This Isn't What I Expected

Notes on healing postpartum depression

For Dads: What To Do, What Not To Do When Your Wife Has Postpartum Depression

What you think might help, might not.

It can be extremely frustrating to live with someone's who's depressed, especially when you have a new baby and it seems like the house is crowded with things that need to get done right now. What you think might help, might not. Or, could even make things worse. Remember, you cannot fix this. You cannot make this go away.  No matter how hard you try or how much you love your wife, recovery takes longer than you want it to. You must be willing to wait this out with her.

I'm hoping these suggestions will help the two of you.

Keep these important points in mind:

  • Research has shown us that a woman's depression will improve markedly with the consistent support of a significant other.
  • The longer you pretend that the depression will go away by itself and deny it is really happening, the longer her recovery will take.
  • The more you expect of her, the greater your demands, the more difficult her recovery will be.
  • The harder you are on yourself, the less resources you will have to carry you through each day.
  • You must take this very seriously.
  • You have much more power to affect the outcome of how you both feel, than you might think you do.
  • Your wife will get better. Things will settle at home, in time. You will have your wife and your life, back.

What to say

Her moods and emotional vulnerability will get in the way of good communication for now.

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Here's what you're up against:

  • If you tell her you love her... she won't believe you.
  • If you tell her she's a good mother...she'll think you're just saying that to make her feel better.
  • If you tell her she's beautiful... she'll assume you're lying.
  • If you tell her not to worry about anything... she'll think you have no idea how bad she feels.
  • If you tell her you'll come home early to help her... she'll feel guilty.
  • If you tell her you have to work late... she'll think you don't care.

But you can:

  • Tell her you know she feels terrible.
  • Tell her she will get better.
  • Tell her she is doing all the right things to get better (therapy, medication, etc.).
  • Tell her she can still be a good mother and feel terrible.
  • Tell her it's okay to make mistakes; she doesn't have to do everything perfectly.
  • Tell her you know how hard she's working at this right now.
  • Tell her to let you know what she needs you to do to help.
  • Tell her you know she's doing the best she can.
  • Tell her you love her.
  • Tell her your baby will be fine.

What NOT to say

  • Do not tell her she should get over this.
  • Do not tell her you are tired of her feeling this way.
  • Do not tell her this should be the happiest time of her life.
  • Do not tell her you liked her better the way she was before.
  • Do not tell her she'll snap out of this.
  • Do not tell her she would feel better if only: she were working, she were not working, she got out of the house more, stayed home more, etc.
  • Do not tell her she should lose weight, color her hair, buy new clothes, etc.
  • Do not tell her all new mothers feel this way.
  • Do not tell her this is just a phase.
  • Do not tell her if she wanted a baby, this is what she has to go through.
  • Do not tell her you know she's strong enough to get through this on her own and she doesn't need help.

Practical things you can do

  1. Help around the house
  2. Set limits with friends and family
  3. Answer the phone. Take a message.
  4. Throw in a load of laundry. Order take-out for dinner.
  5. Accompany her to doctor's appointments
  6. Educate yourself about PPD, read the books your wife gives you
  7. Write down the concerns and questions you have and taking them to her doctor or therapist.
  8. Make a list, together, of the things that may provide an outlet for her so you can both refer to it when she needs a break.
  9. The single most important thing for you to do to help is to just be with her. Sit with her. No TV, no kids, no dog, no bills, no newspaper. Just you and her. Let her know you're there.This isn't easy to do, especially with someone who seems so sad or so distant. Five minutes a day is a good place to start.

Other things you can (should) do

  1. Call her from work to check in. Call her again if she's having a bad day.
  2. Ask her if there is anything you can do to help.
  3. Look her in the eyes when she talks to you.
  4. Encourage her to get as much rest as possible.
  5. Intervene so she can get some uninterrupted sleep.
  6. Try to find some "you and me" time with no other distractions.
  7. Call a friend and solicit support.
  8. Listen to her.
  9. Be patient.

REMEMBER:

  • Try to postpone any important decision until after she is feeling better.
  • Decisions that cannot wait should be made together, whenever possible.
  • Decisions about childcare, work, breastfeeding, etc. will feel enormous to her now. Help her sort this out by discussing the pros and cons of each decision.
  • Some of the things you think she should do right now to feel better, may not work.
  • Some of the things that previously made her feel good, may feel like too much effort at this time.

© Copyright 2011 Karen Kleiman, MSW www.postpartumstress.com

Adapted from The Postpartum Husband: Practical Solutions for Living with Postpartum Depression by Karen Kleiman, MSW

photo: Getty images

Karen Kleiman is founder and director of The Postpartum Stress Center, a treatment and training center for prenatal and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. more...

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