The Father Factor – Can your partner experience postpartum depression?

It’s no secret that being a new mother is challenging.

I had my struggles…and they were a mish-mash of self-doubt, joy and extreme exhaustion. It’s the main reason I decided to shift the focus of my Life Coaching practice to new mothers.

I wanted to support women through this life-changing transition. I wanted to help them get rid of self-doubt and to quiet all the “noise,” so they could feel confident and find their strength in the change.

Creating more of an awareness around the entire family unit and needing them to all play an active role is the key to her recovery.

But what about their partners? Do we need to ensure their mental and physical well-being is in check if we are expecting them to support the mothers?

How do they do this? What are their challenges?mother with cute little crying baby

Many people have asked me, “Do you coach dads or partners?” And I’m always stumped because my focus is on the mother. The mothers are the ones who are experiencing the pregnancy, which is incredibly resource intensive, and then they go on to experience labour, only to jump right into breastfeeding, sleep deprivation and all the changes, stresses and anxieties that come with the postpartum period, which doesn’t leave much room for recovery.

There’s no check-up for the mother with her doctor until 6 weeks postpartum and although there are a million resources, there is no time to even consider what the mother’s needs are or how to make those choices.

So while I don’t coach partners, we do need them to be the primary supporters and to be mentally prepared to take this on wholeheartedly.

However, although it seems obvious, I have never fully thought about what the partners might be going through: their personal struggles, their expectations and the overall transition through the postpartum stage. From my own experience with my husband, I’ve learned that they can feel helpless, left out, unsure of what to do or say. Some may withdraw, some may try to continue to live the way they lived before and some may try to jump into the new role right away, but be hit with many challenges as any new parent would.

But can a dad experience his own form of postpartum depression? Last month I posted an article about dads and their daughters and the important role that Dads play.

Father Feeling Depressed At Baby's Mealtime

I added a note to the post, asking the question “Do we need to ensure the Dads are ok?” and immediately received a response from a father, to a now 5-year-old girl, with his incredible and honest story of his personal journey through the postpartum period.

“When my daughter was born at nearly 7lbs of pure responsibility, I had a ‘what have I done’ moment. I had thought long and hard about becoming a parent, but nothing can prepare you for this life-changing experience. Initially, sadness set in from a combination of two questions that I would continue to ruminate over: ‘Can I handle this responsibility?’ and ‘Did I make the right choice?’. Months passed and depression deepened, my daily functioning became impaired; I was unmotivated, suicidal, sleepless, distracted. The mood in the house deteriorated; I was not pleasant to be around. At home and at work I operated on autopilot, simply getting the bare minimum done while living in my bubble of self-pity, unwilling to share what I was going through.

bigstock-124564823I was a victim. I had always pictured my life differently, craved adventure and excitement, wanted to travel the world. Yet there I was, working 9-5, living in the suburbs. Still, I loved my family and my sense of attachment to them left me feeling stuck. For a long time, like most men I know, I refused to get help. Until my partner finally put her foot down and demanded I get help.

I decided to seek counseling and there was one comment that changed everything. I told my therapist of my dreams of a different life and that I wasn’t sure how this all happened. Her reply was sobering…‘this is exactly what should have happened, based on the choices you made.’ This yanked me off my victim pedestal and showed me that life does not happened to us, we make it happen. That changed my attitude, which was followed by years of diligent self-work to rebuild my confidence and eliminate the negative internal dialogue. I eventually arrived at a point where I started to see my experience as a father as an accomplishment rather than a limitation. I felt inspired to fulfill my dreams with my family by my side. My brush with post-partum depression led to a fascinating process of self-discovery and now I can confidently say that without my daughter in my life, I most likely would not have embarked on this mission of getting the most out of my life.”

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This story, written by one person, can be applied to millions of new parent-partners worldwide. Although each case has its own nuances, I saw a few common threads after interviewing this father and speaking with other partners of clients that I coach:

 

  • Partners can experience postpartum depression.
  • It is not uncommon for people to assume a victim’s role in life and then feel depressed as new challenges arise.
  • A crisis typically prompts people to seek help; it is important not to reach the point of no return.
  • Partners find it difficult to ask for help since all the attention should be put to the mother and baby.
  • Men in particular often associate asking for help with defeat or weakness.
  • An outsider’s perspective (counselling and coaching) can help partners recognize symptoms of self-pity and encourage positive change.
  • When partners feel healthy and empowered, they become true caregivers and involved parents…and the whole family flourishes.

A family works as a whole, while new moms are at the forefront of adjusting to the new life with a baby, their partners need and want to be part of the process.

We must recognize that they are also quite susceptible to postpartum depression. Be sure to see the signs, talk, be there for each other and encourage them to seek out their own support.

 

Sometimes asking for help is the hardest part, but finding someone who understands what you’re going through and who can help clear your head can make all of the difference in the world.

Gesa Harmston

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