There were so many experiences I knew I would get to call mine after I found out I was pregnant. I knew I would experience morning sickness and stronger nails and prenatal visits and kind comments from random strangers. I knew I would experience labor and delivery (however that panned out) and breastfeeding (or at least try to) and the most intense wave of juxtaposing emotions I think a human being can experience. I didn't know, however, that I would also experience postpartum depression (PPD) or, as a result, the things every grown-ass man does when his partner is suffering from PPD. I didn't know that PPD would be part of my motherhood story, or the story my partner and I would share as parents.
It's rather impossible to adequately plan for something you never envisioned happening to you. I had never experienced clinical depression before; I had made the choice to have a baby, so procreation wasn't forced on me; I was in a healthy and happy relationship, and excited about parenting with someone as wonderful as my partner. I had read about postpartum depression and knew it was a possibility, but I never imagined that possibility would become my reality. However, it did. I was in the throes of postpartum depression (brought on by the loss of our twin son at 19 weeks) and found myself in need of love and support and understanding, in a way I have never truly needed before.
Thankfully, my partner did everything every grown-ass man should, especially in a situation that a cisgender male can't possibly understand. My partner didn't know what it was like to become pregnant or birth a human being or breastfeed a human being, and he didn't understand what it was like to experience PPD, either. However, his inability to physically understand didn't keep him from supporting me to the best of his ability. Because he was willing to do the following things, I was able to get the help I needed and successfully survive postpartum depression.
Research Signs And Symptoms
I didn't realize I was suffering from postpartum depression, until my partner and I sat down and researched my symptoms. I knew something wasn't "right," that I felt different in a way that was starting to impact my overall mental state and mood and energy levels, but I didn't know if it was simply motherhood, or something else. My partner's willingness to look up signs and symptoms, made me feel like we were both going through PPD together, and I can't tell you how valuable that feeling was.
Realize That He Can't "Fix" Her...
A grown-ass man isn't going to consider himself a certified mental health professional just because he knows how to successfully navigate a search engine. He will know that PPD isn't something he can "fix," and he won't take it upon himself to facilitate his own brand of therapy in order to boost his man-ego. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, he won't start to view his partner as some project that needs fixing; like a desk from IKEA or a few drainpipes underneath the sink...
...Because She's Not Broken
...because he'll realize that his partner isn't "broken." She's not some lesser human for having experienced or currently going through postpartum depression. She isn't missing something that he can give her; she isn't inadequate; she isn't anything other than a new mother with hormonal unbalances that are affecting certain aspects of her life and health.
Research Resources And Mental Health Professionals
The research definitely doesn't stop the moment you feel comfortable recognizing the signs and symptoms of PPD. No, it will continue (hopefully, for the foreseeable future) as you consider the next steps. Looking for a doctor or mental health professional or a support group or any other resources, can be overwhelming (to say the least). Having a partner help you find what you need in order to get the help you need is beyond essential, as it makes PPD seem far more manageable than it feels.
Encourage Her To Seek Treatment
I was extremely hesitant to seek out treatment, of any kind. Our society has sufficentially attached such a horrendous stigma to mental illness and mental health, that I felt afraid to admit that I was suffering from postpartum depression. Coupled with the overwhelming expectations placed on all mothers (especially new mothers) and I didn't view my PPD as a common mental health issue that I could easily seek help and treatment for; I saw it as an omission of failure, a way for me to be viewed as less than or ill-equipped or even dangerously incapable of loving my child the way a mother is supposed to. I was afraid that people would judge me and shame me and view me as diseased, so I stayed quiet.
Looking back, I wish I would have listened to my partner, who urged me to seek treatment on a regular basis. He didn't want to push me to make a decision I didn't feel comfortable making and he didn't want to make my medical choices for me, but he was adamant that treatment didn't mean I was defective, it just meant that I wasn't a mental health professional, and needed one.
Remind Her That PPD Doesn't Make Her A Bad Mother...
I needed this reminder constantly, especially when my postpartum depression left me feeling detached from my son, who I loved very much but was, honestly, a little too afraid to love. Sometimes I didn't want to go to him and I didn't want to feed him and I didn't want to bond with him, because what if he died, like his twin did? What if I had to go through another devastating loss? I couldn't even comprehend going through a similar situation, so as a defense mechanism that I seemed powerless to control, I kept a "safe" distance from my son, facilitated by my postpartum depression. I felt guilty and I felt like a horrible parent, but I had my partner to remind me that these feelings are valid and understandable and felt by many other women, especially after infant or pregnancy losses, and I wasn't a bad mother for being a human being.
...Or At All Indicates How Much She Loves Her Baby
I loved my baby and I had postpartum depression. One did not negate the other. There were mutually exclusive feelings.
Takes Care Of Chores Around The House...
I was already exhausted by the night feedings and the constant breastfeeding and everything that comes with motherhood, but my postpartum depression seemed to take whatever ounce of energy I had left. Thankfully, my partner picked up the (tremendous) amount of slack, and not once said anything about it. He didn't draw attention to himself or mutter under his breath or complain or make me feel like I would "owe him" later on, he simply knew that, during that period of time, I needed more from him than normal. His willingness to give more than 50% when I needed more than 50%, kept the house clean and the laundry done and, more importantly, kept me from feeling like I was failing.
...And Handles Meals
Not only is food a great comfort and a necessity and just, you know, enjoyable, having it prepared for you can mean the difference between something balanced and delicious, and something haphazardly heated up in a microwave. I didn't have any energy for seemingly anything other than tending to my baby and attempting to pry myself out of bed, so to have my partner cook meals (and my favorite meals at that) made me feel loved and cared for. It gave me energy and, honestly, gave me some moments of absolute happiness; watching my partner cook and smelling the delicious smells of a prepared meal and holding my son to my chest, are moments I'll never forget.
Doesn't Take Her PPD Personally (Or Make It About Him)
Postpartum depression has nothing to do with the baby or the woman's partner or anything other than a mix of unforgiving hormones. That's literally it. A grown-ass man isn't going to take it personally and essentially guilt trip his partner about a feeling she is powerless to control. He won't ask for more than she can give, and he won't make her bad for it.
He Listens To Her
Sometimes, an open ear and a closed mouth is all anyone needs. Instead of trying to make suggestions and tell someone how they should feel, simply listen. Like, really listen. Don't nod your head while you wait your turn to speak; try to really hone in on what your partner is saying so that you can better understand how she feels. Chances are, if she is anything like me, she feels upset and confused and guilty, and those feelings are only fueling her postpartum depression, so let her release them by listening to her.
He Doesn't Downplay Her Feelings
Postpartum depression isn't the same as being "sad." This is not something someone simply "gets over" by slapping on a smile and thinking about rainbows and butterflies and pulling themselves up by the ole bootstraps. No, this is a medical condition and it is one that needs treatment and understanding and support, not condescending platitudes reserved for sad days, like when you realize you don't have anymore ice cream in the freezer.
Reminds Her That She's Not Alone
An estimated 10-15% of postpartum women suffer from postpartum depression or postpartum conditions. Your partner is not alone. This is not a condition reserved entirely for her, and she is not the first woman to ever experience it. Now, this isn't to downplay her very valid feelings or police her experience or tell her that she shouldn't feel sorry for herself; it's to help her understand that she isn't alone. There are support groups and networks of women who can understand how she is feeling, and it might benefit her to reach out to those women so she knows that she isn't going through PPD by herself. Sometimes, knowing that you're not walking through the darkness by yourself, is all the help you need.