Some things don’t seem like they would be “dad issues”, but if one spouse has them— they both do. Here is how to help when that issue is postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is a horrible aspect of having a baby, and unfortunately, far too many women find themselves in this situation. As a father, it can be really difficult. We can feel powerless, frustrated and even mad at our partners. We can end up resenting having a child and it can be extremely overwhelming. Fortunately there are a number of concrete things that you can do that make a significant impact.
1. Strengthen your Team
The first thing is that your partner really needs to feel like she is part of a team. So often the experience of becoming a mom is really intense. They go from being in a work setting or engaging in something similar in their life, to all of the sudden being alone with a baby who has intense needs. They often don’t have time to even shower, let alone get the food they need. It becomes really overwhelming.
But if they feel you there with them, if they feel like they are part of a team, it makes an immense difference. If you are an engaged equally empowered parent who can provide in the difficult moments, then she will not feel nearly as alone. This is also wonderful experience as a dad because being that engaged father is deeply satisfying.
There are a few key challenges that stop men from being this powerful father and I discuss those in the videos, One Key to Being a Great Dad & Why Modern Families Struggle. I invite you to watch those and find your way to step up, whether or not it is taking care of the night duty so your partner can sleep or tending to the baby when it is screaming. Do not assume that you are a lesser parent. You can do everything other than breastfeed.
2. Really Listen
The second thing that your partner really needs is to be listened to. She needs a place where she can get all of her feelings out. She may even think that she is going crazy, but if she has someone that will listen to her and be there with her in those intensities, it will make a huge difference.
Just ask her how she is doing. If she is hesitant to share, just say “Look, I know you probably have a lot of crazy feelings.” It’s normal for women in that situation to have fantasies even about hurting the baby. As horrific as those ideas are, they are very normal and if she can share them, it will be greatly relieving for her, especially if she hears that they are actually quite normal thoughts.
Support her to get her feelings out. Be there. Listen to her. Look her in the eye. When she comes to a pause in what she is sharing, just say “Thank you, what else would you like to tell me? What else is happening for you?” Really give her that space. It can take just 20 minutes, but it makes an immense difference for her to feel like there is somebody that cares and will listen to her. It is really intense as I talked about, to make that transition from being a normal member of society to being stuck at home with a baby that has intense needs. Your listening ear makes that transition a lot easier.
3. The Power of a Hug
Similarly, being right next to her, holding her and providing physical affection also shows her that she is not alone. Touch is deeply soothing for an overwhelmed nervous system and has been shown to greatly help depressive feelings. Simply hold her and remind her that you are there with her. Let her feel in her body that she is not alone.
4. Anger & Other Hard Feelings
A lot of women with postpartum depression have extreme emotions and especially anger that can be very difficult for us to be on the receiving end of. It can be really hard in an already stressed situation when you are expecting the arrival of your baby to be a wonderful experience, to instead find your partner is really depressed and angry.
If we can just be there with them and understand that they are having immense hormone changes in their body that are leading them to have these feelings, then we can hopefully remember not to take it personally, and once again just listen to them. Doing this requires real strength and takes everything we have. All we can do is our best, but try to keep your mouth shut, look her in the eye and know that she is suffering. Know that this is going to change, and let her have a place to get her feelings out. The free expression of such feelings is extremely soothing.
Help Her Create a Good Routine
Often new moms in this situation have a very hard time taking care of themselves and it really helps for us to assist them. She needs regular sleep, as fatigue is a great contributor to this intensely bad situation. As well, she needs to eat regularly and have some time to herself.
One of the best things you can do is to spend time with your baby so your partner can have some solo time. Similarly, schedule some childcare so you guys can have some time one-on-one. Support her to join a mothers’ group. Don’t just encourage her, really help her find and get to a group as entering a new social setting when you are feeling like crap is very difficult. Really help her by getting in the trenches and solving these problems. Find a therapist that she could see and perhaps a couples therapist that you could see together. It may seem unnecessary, but I can assure you that it will significantly decrease everyone’s suffering.
Postpartum depression is such a debilitating aspect of being a parent, but fortunately, it does end and usually it does not even take that long. If you can use these things to make it through this time, you will not only lessen the intensity and duration, but it also sets you up as a stronger team and a more powerful father which invariably leads to a better family once the depression has passed.
Thank you for joining me for another episode of Full Frontal Fatherhood. I would love to hear your ideas about how to handle postpartum depression. Please join the conversation below. It is hard stuff, so let’s be nice and share what we can. I will see you next time for another episode of Full Frontal Fatherhood.
Julian Redwood, MFT