Karen Hoving, Ph.D.
Karen Hoving, Ph.D.
We have all heard about women having babies and often suffering from Postpartum Depression. Approximately 9 -16% of new moms experience Postpartum depression after the birth of a child.It has been well documented that when mom experiences postpartum depression it impacts the entire family. But what about dads? I’ve recently noticed that some of my female patients in describing a prior divorce will discuss that is occurs after the birth of baby 1 or often baby 2. I wondered if this was a fluke, or if there was really a pattern.
In researching this I discovered a study published in Pediatrics Magazine (Jan 2014) suggesting that becoming a new father may increase a man’s chance of experiencing Depression. Sixty-eight percent of fathers experienced depression during their children’s first five years of life. In the Journal of American Medical Association a report suggested that 10% of new dads worldwide reported that they experienced symptoms of PPPD (Paternal Postpartum Depression). Their symptoms occurred between the first month of pregnancy through up to 6 months after the baby made its arrival.
For many moms at the beginning of pregnancy their body is being taken over by an invisible “baby alien” that has taken over their bodies. They are throwing up, gaining weight, and although this new person isn’t on the seen yet, the physical changes are screaming “SOMETHING IS COMING!” Even though dad may see sonograms, or feel babies kick, he isn’t having his life changing as much as mom’s. I’ve alway’s felt it was nature’s way of giving mom 9 months of heads up before the big arrival to know that their life was about to change dramatically.
This is not to say that dad is not aware of the changes going on in your body and life. But let’s face it, his breasts aren’t bigger, he isn’t eating strange things, or getting on the scale every day worrying if he will ever lose that baby weight!
Now what is important to understand is that about 1/2 of women that have Postpartum depression have husbands that experience depression after the birth of their baby. Just like mom, it’s not that they don’t love their new bundle of joy, and despite all the reading ,classes, etc they still are not completely prepared for a screaming, pooping, new person in the family. Many dad’s have to go back to work and then come home to a mom who is exhausted and is standing at the front door with a screaming baby saying ‘ “YOUR TURN! I NEED TO PEE!” Please mom’s, don’t think I don’t understand your situation. I have had two babies myself. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, I had sore nipples,felt like a walking dairy mart, and even knowing that I was supposed to nap when baby went down I knew that was my only time to get the house cleaned, dinner organized, laundry done, and about 100 other things that if I didn’t do the world might just stop spinning! When I finally finished I’d nap then but guess what? I know you are laughing, by the time my list I curled up on the couch only to hear screaming on the baby monitor! I loved this little pink thing, but I was a mommy over the edge! And Daddy couldn’t get home fast enough in my humble opinion.
By the time I had baby #2,I didn’t care whether my husband was depressed or tired from work. As far as I was concerned, being able to go to work was a vacation compared to what was going on at home! What I didn’t realize (and to be honest, at times, I just didn’t care) was that my husband may have been sliding down the same rabbit hole of depression that I had been in so long I had rearranged furniture in! Yes, he was at work away from diapers and screaming, but he was tired from work and I had no interest in hearing about his day. I needed an ear and we couldn’t afford a shrink- so I dumped on him as soon as I heard the garage door open.
Also, many men (especially with baby #1) have reported to me that they didn’t realize how dramatically things were going to change at home with a baby. “WHY doesn’t she want to have sex!” Or “I was there when that baby came out- no way I’m interested in THAT!” Mom is either not interested in sex because she is beyond exhausted or she is interested because of hormonal fluctuations but when dad isn’t interested she feels it’s because her body isn’t what it used to be. So everyone is losing in the bedroom which is hitting the intimacy button pretty hard.
Some men were used to having all of mom’s attention- and now this screaming pooping little thing that they wanted is taking up 150% of mom’s attention! As they slide into depression, some men without being aware of it begin increasing the time they are working, which naturally makes the stress at home increase. So when they come home late mom is beyond exhaustion and fit to be tied because they know dad got to eat out without disturbance from screaming or puking. Women feel they are being taken advantage of. Men feel the same way- all mom wants is a break. Then the marriage starts to feel like it’s falling apart.
Please note that many of this occurs in the first few months of Joe Jr.’s arrival. After the baby starts sleeping through the night everyone is less exhausted, and you’ve sorted out a pattern of going out with a ton of extra equipment that it was never a nightmare if you forgot before.
So, what is the way for the family to survive the first 5 months? I always say the number one way is COMMUNICATION! Mom and Dad need to talk to each other and find time every night (even if it’s only 30 minutes) to sit down, talk about your day, listen to each other (or bitch if need be) and if that doesn’t help because you end up into a screaming match, then call a therapist. I know, money is tight, this may mean getting a babysitter but I can promise you will probably only need a few sessions to get sorted and remember how to speak to each other without desiring a sharp object and that is much cheaper than a divorce or criminal attorney.
If Dad feels like he is having symptoms of depression then get him to see his GP for an anti depressant if he won’t see a therapist. Now I’m no fool- this will not be an easy thing to do because many men “never get depressed” or “never ADMIT they are depressed.” Never-the-less, have him read some articles (this is a good start) and make sure you gently discuss having him go to chat with his he GP about which meds might help. Also, if meds are an option have him ask which drugs might give him problem with sexual issues so that if that occurs you can get back into your doctor to get something to fix that (and it can be tweaked).
Besides meds and the shrink, try to get out once a week- go to dinner or a movie. Again, with a new baby I know money can be tight (especially if mum is taking a break from work) but you don’t have to go to a 5 star restaurant. You can go for a walk, a movie (sneak in your own snacks), or see some friends and spring for a sitter so at least you will have time in the car to chat and have private time.
The most important thing to remember is “this too shall pass.” After my first child was born a friend of mine said to me, as she was passing me kleenex, “remember, in a year which will pass faster than you think, you will be at a Friday’s restaurant and your child will be stuffing french fries and chicken nuggets into her mouth and all of this will be a blur … as you start to discuss baby number 2!
And she was so true!
About the author:
Dr Karen Hoving has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. She specializes in Depression, Anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with predominately women. She works south of Denver in Aurora, CO and has been in practice since 1990. In the 1980’s she had a full time Hypnotherapy Practice in Ohio.