Becoming a father is a wonderful experience – you too will have had nine months of expectancy. Nine months to prepare and build your hopes and aspirations for your new role; for the family you will become and a new life that will be so precious to you. There is an awareness that life will never be the same again but you do not expect your wife/partner to be mentally ill as a result of childbearing. Pressures of being a new father can be a challenge normally, especially lack of sleep, and maybe feeling left out but if your partner is ill what do you do?
I know women have a tendency to feel that their partners ‘should know’ what they are thinking and when asked the ubiquitous question ‘what’s the matter’ and the sharp reply ‘nothing’ is fired back you know you are dodgy ground and you have to think fast as to what could be the real answer! And that’s when the female is well!
One new Dad said he felt his wife had about three years worth of PMT all rolled into one burst which lasted six months! Ooch.
Many people tell me that their relationship did not survive postnatal depression. I find that understandable because I admit I was horrible to Dominic’s Dad at times. He did not know from one minute to the next if he was in or out of favour. If he helped it was wrong, if he didn’t, it was wrong!
What is normal?
I don’t think anything is! All babies, pregnancies, relationships are unique and when you combine them all there is an infinite number of varying factors. However, if you have any reason to doubt that your partner is behaving in ways which do not seem ‘normal’ PLEASE seek help.
Signs to look out for
Our birth experience turned out to be very traumatic. It started out fine with me in the birthing pool and Nick chatting too the midwife. However, it turned nasty as the baby was in distress and I had to get out of the pool and eventually when our son was born he was whisked away from me as the cord was round his neck and he wasn’t breathing. Meanwhile I had a postpartum haemorrhage and a retained placenta and was rushed off for emergency surgery. In all the chaos poor Nick was just left to his own devices and literally holding the baby as I was wheeled off. It wasn’t the scene we had read about or discussed at NCT classes. Yet no-one ever spoke to him about it all. He must have felt totally helpless, worried and out of control. When I awoke the only comment we got was that I should think myself lucky as had it been a home birth or 30 years ago I would have died! I felt a debrief for us both would have been appreciated. As a couple perhaps we should also have talked about it. As far as I was concerned we now had baby Dominic and all that was in the past. Or was it?
So we had a rocky start. Almost at page one our perception of parenthood had been flawed it seemed.
What can you do to help her
Firstly accept that THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT!
You are not the only partner to go through this and sadly will not be the last.
DO NOT take it personally – she is not carrying out a vendetta against you. SHE IS ILL.
It can be so hard to accept these crucial points especially as you got her pregnant in the first place!
If she has had a caesarean section it may be easier to treat her like ‘an invalid’ initially as she cannot lift, etc. However once the physical healing has taken place it is hard to realise that the mental scars can take much longer to deal with. Yet the process is the same. Fundamentally she needs TLC – tender love and care. This can be so very, very hard bearing in mind how difficult both she and the situation might be.
What to avoid saying
She thinks or says
Pull yourself together
I am not a pair of curtains!
Impossible to do
So and so had six children and was fine
So what? I am not them!
What goes on in other homes is not your responsibility
What have you actually done today?
What? Other than get through it and tend to a new born? Isn’t that enough?
A newborn baby can be extremely demanding. If there are extra siblings the job is HUGE.
You look a mess
But the baby has been sick on me three times in the last hour alone
She simply hasn’t time or energy to look after herself
We haven’t been out for a drink for ages
Are you surprised?
This is basically too much at this stage
This room looks dusty
Well – clean it!
Time, effort and energy get in the way but also a sense of reality – does it really matter?
Or could you offer to help?
You’ve worn that dressing gown for three weeks now
It’s the only thing that fits
It may be the only thing she feels comfortable in
What can you do?
Talk to your partner. Keep all channels of communication open for her. Listen to her. Be there. Sometimes just having someone there is enough – they do not need to speak.
Perhaps you will need to take time off work to support her – my Mum had to for me. The more open and honest you can be with people the better.
YOU need support too so do not be worried to confide in your best friends and close family. The more you can work together the better. You may have to talk to them without your partner being there – this is not sneaky but done out of concern and love. You need them to support you too and also to make them aware of the do’s and don’ts.
Accept that she is ill and at the same time keep the hope alive that this will be a passing phase.
It can take time for both of you to accept that there is a problem. The sooner you both can realise that there is the sooner help and recovery become possible.
