New Dads are key to beating PNDposted by: mothercare
There’s a school of thought that says men, when confronted with a problem, don’t react the same way women do. SHE, stereotypically, will think through solutions, weigh-up pros and cons and garner the opinion of her ‘support network’. HE will roll up his sleeves and go to the tool box looking for the device most suited to fix – leaks, loose connections, lost keys, overcooked meals, failing relationships – there and then.
Of course that’s a huge generalisation. But as with so many stereotypes, there’s a seed of truth in it. We’re more inclined to want to do something there and then to cure a problem. As a result we’re often desperate to take a practical approach to an issue like Postnatal Depression in our partner. We feel that, by actively doing something, we’re making in-roads to solving the problem.
Postnatal Depression is a birth complication. And it’s a relatively common one.
The pregnancy and birth of a baby can cause all types of mayhem - for both the parents and those beyond. Most of the chaos that occurs when a baby comes along is a fascinating, perplexing, exciting, unnerving, thrilling, messy, joyous, new and momentous journey. But some of that journey, for some mums and dads, can be extremely traumatic.
“When a wife or partner is suffering from PND it has a massive knock-on affect for the men and husbands,” Mark Williams told me when I was researching The New Dad’s Survival Guide. Mark is a father with first-hand experience of this type of depression. After his wife suffered with PND he even established a support network (Father’s Reaching Out) for new dads who are the partners of PND sufferers.
The severity of the depression can be impacted upon further by the time it takes to be recognised, confronted, diagnosed and treated. Each case of PND is different, though some of the following ‘clues’ suggest symptoms; New mums for whom the change and the strain, the chemical, physical and emotional impact of new parenthood can trigger bouts of PND may feel guilty. They’re often ready to blame themselves for bad situations or accidents that occur. They can be prone to panic attacks and self doubt. Self-criticism and doubts about their parenting ability. Changes in their sleep patterns and eating habits – common among new parents are even listed as possible signs.
Like so many mums they may feel exhausted and lack motivation as the demands of their baby’s needs take their toll. But these can be compounded by a drop-of-the-hat tearfulness, feelings of loneliness, abandonment, suicide even.
What dad can do…
“Family support is vitally important, and the quicker you get help the quicker the recovery,” Mark Williams told me. Here’s where another stereotype needs confronting - men and talking about feelings. Don’t shy away from the issue. You owe it your partner and your baby to try to keep your partner talking about her feelings and to open up about the depression. “As the new dad you’ll most likely be the first to witness her symptoms – even if you don’t know exactly what they are,” says Williams.
Don’t hope that she’ll just ‘snap out of it’ either. Reassure her that you’re there for her. (Research confirms that emotional support from dad is essential to recovery). Let her know that, if the worries and the anxiety she’s feeling are diagnosed as PND that it’s an illness that is very common and very treatable. Be aware that she may try to hide her more negative thoughts for fear of not being seen as a mother who can cope with what’s expected of her.
“Anyone who has depression will feel that just doing a small task is a huge mountain to climb,” explains Williams. Reassure her that feeling depressed and tearful are not signs of her being a “bad mother” or one who’s not coping. She may be reluctant to speak to a health professional about it, so dads can help by discussing the specific behaviours and symptoms. For example, if she’s not sleeping well get her to tell you why she feels that it so. Maybe set a target to see how her sleeping is in a few days after she’s aired her feelings. If things haven’t improved by then, support her by suggesting you both go along to see her GP together. Let her take control as much possible and see that it’s the symptoms that need to be treated not her.
Help contacts: Father’s Reaching Out – see PANDAS