When it comes to postpartum depression, a spouse can do a lot to support their partner. It may not be easy, and it may not be pleasant, but a spouse can help their partner overcome - or at least live with postpartum depression and anxiety. We asked Eric Dyches, founder of the Emily Effect, for some partner advice when it comes to postpartum depression.
Your husband is being great and helping out around the house, and I can tell you what he was thinking. He was thinking, "Why is she not happy? I'm working so hard. What am I not doing?"
What have I not done? That's what I would say to Emily. What can I do differently? As dads, we live a pretty simple life and we try to just keep things simplified. If there's a problem that comes up, we're going to fix it. A hug is never the first answer for a dad. We never think, "All she wants is a hug and I can hug her, then I can go back to what I was doing."
It can't be that easy, right? Often, it is. I want to be validated, to be loved and know that you're there to keep me safe and secure. Then you can go back and do you your thing. For a guy it's like, "Who are we going to call, and what are we going to do, how am I going to make a difference? I'm just going down the checklist." This is the experience I had with Emily.
As for advice for partners and husbands, I'd say the that's the first thing to do; go hug. If she doesn't want you to touch her, back away, you'll feel it. If she needs a hug, pull her in tight, talk to her and make sure that you're communicating openly at her pace and style. Physical touch and conversation at this time. Talk through things, again at her pace.
"Get involved. Whether it be studying online, going to appointments, or talking to others, don't just stick your head in the sand and think it's going to go away." - Eric Dyches
For partners and dads, you don't need to be the fixer. Educate yourself by going online and reading up on postpartum depression. Go to a doctor's appointment with her. The first few appointments, I didn't go with Emily and I probably should have. I went when it started to increase in severity, which was very helpful for me to be educated along the way. Make sure that you keep that intimate relationship, again according to her pace and what her style is, communicate, and get involved with the treatment. Whether it be studying online, going to the appointments, or talking to others, don't just stick your head in the sand and think it's going to go away.
"As a husband, I can imagine some of the things your partner is feeling or thinking may be alarming, but you yourself don't want to admit that" says Nurse Dani. You're not feeling like yourselves, this is not who you are. You might have a moment where you want to panic, but your reaction is going to have a lot to do with how much she's going to trust you in the future in sharing her feelings with you.
Nurse Dani explains that, being a woman, one piece of advice she can give in this situation is to watch your response the first time. Dads are not immune to depression either, and I think it goes both ways because many fathers are diagnosed with clinical depression by the time the baby turns one. You can be each other's best ally or worst enemy through the process, and if one has it, the other's more likely to struggle. If you're not struggling, then you feel like you're carrying a big load trying to help everyone. This may lead to depression, too, because you need an outlet.
That's a fantastic point. One of the times that Emily was really struggling, my mom happened to be there helping out, and we had to run some errands so I had her come along with me. We had a conversation and I completely melted down and sobbed like a baby. I just sobbed like a small child, because at that point, I didn't have any outlet. There was nobody that I could really talk to. It felt so liberating for me as a dad to give myself permission to feel emotion, because I was doing all that I could to keep Emily safe, and to love her, and to get her through this. Along the way, there was suffering that was taking place with me. Emily was not herself, I wanted her to be herself. I wanted her to be healthy. I would have done anything.
Dads need to find outlets and be able to talk through it. Often as men, we keep things bottled up and we're not good at articulating our feelings and even in this culture, maybe it's not acceptable for men to be that vulnerable, but for me it was helpful to be able to have somebody to talk to. I had some spiritual leaders, had some good friends, had close colleagues at work that I felt like over time I could open up to and it made all the difference for me to be able to cope.
Seeking help is not a weakness. The treatment for postpartum depression anxiety mood disorder, depression for a man, whatever it might be, it may require medication and it may also require therapy; sometimes both. And with that, with treatment, you do have hope. You can get through it and feel like yourself again.
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It's important for dads to step in and help out. Maternity leave is a thing, but paternity leave needs to become a thing. We need to accept new social trends and norms, because spouses are helping and many are trying to share the burden, but then have to go right back to work two days after the baby is born.
One of the things that dads can do after breast feeding is well established, is help with feeding the baby. Mom can pump and you can give a bottle of expressed breast milk. Dad can help share that burden in the night. A baby need to eat every two to three hours, from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next. In that two hours, you've tried to feed him for an hour, then you have to burp him, and change him, and get him back to sleep, and then a half hour later they're back up. So, that means mom never sleeps, right?
Taking the baby plus any other kids you have is one of the best things you can do for mom. She can get some restorative sleep and rest from a long day, which will help her feel better. You can also cook dinner for her, or cook together. Your help can make a big difference in her recovery.