A Husband’s Perspective: Postpartum Depression

Saying that postpartum depression affects only the woman experiencing it is like saying that alcoholism only impacts the person who is drinking destructively. It is obvious that postpartum depression affects the dynamic of the entire family, not only the individual.

medium_4828008426When our first child Grace was born, Abby went through over a year-long struggle with postpartum depression. (For the sake of brevity, let’s use PPD from this point forward.) To say that this was an extremely stressful time for our marriage and entire family would be an understatement.
Men are weird. We think everything can be “fixed”. If you’re hungry, eat something. If your car isn’t running right, take it to a mechanic or learn how to fix it yourself. The sink is clogged, get under there and find out why. To be honest, this is our approach to life in general.
When Abby experienced PPD, I was not the most understanding husband. I did not support her like I should have. I didn’t know how to “fix” it. I didn’t even know exactly what needed to be fixed. I just wanted my wife back. I wanted her to behave like she used to. Why couldn’t she just be happy with a loving husband and baby? Why were we suddenly not enough?
I feel like if we had been more aware of the signs and symptoms of PPD, we would have addressed it much sooner. The only thing I knew about PPD were the stories I had heard about moms committing horrible crimes against their children. Later, I would hear about how their defense attorneys would blame their actions on Post Partum Depression.
It was as if “Post Partum Depression” became the new catch phrase in the media and courts of law. Before my own family experienced PPD, the only thing I associated it with was something that made women crazy. PPD had been lumped in with temporary insanity in the courtrooms and on the news. So why would I ever think my wife had PPD when I knew she wasn’t capable of committing crimes like the ones I had heard about on TV? Now, I now know better. Abby’s struggle has taught me that there are all different levels of PPD.
I do NOT share this with you for pity. That’s the last thing I want. I am just trying to give my honest take on what the year our family dealt with PPD was like as a husband. As husbands, it may be tempting to chalk our wive’s PPD symptoms up to hormones and exhaustion. Abby and I both figured everything she was feeling was completely normal and would pass. But it didn’t pass.  Her suffering not only continued, but intensified. The crying, lack of ability to bond, complete loss of sex drive, sensitivity, and her seeming withdrawal from life itself took its toll on our family.
I feel like it is important to add that there were times when Abby could hide her struggle with PPD from others. When she had to, she was able to put on a good face and appear to be her old self. Abby is a therapist by education. I think it was easy for her to mask what she was feeling and appear normal. And like the saying goes, “Counselor, heal thyself,” she thought that she could fix herself. Looking back, I should have known better.  More and more often, a seemingly good night would end in tears after everyone else was gone and it was just me and Abby.
There were times I wanted to ask Abby why she wasn’t playing with Grace as much as she could. The problem was, whenever I would address it, I would get my head bit off and accused of insinuating that she was a bad mom.
I knew the truth. Abby was a fantastic mom who loved her daughter. Sometimes, she seemed to have a valid excuse for not staying up with Grace at night or getting down on the floor to play with her. I am not saying Abby was neglectful, but there was an obvious wall that kept Abby and Grace from bonding the way I thought they should. The fact that when Abby really did make an effort and Grace seemed to prefer me made this time and the disconnect even harder for Abby. For her, this felt like rejection and it caused her to withdraw even farther from the love of our family.
Bonding with Grace wasn’t the only problem. Any time I tried to plan a special date night, or we had an opportunity to visit with friends, Abby had no desire to participate. She just did not want to be around people. If we did go, she would usually end up crying. In fact, the crying could be triggered by almost anything, and everything seemed to make Abby feel guilty.
