I didn’t know that men could get postnatal depression. It never occurred to me that my loving, intelligent and supportive husband could slowly disappear or that our much wanted baby would push our marriage and lives to breaking point.
Looking back, I realise I didn’t know much at all about the realities of life with a new baby and the challenges it could bring. I learnt the hard way.
I had a picture perfect pregnancy apart from some early nausea and felt well prepared for labour. I had read books, attended antenatal yoga and believed I would be able to manage the pain. After all this was a natural part of motherhood and women all over the world did it every day.
However my picture perfect expectations dissolved after 10 hours of labour when our baby’s heart dropped rapidly and we were told she was in significant distress and we needed an emergency caesarean. The next 40 minutes were the most frightening of my life and I clung to my husband Matt, crying, terrified we were going to lose our baby.
Matt was calm and reassuring but his ghost white, taut face showed his fear. Zara Daisy entered the world tiny, blue and still. Eventually we heard a cry and we both sobbed, relived, exhausted, and overwhelmed.
Zara needed extra care and spent two days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). But luckily there were no ongoing difficulties and we went home together. Matt later said that he felt like he’d run a marathon, but he didn’t feel he could talk about himself as I lay in hospital sore and traumatised.
I struggled for four weeks at home trying to breastfeed, feeling increasingly hopeless. My tiny baby needed the best care she could get and I couldn’t feed her properly. As each week went by I felt more and more like a failure. I was trembling, crying, terrified that something would happen to Zara.
At my six week Maternal Child Health appointment, I was diagnosed with postnatal depression (PND). I now know that mothers who have babies admitted to NICU are at increased risk of postnatal depression.
I was lucky that my PND was picked up quickly and I was referred to a wonderful doctor and counsellor. Grateful to have someone tell me what to do, I followed their care plan to the letter. I also joined a postnatal depression awareness group where I could talk openly with others.
During those dark first months and through my recovery Matt was great. He organised family members to help out at home when he was at work, took on most of the cooking and household chores. He changed nappies, bathed Zara, prepared bottles, got up at night to help settle her, and took her for long walks.
We couldn’t find much time to talk, but we were managing. When Zara turned five months I was beginning to feel like my old self. I had more good days than bad. However as I felt stronger and my anxiety waned, Matt seemed to be getting restless and impatient.
I could see tension in his shoulders and red rise up his neck on the occasions Zara screamed for any length of time. He would try to sooth her when I asked, but quickly got agitated saying that he could not settle her and that she clearly wanted me not him.
He began to spend hours in front of his computer and by the time Zara was seven months old, he was drinking a bottle of wine a night by himself. He complained about being tired all the time and I realised somewhere along the way he had stopped playing music – something he loved.
There were some good days when we went out as a family, but the remoteness always returned. As he became more withdrawn, I became more and more angry. I resented the husband I had adored eight months ago and felt that he was being completely selfish just as we’d gotten to the point of being able to bond together as a family.
We argued about who had the more difficult role and who was to blame. I was at breaking point once again. This time the intensity of my anger scared us both. I screamed that I was sick of him, that he was a selfish, terrible husband who clearly hated life with us and I couldn’t take it anymore.
Having struggled through my own darkness I was desperate for light. Instead of fighting back, tears rolled down his face and he confessed it was not us, but himself he hated. It was the first time I had ever seen him cry.
He was overwhelmed by his failure at not protecting his family and looking after them like he should. Although he loved Zara, he blamed her for wrecking our lives, and, at the same time worried that she would think he was a bad father and person.
We knew we needed help and rang PANDA. We got a referral to a psychologist that dealt specifically with men and reluctantly he agreed to go to relationship counselling to try to mend the damage we had done in heated arguments.
In all the time I was being cared for I realised no-one had thought to really care for Matt – least of all me. And even after all I’d been though with my postnatal depression, we hadn’t recognised it in him.
Now Matt is playing music again and we cherish our family of three with Zara. We are open to having another baby and if we do, we know the postnatal depression signs to look out for and where to go for help. Now we know so much.
Anyone concerned about postnatal depression should call PANDA’s National Perinatal
Depression Helpline 1300 726 306 or go to www.panda.org.au
(Helpline operates Monday to Friday from 9am to 7pm EST).