Having a new baby comes with all kinds of emotions. New parents can be overcome with joy, wrought with worry, filled with relief, or all of the above. The truth is, there is no “right” way to feel when you enter into the new role of becoming a mom or dad. But, after a few weeks of adapting your daily lives to include your new little miracle, sometimes things still don’t feel quite right. For nearly 20% of new moms, in fact, things can feel very wrong. Postpartum Depression (PPD) affects up to 1 in 5 new mothers, stealing joy from this beautiful milestone, and creating challenges that neither parent anticipated when they were choosing a baby name or picking out paint colors for the nursery.
When a woman has PPD, the partner has a stepped up role. In the midst of adapting to new parenthood himself, a new dad may need to give extra support to his partner, take on more of the baby’s care, and help coordinate care and support. It can be a confusing and challenging time, to say the least.
First and foremost, it’s important for dads to know that these confusing feelings are completely normal. It’s a good thing to “want your wife back”. It’s a good thing that you are frustrated that things aren’t easy and angry that this time isn’t happier. Why? Because it shows just how much you care. But, don’t sit on those raw emotions or let them paralyze you. Instead, here are some ways you can channel your feelings into effective help for your new family, owning your role in taking steps towards healing.
What Helps Her
- Affirm her. You are her best support through this transition. Simply put, you can’t tell her too many times how amazing and strong she is. You will feel like a broken record, but compassionately reminding her that she is beautiful and courageous is very important. She may not believe you. She may push back. She may tell you to shut up and leave the room. Never stop telling her how much you love and believe in her. Tell her that the baby loves her so much and you are so glad she is the mother of your child. Even if you struggle with doubts of your own, these are the foundational truths you believe about her and want her to believe about herself. As you tell her these beliefs, it will also help remind yourself about who she is, and motivate your own hope for healing.
- Let her sleep. Sleep is healing. While typical depression can be indicated by too much sleep, PPD usually keeps moms from getting adequate rest due to the nature of the baby’s legitimate needs and her own over-anxious thoughts and concerns. Mom needs to sleep, but may be resistant to leaving the baby in the next room. Be ready to compromise (such as taking turns sleeping or feeding in shifts) and assure her that you will watch the baby and wake her if there is a critical need. She may criticize your care, but this has more to do with her own insecurities than her actual distrust of you. Help her anyway, and when she falls asleep, do your best to let her rest as much as possible.
- Be her partner. You are not her doctor. You are not her therapist. You are not her boss. You didn’t cause this, nor can you fix it. Your role is to love her, extend compassion, and trust her as the person you know her to be. Listen to her, then ask how you can help, or ask who you can call for support. The truth is, PPD is complex and confusing, and if you’re like most dads you never even considered it until the moment you didn’t recognize the weeping woman before you now. It’s scary and awful and you didn’t sign up for this. That’s okay. You’re not supposed to know the answer. Don’t underestimate the power of your presence. Simply being there with her, for her, will offer her more healing than you’ll ever know.
What Doesn’t Help
- Don’t compare. Comparing lives or wives will only fuel anger and grief. Yes, someone else has had an easier, happier time than you have had through this life phase. Social media bombards you with images of happy parents, healthy babies, and beautiful stories that fill your heads with unattainable fairy tales. Don’t compare her to other moms who seem to be doing fine. Don’t compare your lives to happy couples you see with giggling babies that never cry. Not only does this slow progress of your own healing, but most likely it’s an illusion anyway. You simply don’t know that family’s whole story.
- Don’t get defensive. This is easier said than done, especially when emotions are high and sleep is low. All new parents, regardless of PPD, struggle with communication after bringing a baby home. New tasks, expectations, roles, and family dynamics offer a host of stresses that can be difficult to navigate. Your partner is already struggling with insecurities, and so are you. Do your best to give her the benefit of the doubt, reminding yourself that this illness is temporary and totally treatable, and step away from an argument if you feel yourself getting worked up.
- Don’t ignore this. PPD is treatable and will not last forever. But, you can’t ignore it and just hope it goes away. In fact, the ugliness of PPD will likely only get worse until it can’t be ignored any longer, so the sooner you seek help the easier it will be to manage. Encourage your wife that she is not alone, that this is not her fault (or yours), and that there is help and hope. Reminding her that you are there for her (just as you were through the challenge of birth) will help her feel secure enough to reach out for the help she needs.
What Helps You
Through all of this, you’re still only human. You can’t take everything on by yourself, and chances are good that you have people around you ready and willing to hold that new baby, make you meals, and offer thoughts, prayers, or finances to help you thrive. Now is not the time to take on new projects or look for distractions beyond the home. You also need sleep, food, rest, and time to restore your mind and spirit for this exhausting phase. You are in a season of receiving, of needing to accept the favors of many, of being the family that others bless for a while. While this can be humbling, the gratitude you will spark inside yourself will inspire motivation for progress. Asking for help is genuinely a strength, not a weakness, and it builds up the village that you now need for raising up the new little one you’ve helped to create. There will be other times in your life for you to give back, for you to offer help and hope. Those times will come. But for now, lean into your support and make sure you are getting the care you need for yourself and those you love.
When to Get Help
If you suspect your partner might have postpartum depression, don’t wait to get help. There are many warning signs that can be red flags for PPD, but the number one sign is simply “not acting like normal”. Partners understand this best since they are usually around one another the most prior to birth and right after bringing the baby home. Many times, after a new mother has been diagnosed with PPD, the father will sigh with relief stating “I didn’t think that seemed normal, but I thought it was just from being tired or adjusting to the new baby.” If you’ve felt this way for more than two weeks, ask your partner about their behavior, and encourage them to get help. Other warning signs for postpartum mood disorders include:
- Changes in eating habits
- Changes in sleeping habits (not resulting from baby care)
- Racing or intrusive thoughts that won’t stop
- Overly sad or anxious
- Thoughts of harming oneself or baby
- Compulsively cleaning, counting, or checking things
- Lack of desire to hold or interact with baby
Ask your doctor, midwife, or healthcare provider for more information about postpartum depression and mood disorders to gain better understanding of your partner’s condition. Contact Ready Nest Counseling to empower your relationship through this challenge. You are not alone, and your relationship can come through this with deeper commitment and understanding. This season may feel overwhelming right now, but it is not futile. Bring purpose to your story through healing and connection and soon you will both be able to enjoy this beautiful phase of life.