We went to visit Abby’s aunt in Nashville, Tennesee for Christmas in 2007. Grace was 13 months old. Everyone from her mother’s side of the family was going to be there.  Abby was going to have an opportunity to visit with several family members whom she hadn’t seen in a long time. We were both excited, and I figured this would be a fun trip.
It was fun at first.  Abby seemed chipper and excited to see family. After about a day, Abby started disappearing to our room and staying there for a while. She said she was tired or didn’t feel well. Pretty much any excuse to stay by herself. For me, this had been kind of normal for the last year, but I was a little annoyed considering she was with family she never saw. Why was she wasting time alone in our room? Why couldn’t she be social and enjoy time with her family like everyone else? As usual, I handled it the wrong way and accused her of being rude. She tried her best to come out of her shell, but some how always found a way to isolate herself.
One day during our visit, several family members offered to watch Grace while we went out on a date. I was pumped! Alone time with the wife sounded great. I also figured I could try to help put an end to Abby’s funk. We were going to the Opryland Hotel and then downtown Nashville to walk around. I was excited to eat some good food and listen to live music with Abby. To make a long story short, Abby just wanted to go home after being out with me for only a few short hours. We had the whole night alone if we wanted it. But, with tears in her eyes, she asked if we could please just go home.
I was pretty upset with her. On the way home, I just couldn’t wrap my brain around Abby’s feelings. This was the worst it had been. I had gotten to a point where I couldn’t handle all the tears and isolation anymore. Again, as a man, I thought it was my job to “fix” it. If she wasn’t happy, it had to be my fault. But all my efforts had always fallen flat. The truth is, I just didn’t get it.
When we got back, Abby went straight to bed and started crying. I think it was a mixture of me being a blockhead and her feeling guilty. I was at the end of my rope and wanted to do everything in my power to help her, but every time I did, I got frustrated and acted like an insensitive jerk. So, I did the next best thing and recruited Abby’s mom, Kathleen.
Thank God for Kathleen!
Kathleen went into our room where Abby was crying and they had a good long talk. Abby spilled her guts about everything she had been feeling for the last year. Her mother listened patiently. By the end of their conversation, Abby decided it was time to see a doctor.
Abby went to the doctor, was diagnosed with Post Partum Depression and Post Partum Psychosis, and was prescribed medication. We still struggled a bit at first. It’s not like the medication was an instant fix. Getting the diagnosis and medication was only the first step. It was a gradual change, but Abby’s old personality started to come back. We were able to address everything rationally and move forward.
I remember talking to Abby after her diagnosis, and after she was regulated on her medication. She told me that there were many times that she could actually visualize herself smothering Grace or throwing her up against a wall or on the floor. She talked about how she wanted to just run her car off of a bridge and take both her and Grace’s life. I couldn’t believe how much she had been struggling…and how I didn’t see it. Even today, just thinking about the state of her mind during that time gives me a pit in my stomach. Her desperation during that time was only escalated by my callousness. Looking back, I wish I had known more and been more understanding. I shouldn’t have taken it so personally.
Everyone wants to be the perfect parent. We all want to get it “right” from the very start. Nobody wants the help of a pill or counseling to get them through parenting. It is hard to admit when we need help. It is also hard to tell the ones we love how much we are truly struggling. I think today’s “mommy war” culture has caused a lot of women to feel ashamed to ask for help with PPD. There is also a weird stigma that comes with taking depression medication. This is unfortunately especially true in Christian circles. Prescription medication is not the only cure or approach to dealing with PPD, but you can’t just pray it away either. It is a serious imbalance in the brain and it must be dealt with quickly. There is no just “wait and see” with PPD. The longer you wait, the more dangerous it becomes for your wife and your baby.

