Wednesday, March 14, 2012

in sickness & in health

What about the dads? What are their roles when their partner/wife is struggling with a postpartum mood disorder? How can they help? What are they feeling? Do they even know what is going on? 

The "Warrior Dads" series over at Postpartum Progress has some beautiful stories about what a few dads have felt & what they went through while watching the mother of their child/children battle a postpartum mood disorder. 

I never once thought to ask my husband what it was that he was feeling. Scared? Hurt? Angry? In my mind, it was my problem & only affected me. He could not even begin to understand what I was going through. What I didn't realize was that my struggle with postpartum anxiety/ocd affected him too. The one person in the world I should have known I could lean on, I didn't think I could at the time & pushed him away. 

But, there was no way we were going to let PPD win. We ended up fighting this together. For us as individuals. For us as a couple. For each other. For our daughter. For our family. We have gone through some major scary times while kicking PPD's ass & did it test our marriage? Sure did.  But in the end we came out even stronger as individuals, as a couple & as a family. We said in sickness & in health & we meant it.  

Here is my husband, Josh's post for the "Warrior Dads" series. You can also find it at Dads Speak Out on Postpartum Depression, Part 2: In Sickness & In Health.

She is scowling at you.  Literally, she’s looking to rip you to pieces.  An ominous glaze has overcome her eyes.  It’s like she’s struggling with some inner turmoil but you don’t know what.  There’s no communication, only tension.  You’re confused, lonely.  You feel out-casted, vulnerable and like your energy is out of tune with the one person you need right now.  This is not about you though.  Imagine how she must feel.  You did not exhaust every ounce of emotion and nutrient giving birth to your new bundle of joy.  You did not carry the burden of pregnancy, and you’re light years away from carrying the new burden she has. 
These feelings are just the tip of the iceberg.  I may be lonely and confused and my wife may be fatigued beyond belief, but there is a more insurmountable challenge forthcoming.  The best way for me to describe what was happening while my wife was experiencing postpartum anxiety/ocd is to imagine being in the middle of the ocean, side by side, with no life jackets.  As a husband and father, although I was struggling and fatigued, I still managed to tred water and stay afloat long enough for someone to come by and rescue me.  My wife on the other, she was sinking, fast.  What she went through, to me, can only be compared to what it must be like to be drowning.  That is how I perceived it from her perspective.  This is how it was for years with no answer to the problem.  She was gasping for air and I was walking in circles dumbfounded.  How can you save someone when you have no idea, or the wrong idea, as to what is ailing them?  To me it was just fighting.  It was the rumored “women just get crazy after getting pregnant” syndrome that she was going through and surely it would pass or she would just work it out on her own.  Little did I know she needed me now more than ever. 

What I have learned is that postpartum anxiety/ocd is a very confusing thing for both spouses even when you know it is happening.  So really, what is my role in all this?  Whatever it takes.  Aside from the standard love your wife and be understanding and patient stuff (don’t get me wrong those things are the foundation of helping her get through this), there also has to be many small instances of whimsical creativity coupled with the fortitude to listen to her intently at all times and actually hear what she is saying.  Whether you know that it is postpartum anxiety/ocd or not, it is important to engage in creative activities that promote bonding and encourage moving forward in positive ways.  If you don’t listen and hear your wife, then you won’t know how to help her or what she really wants from you.  My role has been plain and simple, to be there for her.  To hear her and then react in a way that understands what she needs and then to help her attain that need.  I am not perfect though.  I have fallen flat on my face a lot during this journey.  If anything concerns me, if there is anything I could have done better, its learning from my mistakes in trying to help her. 

If treatment is scarce or even obsolete, then how can you diagnose and move forward solving the problem?  There was nothing visibly available to help us embrace and tackle our issue.  It wasn’t until recently that my wife has been able to open doors revealing a wonderful support system full of information and experienced people who are willing to help.  Things are much different now.  Blogs, support groups, guest speakers, and some very strong and motivated women (including my wife) are on the frontlines making any and all information on postpartum anxiety/ocd very visible and very available to those who need help.

You meet.  You fall in love.  You have a child.  You abruptly and suddenly become two different people.  Something is wrong at this point and instead of tearing each other apart, a couple in this situation needs help and needs to come back together as one.  If I’ve learned anything, it’s that your wife needs you to have the utmost strength and vigilance in order to listen and hear her clearly, infinite patience so as to not be discouraged by the lack of an immediate answer to her struggles, and pure unconditional love, because although you’ve grown apart and seem like you’ve become two different people, it is your duty as a partner to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health.      

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