Lets take a moment here to recognize all those partners in our lives. The ones who give into our cravings during pregnancy, who don’t flinch as we crush their fingers in a death grip during labor, who feed us while we feed the baby, who change the diapers, who wear the baby, mow the lawn, go to work, and look damn good doing it all. They don’t get enough credit.
Let’s stop for a moment and think about how tough it is for moms to acknowledge when something just isn’t right during pregnancy or postpartum. Let’s think about the shame, the stigma, that goes with mental health issues. Heck, we get screened multiple times for symptoms at our OB’s offices as well as at the pediatrician’s (hopefully!) and many woman admit to not being honest at these screenings. Now let’s for a moment shift our attention to our partners.
Who do they go to for help? Who do they talk to about their conflicting emotions? Who screens them for symptoms? In fact, how many dads do you see actively seeking help on their own for postpartum mood/anxiety disorder?
Yea. That’s what I thought.
Let’s paint a picture. During pregnancy you guys were great. You were excited, planning, and connected. He was a rock. He supported you, comforted your fears, and acquiesced to some of your ridiculous demands. Not to say there weren’t moments of contention, I mean you are a couple after all, but overall things were golden.
Then the baby came. Your ever present partner goes missing. The lawn needs mowing, the car needs fixing, the roof needs repairing – everything but being near you and the baby seems like a priority on his list. When he is around, he’s irritable. He doesn’t seem super interested in interacting with the baby, but will do it begrudgingly. Or maybe he is interested in interacting with the baby, but his frustration tolerance is low and his confidence is even lower. This is not what either of you pictured.
We know that 1 in 7 women will experience a postpartum mood disorder and the number for men is not far behind. 1 in 10 men. Yup. 1 in 10. Let that sink in for a minute.
And bad news dad, if your partner experienced a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder, you get a 50% increased chance of experiencing one of your own. Gotta love family systems.
Postpartum mood disorders in men look a little different then it does in women. In men it can be irritability. Maybe your guy has been flying off the handle lately. Maybe he is grumpy all the time. Maybe he seems uninvolved or distant. Maybe he is drinking a bit more.
Whatever it may be, if we stop to think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Dad’s world is changing just like yours is Mom. He experiences the stress of breastfeeding (if this is your choice) but in a different frame then you do. He can feel useless in the most successful breastfeeding relationship and helpless when mom and baby are struggling.
My husband remembers how depressing it was for him to come home from work and see me struggling and frustrated with breastfeeding and him feeling helpless to do anything about it. For a dad that may already be feeling anxious or low, this could further isolate him.
Isolation from their partners is also really difficult for new dads. Flashback to my pregnancy with my first born, laying in bed and talking about how our relationship was going to change when she arrived. I told my husband that I wouldn’t be able to be there for him as much, that she was going to take up most of our time. I told him, that at the end of the day, I might not have any attention left to give to him. He understood this all at the time, but I don’t think it softened the blow for him much when she came.
Mom becomes Earth orbiting a baby which is the Sun, and Dad on his best days is the Moon, and on his worst, is Pluto (the planet that is now no longer a planet).
Lack of intimacy while mom is healing (physically and emotionally) can also impact dad’s feelings of loneliness.
For men, not only feeling lonely but also seeking isolation from the family, can be symptomatic of a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder. Remember the guy mentioned above who is doing everything but caring for the baby? Yea, he might be struggling.
Dads and partners can also experience PTSD, like women, from labor and delivery (otherwise referred to as birth trauma). Partners may even experience a labor and delivery experience as traumatic when mom does not.
Another fun fact, dads go through hormonal shifts during pregnancy and postpartum as well as moms. Their shifts are a little different than moms, but they shift all the same and it can impact their mood and functioning.
Understanding that men are susceptible to postpartum mood and anxiety disorders is important to a couple’s mental health. What a partner could be conceptualizing as selfishness or disinterest could really be something bigger. Just like us ladies need patience and compassion as we move through all of the pregnancy and postpartum related stuff, so do men and partners.
Becoming a family is difficult for everyone and there is a lot of pressure on partners to be stoic and be “the rock” for their new family, making it difficult for them to acknowledge that they have needs or that their needs are not being met. They are impacted by the same factors such as sleeplessness, poor nutrition, isolation, and lack of social support that impact new moms.
So take a minute and acknowledge the man in your life. Let him know that you see him and see the work that he is putting into your family. Maybe its not the places you would like, but thats ok, thats changeable.
And if you are a dad reading this? I see you. I see your struggle. I see your strength. Your worry is not weakness, your sadness is not a failure, and your frustration is not who you really are.
You are not alone.
You are not to blame.
*for this piece I am focusing mainly on Dad’s and their experiences. With that being said non birth partners also experience postpartum mood disorders and it looks very similar as it does in heterosexual couples, however some of the external stressors can look different. It was just too big of a topic to cover in one piece! For all my couples and families out there that do not fit with the cis gender hetero examples in the piece above, I see you. You are welcome here. And I will have a piece with stressors that affect you specifically soon!