My husband cried the day we found out I was pregnant. For almost our entire relationship being a father was something he wanted to be. But when our little girl was finally born, things weren’t right. I never put much thought into the idea of him suffering with postnatal depression, but all of a sudden, that’s exactly what he was going through. I know he’s talked about his struggles a lot on this blog. But the unspoken side of mental health is often the affects it has on the people around the sufferer. So this is my story of having a husband with postnatal depression.
Before we Became Parents My Husband Suffered With Depression
I’m no stranger to watching my husband battle with depression. When he was seventeen he watched his drunken friend die after he jumped in front of a car on a night out during the walk home. That moment kick started his downward spiral into depression.
Over the following seven years he battled with his ups and downs, one day seemingly fine before plummeting back down again. By this point I had seen enough and finally did something I should have done a few years earlier: I got him to go to the doctor. From that moment on things weren’t exactly easy, but they were at least going in the right direction. He had counselling, courses of medication, and he tried all sorts of self help techniques, most of which he still uses today. Eventually we got to a place where things seemed rather good, and shortly after getting married we were ready to try for a baby.
Everything Was Fine until our Baby was Born
Throughout my entire pregnancy Ross was mostly great with his mental health. The bad days felt like they were pretty much behind us, and I could tell that he was so excited to become a father. He attended every appointment I had, every scan, he came with me to all the groups, and he pestered me to read the parenting books that he loved so much. He even tagged along to my baby shower. Or our baby shower as it turned out.
Then the birth happened. Everything was going according to plan until the last possible moment when our daughter pulled the cord down first – something known as cord prolapse – and we were rushed down to theatre. Even in the pain I was in I knew that Ross didn’t want to be go down there. He was trailing behind, probably hoping that they would forget about him so he didn’t have to see what might come next.
In the end I had a rather traumatic birth. They quickly gave me an episiotomy and hurriedly got Isabelle out. I screamed quite violently and I’m pretty sure I swore at most of the people in the theatre as I was cut. Whilst this was obviously a horrible moment for myself to go through, I know it wasn’t exactly nice for Ross to witness either. I think people easily forget how bad it is for the dads in these situations. Yes, they’re not going through the physical pain, but watching your partner suffer like that without being able to help is a mental sort of torture. Ironically, helplessness was a feeling I would later find myself with when he was suffering from postnatal depression.
Having the Depression Return in the Form of Postnatal Depression
It didn’t take long for the depression to return. On the first day whilst we were still in the hospital Ross seemed like he was fairly fine. But it was after the visitors came that things first went south. Maybe it was the fact that everyone wanted to have the baby off us, or maybe Ross was inevitably going to suffer regardless, but something just wasn’t clicking.
Considering how much he wanted this to happen, when it finally did and we actually had Isabelle – a baby we had talked about since 2008 I might add – he just didn’t seem to care. Seeing him be unable to form a bond despite constantly trying was painful to watch. This was literally something we had been dreaming about, but things were quickly turning into a nightmare.
Things gradually got worse and worse, but I was lucky in the sense that he didn’t keep me in the dark with how he was feeling. It’s probably one of the benefits of suffering with depression for so long in that he was already used to talking so openly to me. Whilst I tried to remain understanding, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel distraught when we talked about it.
I was heartbroken when he told me that he wished our own daughter hadn’t been born, that our lives were worse because she was part of it and how myself and Isabelle would be better off if he wasn’t there. What do you even say to someone when they tell you that? I don’t think there is much you can say. I just felt helpless, lost, I had no idea what to do, and most of all, I was angry. Angry at him for feeling this way, and for putting all of this on me.
At Times It Was Like Looking After Two Babies
I know this is going to sound harsh, but at times it felt like I was looking after two babies. Becoming a mother for the first time is challenging enough – I didn’t know what I was doing. I was constantly sleep deprived and I was dealing with all the new emotions that came with that experience. On top of that I had a husband who clearly needed to be looked after too.
I had to support and help him and try to get him to form a bond, but at the same time I had to look after myself. I decided to do the more difficult things that you have to do with a baby. I’d let him bath her and then I’d get her out. I’d let him play with her and then when she started crying I’d come in to help out. It was frustrating at times but I knew I had to do it.
The Long road to Recovery
It took 8 weeks before Ross first showed any real sign that he cared for Isabelle. It came in a hotel in Weston-super-mare, and all it took was a smile. That single smile wasn’t much, but to Ross it was a sign that his daughter actually liked him, and he even described the moment as the first time he actually felt any sort of love towards her.
Of course, this one smile didn’t magically change everything. But it showed Ross that he could care for his daughter, and that she did like him too. It gave him hope. And that was exactly what he was looking for during those first eight weeks.
After that moment we continued doing what we always had. We kept talking about everything that was going on, Ross kept working on his bond with Isabelle and gradually things got better. He still had his slips but at least things were trending in the right direction.
I Didn’t Have Postnatal Depression, But When Someone Suffers, That Suffering Often Spreads
I didn’t suffer with postnatal depression. What my husband went through was horrendous for him, but it was horrible for me too. The only saving grace for me was that I’d been there countless times before. But this wasn’t regular depression. This was postnatal depression. I know some people say men can’t suffer from it, but they can. Believe me. What he’d been through in the past with depression was completely different to this.
I think one of the things that often gets overlooked when it comes to mental illnesses is the affects the person suffering has on the people around them. Watching someone battle with something like depression and feeling helpless to do anything is an awful thing to go through. And when it’s related to a baby that the two of you have always wanted, it’s a million times worse.
He was a Great Father Even When He Didn’t Want to be One
Even when Ross was at his lowest with postnatal depression he was still an amazing father. He might not have always wanted Isabelle, and he might have had times where he resented or hated her. But he was still there. He did everything he could to try and build a bond, to take care of her and do whatever he could to get himself better. Did he go out all night drinking, avoid coming home and ignore Isabelle all day? No. He did the complete opposite. He absorbed himself in the role of being a father as much as he could even when it was the last thing he wanted to do.
For someone to say he was a terrible father just because he had a mental illness is a pathetic, ignorant thing to say. But then people easily judge what they don’t know.
The Most Important Thing is That There is Hope in all of This
Our life as a new family didn’t start like either of us thought it would. I didn’t even contemplate the possibility that Ross might have struggled. But we did what we always did when things got bad, we got through them together.
I know we’re not the only ones who are going to be affected by postnatal depression. There are countless other people out there who have either experienced it, are experiencing it or will in the future. But things can always get better.
These days I’m actually worried about the future with Ross and Isabelle but for completely different reasons. They’re like a couple of mates who like to have a laugh. Ross likes to wind me up enough as it is, when he finally manages to get Isabelle involved I’m going to be in real trouble! But I’m glad that they have the bond that I always hoped they’d finally have. Just look at them!
Postnatal Depression Awareness Week 2018
I’m talking about how my husband’s battle with postnatal depression affected me because of the postnatal depression awareness week being run by the PANDAS Foundation. I’m not going to lie, I don’t like this subject. I still don’t like talking about any of this or hearing my husband talk about it either. But I know it’s important.
The theme for this years #PNDAW18 is Hope. And I guess that’s what I’m trying to convey with this post. Hope that others can get through this.
We’re lucky because we got out the either side and that postnatal depression is very much our past. For others their battle is still going. I guess that’s why I wanted to talk about this. I just want others to know that if your partner is going through this you just have to be there for them. It’s going to be incredibly hard for both of you, but you’ll get through it so much quicker if you do it together.