As men and husbands, we are called to love our wives. We are supposed to serve them. The hardest thing about PPD for a man is knowing when to speak up. There is no fix-it manual. There isn’t a user’s guide or reset button. It’s not like you can just tell your wife you think something is wrong. That’s a good way to get punched. PPD is also NOT something you can take lightly as a husband. You have to approach this in an understanding, sensitive, and supportive way. Is there one way to do it? Nope. All I can give here is my experience. I hope that by telling this story, more men and women will be open to speaking up about how they dealt with PPD and walk alongside others who are in the trenches.

 

“Love begins by taking care of the closest ones – the ones at home.” – Mother Teresa

photo credit: 3 0 d a g a r m e d a n a l h u s via photopin cc

Doug Johnson

Doug Johnson

Doug is currently a stay at home dad to 8 children and faithful husband to pro-life advocate and public speaker, Abby Johnson. He began his adventure as a SHAD in 2011 after 5 years of being a high school special education teacher. Along with being a proud Texan, born and raised, Doug has a passion for all things faith, family, and friends. HIs goal is to redefine what it means to be a family man and a provider. That through building stronger families and supporting our neighbor, we can change our culture for the better. In 2014, Doug began writing for several blogs including his own called Doug On Tap. Since then, he has been sharing his stories about the joys and challenges of parenting, marriage, and what manhood means to him. All with a sense of humor and compassion. Doug's interests include craft beer, building projects and woodworking, pro-wrestling, trips to the movies, and cooking. But nothing makes him happier than traveling to new and exciting places with his wife.
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20 thoughts on “A Husband’s Perspective: Postpartum Depression”

  1. I personally like to thank you for this experience you shared on facebook. PPD is seriously an issue for a lot of women. The partner of the female going through this disabled issue needs all the support from everyone. I would like to add that everyone who finds themselves with this issue with a love one, must seek help and use prayers to help with the situation. Pray that God will guide you to help your love one, the right Doctors, treatment, information, and support that will treat someone with PPD. Once again thank you for posting your perspective.

  2. This story is my story! Or at least it could be. This sounds so much like what happened with me and my husband. 16 months after my second was born, I finally went to the doctor and blubbered about how my baby was 16 months old and I hadn’t gotten over the baby blues. I call it PPD, but I had psychosis as well. I actually drove to the bridge on the coldest night of the year in my PJs and bare feet. Walked toward the bridge and stopped when I saw someone on the sidewalk, decided I looked pretty silly, turned around, got back in my car and drove home. I believe I saw my guardian angel. 🙂
    As a post partum nurse, I emphasize to the dads or support person that they need to be the one on the lookout and if they see the symptoms to take action and call the doctor. Someone who is depressed is not going to make the effort.

  3. wow. I am a first time mother with a beautiful 6 month old named Audrey.. This was me and my husband to a T. Only I have not reached out for help yet. It’s been hard to admit I need help. But this made me realize I need to for the sake of my family. Thank you

  4. Thank-you for this honest and real portrayal of PPD. I went through the same thing after my first child, my daughter who is now 13. I didn’t realize until years later what had actually been happening and I didn’t get any help while I was going through it. I have always struggled to bond with my daughter and I blame some of that on what was happening to me during the first 6 months of her life. It is SO important to get the word out about this!

  5. “That’s a good way to get punched.” I’m sorry, but Domestic Violence goes both ways, and it’s certainly not a joking matter. Doug, if you really feel that violence is the likely response you’ll get from telling your wife that you “think something is wrong,” you may want to seek help.

  6. Pingback: Pro-life blog buzz 1-9-15 - Jill Stanek

  7. Reading this made me feel like you were writing my story. As a husband I wanted to provide for my family and “fix” any problems that arise but this approach did not and will not work for PPD. It was the hardest time in my marriage.Thank you for sharing your story.The more people who read this especially husband’s the better equipped they will be to see the signs and change from the “fixer” to the “patient and understanding consoler”
    -Louis N.

  8. Hi Mr. Johnson thanks so much for posting. I realized the similar patter here with other people I know who although don’t have post-partum, they are experiencing tremendous grief and anxiety. After much prayer and all God’s Grace, I came across a wonderful book called The Healing of Families. I don’t know if your family is Catholic as this book and the 3- day seminar was created/written by a Carholic priest explains the generational ties we all have through our ancestors both from our paternal and material lineage. In short, one persons free choice may have negative consequences if they choose their free will wrongly – satan has now power because that person gave him authority through that free will. So many people pray and pray and nothing happens because that “pact” created by that free will choice must be dealt with in order for the enemy’s ties to be broken and therefore Jesus enters and can heal the generational line properly. It’s an honor to share with you this rare gift literally like winning the spiritual lottery. It has helped so many people including my own.You can find more at http://www.healingoffamilies.com

