpartum Husband“. It’s short and to the point.
But not only do partners or dads need to understand what the mother of their child is going through, they may actually need counseling themselves. Watching your partner suffer through depression is heart-breaking. That can take a huge emotional toll. It’s important to have a safe space for partners/dads to be able to vent (so they don’t take it out on the mother) but also to develop strategies for coping.
Lastly, dads get depression too. This is another great reason why counseling is an excellent resource. Partners or dads may not realize that it’s depression that they’re experiencing, for the same reason that the mothers may not realize their depression. Before either a mother or partner can get well, they need care – be it family, a good therapist, space, etc. It’s important for extended family to be on the look out for signs of depression in the dad/partner since the mother may not see it due to her own depression.
Peer support is a great resource. My husband has happily volunteered to talk to dads/partners who are trying to survive their partner’s postpartum depression. This is an important way to really help break the barrier of understanding that depression is truly a serious illness and should be handled as such. Don’t underestimate the power of empathy.
It’s OK Dads and Partners. We’ll get through this together!