Find out about the diagnosis. The hundreds of people who have told me their stories have shown me that postnatal depression is a unique illness – the symptoms, personality, circumstances, can all affect the actual condition.
Support from NHS
This varies widely across the country.
You may have to be the one who tells the health professionals how she really is. I did a great job initially of telling them that I was fine. No-one likes to admit things are difficult. I could put on the smile and make-up and a good show. Bear in mind that it may take a very experienced professional to see through this I. Also they may have limited time and not pick up on the signs so you may have to point them out, either with your partner there or make a separate appointment. As things progress you may also need to see your GP for support too. Do not suffer in silence and also put on an ‘I’m fine’ front because ultimately you will crack!
Earlier this year a couple gave birth to much wanted twins. After being discharged from hospital the babies were doing well but Mum seemed more and more out of sorts and began to display strange behaviours. Her husband noticed and made an appointment for them to see the doctor the next day. During that night the new Mum went walkabout in her pyjamas. Her body was found on the nearby motorway in the early hours. I recall this story to remind you that although this is rare it can and does happen. PLEASE shout out when you see the signs.
I also went walkabout in the early hours of a December morning when I was at my worst. I just wanted a walk in the drizzling rain. At the time it seemed a peaceful and pleasant thing to do. I was not thinking rationally. I was found curled up on a church doorstep wearing only my nightie. But for this other lady she found a motorway. We shall never know what she was thinking that night but I would guess there was no form of logical thought. But her husband is now left with his twin daughters without their mother.
I began to self-harm in the worst stages of puerperal psychosis. I had no previous history of this and only did it for a short time. In retrospect I did it because my rambling brain could not focus on anything – inflicting pain made it stop for a few seconds.
This website is useful on this area. http://www.sthnosecrets.org.uk
If she has been prescribed as needing medication support her decision to take it. If she feels that you are disapproving it can make it difficult for her. Again find out about it so you understand why she needs it.
Get support from others – physically
Carer and Tots groups
These are not just for the ladies. See if you can go with your partner if she wants you to or suggest you take the baby and give her some ‘me time’.
Specific support groups
Find out if there is one in your area. Please let me know about it and we can add it here.
Perhaps there may be joint sessions for both of you to attend?
e.g. Stockport – Beat the Blues group.
Find a friend and support – internet groups
Fathers who are isolated can find some great support on the internet with forums www.pni.org.uk
Phone a friend!
If you get offers of help as a family accept it. Our respective parents were great at making us meals, etc. People are keen to help so let them – why should your pride get in the way of recovery?
Go with the flow
Postnatal illness is a roller coaster ride for you all. Learn to enjoy the ‘ups’ together and grit your teeth through the bad. Eventually the more even keel times will return.
Can you think of at least one ‘feel good’ thing to do every day? Remember that it is the little things that count.
On a ‘good’ day be assertive and suggest a walk together or look for something novel, e.g.www.localkids.co.uk
When was the last time you said something nice to her? Tried it and you got your head bitten off or told you were lying? Sounds about right! Women often find it hard to take compliments even when they are well. For example, you say they look good in a certain dress and they reply with ‘This old thing? It makes my thighs look big’. Know the scene?
Well sorry guys but you just have to keep trying! Even if she has been sitting for hours but she did actually get dressed at some point, tell her that you like her in that shade of pink.
I used to HATE people telling me that I looked well when inside I was screaming and crumbling. It made me feel a fake.
So pick on physical things instead or an action she has done.
Normally I am a very affectionate, touchy feely girl. I love hugs, kisses and physical gestures but when I was poorly I pushed everyone away.
I felt worthless so why would anyone else want to be close to me? I seemed to have lost contact with my new body. I had been so excited when I was pregnant and delighted in my changing shape. Immediately after the birth, when I woke up from theatre, it was as if I had been given someone else’s body. My breasts felt like floppy cabbage leaves. My stomach huge. My genital area like it had been abused and messed with.
As the weeks went by my stomach did go down and my breasts definitely swelled! But the nipples got infected and the tale of woe continued. I think even without postnatal depression it would have taken me a while before I felt passionate again!
Think if you have a sickness and diarrhoea bug. You are back and forth to the bathroom. You feel and know you smell. You have awful stomach ache. And someone wants to make love to you?! Would you like it? Would you feel passionate?