  9. Doug, thank you. As the mum in this “all too common” story, where the Ppd developed into Clinical Depression and the medication continued for 7 years (thankfully, we have been medication free for two now), the one thing I can not over emphasise is the role of the husband. These magnificent men (if you are so lucky) can mean the difference between life and death (seriously) and can be seen fulfilling their God given role of strengthening and protecting their family. The amazing silent warrior that I married went into battle for his wife and our kids. While to a certain degree I had support and help from people who knew and understood what we were going through, my hero went largely unnoticed. For the rest of my life I will continue to thank and honour him for his role in our family recovery. You bringing PPD to the public attention and the vital role of the spouse in helping the sufferer’s relief is a great way to get the conversation out there. But please know that your own consequential suffering does not go unnoticed. Thank you.

  10. So courageous of both you and Abby to share your story! I also struggled silently with PPD with my first child. It was horrible, and I still find it difficult to tell people about it. When I became pregnant the second time, I did a lot of research on the various causes of PPD. I found that Omega 3s help women with PPD. I found a sublingual (taken on the tongue) Omega 3 that worked wonders. Whenever I would have those weird horrible thoughts, I would squeeze a packet of the Omega 3s out on my tongue, and those frightening thoughts would disappear almost immediately.

  11. I am Mrs Chew. I went thro PPD for 5 months after the birth of each of my daughters. It was confusing and very trying time.Then,nobody knew about PPD. Guilt feelings came when i found i could not take care of my child.By God’s grace,I did not kill her.When it happened the second time after giving birth to my second child,i knew it was PPD because i read in the news that a mother threw her newborn baby out of the car window because of PPD.Thank God too that afyer months and without medications but with a lot of rest and my baby was looked after by my mother in law at her house,I stablilised and could take care of the baby henceforth.

  12. My wife suffered PPD after all 3 of her pregnancies. I had a similar reaction in trying to alleviate her suffering. I genuinely feared for the safety of my children. I was in a state of paralysis. I felt utterly helpless and did not know what to do. After all these years, I still don’t know what to do. I am convinced that my wife is afflicted with demons that are sorely destructive. She has left me and taken the children. I pray that she will be delivered from her demons, that she will be restored to health and find faith Jesus our saviour

  13. I’m sorry you and your wife went through this. I do have to say, though, I am not with you on the demon possession part. PPD does not equal demon possession. I believe in demon possession 100%, but demons not involved in every bad thing that happens to you. You already said you didn’t know what to do, and that’s fine. No fault in that. But like I said in the article, you can’t pray it away. You have to take some sort of action. Pray while you take action, but DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. I am convinced that most people that say they or someone else is possessed is trying to pass the buck. I hope she gets the help and prayers that she needs. I’ll pray that you can get your family back.

  14. Ashley, you are not alone!! Find some women in your life who you can be real with and who will commit to checking in with you often. Do not be afraid to ask others for help – with housework, meals, babysitting, etc. And, yes, speak to your doctor! At my husband’s pressure, I never took the prescription meds my doctor prescribed me. I will never know if that was the right decision or not. I do know that I NEVER could have made it without my mom’s support and a couple friends from my church.

  15. Thank you for sharing. My husband till this day didn’t get it. I told him I was going to hurt the baby. It didn’t help that my son was colic and cried everyday from 9:00-11:00 PM. My husband didn’t understand colic babies either. He would walk
    Into the bathroom while I was in the shower. As
    I stood there crying and asking him For just 15 minutes alone of quiet time. He couldn’t and didn’t get it. He left on a trip that could have been postponed for a later time. And if it want for
    My 4 year old daughter watching me I would have hurt my son. I stopped myself. I strapped him into his swing and walked away with my daughter to
    Another room in the house. I gave myself a time out watching Disney cartoons I went back 15 minutes later and he was still crying but I knew he wasn’t hurt. When I told my husband he didn’t believe me. He thought I could never hurt the baby. He was wrong I went to get help and he still didn’t want to accept that it was PPD. To him I was just upset because of other things going on between us.
    I hope more men read this and understand it really isn’t our fault we really don’t mean to feel that way.
    My son is 5 years old now and I love him to death.

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