by John Hoffman
When we hear the words postpartum depression (PPD), we usually think of mothers. But fathers get it too, maybe not as often as moms, but it happens. Some experts estimate that up to 10% of men experience some level of depression after the birth of a child. And sometimes maternal and paternal PPD are linked. One study found that between 25% and 50% of fathers with PPD have a partner who also has it. But I don’t want to just throw a bunch of stats at you. The point is, if you’re a new dad and you’re feeling depressed, or just not yourself, you’re not alone.
What I mostly want to do in this blog post is help bring paternal PPD out into the light a little bit. The best way I can do that is to have one father tell his story.
Meet Billy, a father of two with another child on the way. Here’s what he had to say about what he went through after the birth of his second child a year-and-a-half ago.
“The best way I could describe my mood in the first few months after the birth of our second child is that I felt withdrawn. I withdrew from my family, my friends, my work. It was like all of that was more than I was capable of dealing with. I remember one time when I went out for a bike ride. But it was more than a bike ride. It was like this big exit. I was thinking, ‘This is too much for me right now. I need to get outta here.’ I had those thoughts a lot of times during those few months.”
I don’t mean that I was always leaving the house. I wasn’t withdrawing from my kids, I was withdrawing from my wife. She was the one that took the brunt of my depression. I was very, very irritable. I don’t remember feeling guilty about wanting to withdraw so much. I feel guilty about it now, but at the time I felt put upon. I often wanted to go out with my friends or out for a night with co-workers. And when I couldn’t do those things I would lash out at my wife, because she was stopping me from doing what I wanted to do.
It wasn’t that she was asking too much of me. She needed my help so she would ask me to do things that needed to be done. That wasn’t what bothered me. I’ve always accepted those responsibilities. I enjoy doing things like changing diapers, bathing and caring for my children because they are really great bonding moments with your children. But when I look back I realize that I wasn’t 100% capable of really feeling those warm moments when I was depressed.
At the time I didn’t think about that. I just wanted to withdraw. I never considered what I was doing to be wrong. I always thought that what was being put upon me was what was wrong. I was in denial for a long time.
But then I had a couple of turning point moments. One was when I started avoiding my neighbour. I have this neighbour who is the friendliest guy in the world. I always looked forward to talking to him as I was going to work in the morning. And all of a sudden I started going out the side door to avoid seeing him. And around the same time I can remember thinking, ‘My life sucks. My life isn’t good.’ I wasn’t seeing the joy in my family, my work and even my neighbours. I realized that if I was feeling like this something was wrong. I wasn’t myself.
But the biggest turning point was probably when my wife said to me, ‘It’s not acceptable to behave the way you’re behaving. I think you should speak with somebody. You have some things going on inside, which I can’t help you with right now.’
So I arranged to speak to a counsellor. I was nervous to open up about it. Not everybody wants to hear a father with two beautiful boys complain about how his life sucks. But I knew he would understand. It was a huge relief to talk to him and I planned to talk to him more. But then something happened. My wife’s PPD kicked in and that kind of took over. She’d had PPD after our first child and I knew I had to rise to the occasion. My wife didn’t put that on me. But it was like, ‘I’m feeling bad, but what she’s feeling is way worse. So I need to be there for her.’ So I didn’t go back to the counsellor. But he also facilitates these twice a month dad meetups and I went to some of those and talked to him there a couple of times.
But knowing my wife really needed me to be there for her sort of gave me a sense of purpose. I feel good about myself when I’m helping out, like when I’m looking after the newborn. But after our second baby was born I felt like my role was sort of diminished. Here’s my wife looking after two kids now, and she’s doing awesome. And what am I doing? I go to work. I come home. I have the kids for an hour before they go to bed. I didn’t feel like I was really contributing all that much. But when my wife started to have her feelings I felt like I had purpose again. I wish I could have felt that way earlier earlier. I wish I could have recognized that I always had purpose – an important role to play. But I couldn’t see that because my thoughts were clouded. Anyway, after I got my sense of purpose back I gradually began to come out of it. It was still hard, because of what my wife was going through. But things gradually got better.
I don’t think what I went through was as bad as what some people go through. But I want people to know that fathers can get PPD. Fathers’ PPD is a pretty taboo subject. It’s important to bring it out in the open.”
Thanks Billy, for sharing your story with us.
If you want to learn more about postpartum depression in fathers here are some options. One is a video made by the Community Counselling Centre of Nipissing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmKKr6VlUts
Another is the website postpartummen: http://www.postpartummen.com/gethelp.htm
And here is an article that you may find helpful: When Dad Gets the Blues