So my advice is to be patient. Do NOT take any rejection as an insult to your manhood. It is her problem, so to speak, not yours.
I even banished Nick to separate rooms as my excuse was that he needed his sleep as he was working and it was my task to deal with baby Dominic in the night. In retrospect we should have still shared a bed and shared the task much more.
So if you are getting rejected what can you do? It goes back to TLC. Massages are wonderful but reassure her that you want to relax her and that is all. Give her feet a rub whilst you are on the settee. Just hold her, especially if she cries. Stroke her hair. Cosset her.
Give her time but in a feeling of closeness and security , not pressure.
In time this will help in the healing process and may well bring you even closer.
When I was suffering with postnatal illness no-one stressed the importance of a good diet. When people feel low they often go for the ‘comfort’ foods of cakes, biscuits, etc. Yet it is vital that your partner has fresh fruits, vegetables and all the usual healthy eating suggestions. Make sure they have little and often meals. Remember that their body has had a terrific change due to pregnancy and it needs care even if they do not have postnatal depression!
Can’t cook? Ask for family and friends help. There are plenty of easy cookery books and websites out there to give you some ideas. It doesn’t have to be 5* restaurant standard or price.
Out at work all day? Take out of the freezer what you’d like for tea before you leave for work. That way a simple decision has been made for her tat otherwise she may worry all day about.
Weight loss? Forget it if they are really poorly – they have enough to deal with. As their mood lifts then by all means encourage them try to do this if it is important to them but otherwise take it off their worry list for the time being.
Be patient too! If you make comments about her size and shape this is likely to really upset her and make her eat more!
Treats? I am all for them! If they fancy a bit of chocolate then go for let them enjoy it.
Some ladies may turn to alcohol or other forms of substance abuse in order to mask their postnatal depression. If this is your partner PLEASE seek professional help as there are other, less harmful, ways to deal with it.
When I was a patient in the psychiatric hospital, the occupational therapist prescribed me some gym sessions. At first I hated it but gradually the natural raising of serotonin, ‘the feel good’ chemical, began to lift my mood. I would pedal away on the gym bike but close my eyes and think of bike rides in happier times. In Australia they have pram walking groups for ladies suffering with postnatal depression.
Put the baby in the pram and get out of the house. Fresh air and a walk will do you all good. There are plenty of baby-friendly aids out there for walks, bikes, etc.
If she is feeling up to it sex is a great workout too!
I feel this is very under-rated as a wonderful technique for both mum and baby. Did you know that some areas have sessions for Dads too?
I remember all the advice of ‘when baby rests you should’ but I did not take it! If Dominic did sleep in the day I used that time to catch up on housework; sort out the post, do the ironing. It always seemed that just as I decided to sit down then he would wake up again and the feed, change, entertain routine would start all over again! So my question to you and your partner – does it REALLY matter if the cushions aren’t plumped up? That the lounge hasn’t been dusted for weeks? Does anyone ever say on their death bed ‘I wish I’d done more house work’. I do not think so!
New mothers are so good at trying to be everything to everyone and feeling they have to achieve such high standards in everything they do, that they can lose themselves in it all. The important thing is their health and it is vital that they DO rest when baby does. This is a phase – it won’t be like this forever, so encouraged them that their health, not housework matters.
Night time sleeping. What was that? We got very little. Time and time again we told our health visitor that we were not sleeping but the months rolled by and circumstances deteriorated. I reached a point of not sleeping as I couldn’t see the point. My baby would wake me as soon as I did. I feel this was the biggest factor in my complete breakdown. So please take sleep seriously for your partner!
In retrospect I feel that my mood was rubbing off on baby Dominic – he did not sleep well due to being anxious about me and so the vicious circle began. When I was in hospital he did sleep far better for Nick. Maybe because Nick did not breast feed like I could or just because he was much calmer than I was? Who knows but it did make me feel even more hopeless at the time. Beware your partner if you do something apparently ‘better’ than her! Reassure her that they are the most important thing for their baby. See what I mean about always being in the wrong even if you do something right?!
Take all suggestions of getting a baby to sleep through but fundamentally do what suits you and your family. Professionals and well meaning friends can sometimes make you feel worse about your techniques but if they work for you then go for it!
General support on being a Dad
m: 07762 148183