Dads get the “baby blues” too.
People might not realize this, but, after the birth of a child, both women and men can encounter symptoms of postpartum depression. I’m speaking from experience here.
After the birth of my daughter, which endures as one of the happiest moments of my life, I found myself struggling with unexpected waves of anxiety, fear, and depression.
It was horrible, and what made it worse, was that I was very uncomfortable talking about it.
Here’s why — don’t you hate it when a couple says “we’re pregnant”?
I do. Because the dude isn’t pregnant. He’s not going to have to squeeze a bowling ball out of his downstairs business, so, c’mon, give credit where credit is due — SHE is pregnant and the guy is along for the ride.
I’ve never liked it when a man tried to make the pregnancy about him. He plays a part, sure, but, I was always of the opinion that, as a guy, there is NO way that I can ever comprehend the physical and emotional toll of pregnancy, so my role was to sit back, be supportive, and shut up.
And, for the most part, I think that strategy works.
However, I wasn’t prepared for how “shutting up” would negatively impact me AFTER my wife gave birth.
Because becoming a parent stirs up deep, powerful emotions. And, while many of those feelings are overwhelmingly sunny and positive, they can, sometimes, cast a shadow. Those epic highs lend themselves to equally epic lows and, suddenly, you find yourself crying and you don’t know why.
Once we brought my daughter home, I found myself confronted with those overpowering moments of terror and panic and I didn’t say anything about them.
Why? Because my wife had just gone through a freakin’ c-section. She’d spent almost a year getting sick every day, while a living creature grew in her belly, and then doctors had to cut her open to pull the creature out. They then sewed her up, handed her the creature, and expected that she’d know how to feed and care for it.
That’s a lot of shit to put on a person. No question — my wife had it WORSE than I did. There’s no comparison.
However, just because things were harder for my wife doesn’t mean that they weren’t also hard for me. She might win the miserable contest, hands down, but I was still in a really bad place. And I was too embarrassed to let my support network know that I needed them.
The more I’ve talked to new fathers, the more common I realize this experience is.
We’ve all just watched our partners go through one of the most intense physical experiences in the world, so we just feel ashamed to admit that we’re hurting a little too. It feels like our struggles are frivolous in comparison, but the fact is they’re very, very real and painful. Postpartum depression can be painfully real for men too, even if it’s embarrassing.
It all came to a head for me the first evening I spent alone with my daughter.
I’d encouraged my wife to go out with some friends — she’d only consented to leave for a few hours — and told her I’d be fine. Our baby was so good and happy. A little alone time was going to be good for us.
So she left. And my daughter started crying. She rarely cried.
And she cried, as if she’d been set on fire, for three hours non-stop.
I was beside myself. She never did this and, no matter what I tried, I could not get her to stop.
It shredded me, but I knew I couldn’t call my wife. I wanted her to have a fun first night out. I didn’t want her to worry. I was supposed to able to handle this.
My wife called me when she was leaving to come home, and I guess she heard the panic in my voice. She asked if I was OK. My voice cracked and I said, “Just please get here soon.”
She raced home and, the SECOND she stepped into our apartment, my daughter stopped crying. The baby smiled. The baby laughed. The baby goddamn cooed.
I handed her to my confused wife without a word, went into our bedroom, locked the door, laid down on the bed, and cried for thirty minutes.
Once I opened the door again, my wife and I had our first conversation about my postpartum depression.
I will say, my depression was extremely manageable in comparison to some stories I’ve heard. It came in waves that seemed to grow smaller and smaller as I became more comfortable as a father. So I was lucky.
Lucky it wasn’t more severe and lucky that my partner was so supportive (even though, again, she had it SO much worse than I did).
But, more than anything, it really opened my eyes about the importance of men needing to talk about postpartum depression.
It doesn’t just happen to women. It is important. And it is valid and OK acknowledge that you’re not feeling right, even when you know your partner is feeling worse.
Men — don’t be afraid to speak up about your anxiety and emotions following the birth of a child.
The healthiest thing you can do, for everyone, is get your feelings out into the open and let your support network do their job, even if they’re breastfeeding and changing diapers while they do it.