My husband was diagnosed with postnatal depression

Date

Author wishes to remain anonymous

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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).

 

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8 comments

  • It is not called "the nuclear family" for no reason. Wait till ya have the second. boooom. He won't stop at one bottle. but they grow up and post natal depression will seem like a doddle.

    Commenter
    gary
    Location
    sunshine
    Date and time
    November 20, 2012, 9:17AM
    • I am not sure exactly why but aged 63 tears have pricked my eyes reading this. My wife and nearly had a daughter 25 years ago (prematurely still-born) and then four years later we nearly had twin boys (prematurely still-born) - for this latter event I was out of the country and had to race home to be with my wife in hospital. Who a couple of months later joined me at my overseas posting. I learnt to speak of these tragic events - because often being asked about children - felt I might as well explain that the absence was not a matter of choice or inability. Others filled to a certain extent our need for children - nieces & nephews, god-children - former students, indeed. But there is almost not a day goes by that I don't think or am not reminded of this emptiness. But to think or even to know that other fathers feel the stresses so deeply - to the extent of post-natal depression - is somehow reassuring to my own contained grief. Thank you Anonymous & "Matt" - for describing your own suffering - and for "Matt's" honesty in owning up to his feelings - which permitted true healing.

      Commenter
      Tokujiro
      Date and time
      November 20, 2012, 9:27AM
      • No, they can't. It is a hormonally-based and chemically out-of-whack problem, and men don't give birth and have all that hormonal upheaval. What this husband had was a reactive depression , which is no more pleasant. By that, I mean he became depressed due to the unbearable load he faced, including in particular having to cope with his wife's PND (and yes, I've had it, and yes, my husband found it very difficult too). Partners of depressed people often become depressed too.

        I strongly recommend any woman with PND gets help sooner rather than later: it is not a weakness or something you can help, it's an illness. A diabetic would not "soldier on" without insulin. And more support for all parents would be nice...

        Commenter
        Molly
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        November 20, 2012, 1:15PM
        • The only difference between my experience and the above is that when I tried to talk to people (my wife, my family, counselor) they all told me to push my problems aside and worry about my wife and new child.

          When the couples counselor, after explaining how a test she'd asked me to do showed I was dangerously depressed and a high suicide risk then follows that up by chastising me for every slight, imagined or not, but excusing any of the wife's mistakes, it is asking for trouble.

          There is nothing worse than doing everything you can to support your family, knowing you are killing yourself doing so, and still being told by everyone you seek help from that you're a failure. It's not enough to be the sole breadwinner, do 90% of the child care when home, get up 8 times every night to settle the kids so mum can sleep through, etc, but you have to smile the whole time too or you're part of the problem.

          Commenter
          Zebba
          Date and time
          November 20, 2012, 1:45PM
          • I am loathe to participate in on-line forums, yet this one compels me. My husband suffered postal natal depression with the birth of our second child. For the first year he did not hold our new daughter nor show the level of interest as he had with our first. It has taken him many years to give voice to his sadness and to redefine how he sees himself in relation to societal expectations. Our marriage may have been driven to breaking point but thankfully he has worked very hard to reconnect with his children.

            Commenter
            louise
            Location
            tasmania
            Date and time
            November 20, 2012, 2:25PM
            • This is such a common story - where nobody understands the stresses and strains on the carer. Men, in this situation, are expected to do everything humanly possible, never to complain and to behave as if they are absolutely fine. For which, very often, they receive no thanks and little acknowledgement. When, as in this story, the man starts to show signs of cracking, he is given a hard time.

              I have known lots of men who have been through this, and many of those have suffered family breakups as a direct consequence.

              It is the same when caring for ill and dying people. From personal experience, I know just how much it can affect one. When my best friend was ill and dying 5 years ago, I was his primary carer, and his executor. Three months after his death, I ended up in hospital on morphine in screaming pain. My illness lasted nearly 3 years before it was diagnosed as adrenal failure - brought on directly by stress. I was unable to work for two out of the three years I was ill. The cost of not supporting the carers can be enormous.

              Commenter
              WillD
              Date and time
              November 20, 2012, 5:19PM
              • I'm sorry for the trauma around the birth of your daughter. But I find I'm reluctant to believe that men get genuine postnatal depression. New babies are tough and its right around the 5 month mark that the weariness really sets in your bones. As the Mother, you are used to dealing with that exhaustion and have already accepted the situation for the long haul. It takes a little longer for it to dawn on men. I've seen it in my own husband who became quite disgruntled right around the time he realised he'd have to continue sacrificing permanently. I'm sure until then he thought he was being this amazing giving guy, and then he realised that was the status quo and simply what was required of him permanently. He no longer felt like a great giving kind of guy, but someone with a world of pressure on his shoulders. As tempting as it is to cut them some slack, it will tip the balance so that you're carrying more than your own load and that leads to resentment from women and self centredness from men. Its not postnatal depression, its reality.

                Commenter
                Rachael
                Location
                Sydney
                Date and time
                November 20, 2012, 5:32PM
                • See, here's the thing, humans didn't evolve to bring up a baby within the confines of a pair-bond within an isolated 'house'. And all the improvements in community assistance for parents of babies and toddlers and playgroups over the past couples of decades doesn't make up for this fact. The appalling stress and misery we heap upon most parents of babies and toddlers,especially first time parents,is unconscionable, yet we have become so indoctrinated that this is how it has to be that I can't imagine it changing any time soon. Our society will continue to condemn both mothers and fathers,and their babies, to this unnecessary awful experience, and for what?

                  Commenter
                  Natural
                  Date and time
                  November 21, 2012, 8:23AM
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