When you left your house this morning for work, your wife sat on the couch, baby in her arms, TV blaring out the Good Morning America theme. You kissed her on her cheek, patted your new baby’s head, and left to face another difficult day at the office. As the day goes by, you text message your wife to check in and get one word answers in response. Attributing her short messages to her now one-handed typing, you move ahead with your day. Finally you arrive home to a very similar scene to the one you left – wife sits on couch, baby is in her arm, TV blares out the evening news theme song.
Did she move? Did she get anything done? Just what DID she do today? She snaps at you for blocking the TV. You become increasingly upset as you move throughout the house. Dirty dishes litter the sink and kitchen. Laundry that has been dirty for a month still sits in front of the washer. And you can’t remember the last time your wife took a shower, put on make-up, or wore anything other than the robe she’s currently sitting in out in the living room.
Chances are that your wife may be struggling with a Postpartum Mood Disorder but isn’t letting you in on how she’s feeling. Instead, she’s taking it out on the house, on you, and on the world.
For her, life isn’t fair. Even if you’ve been taking over baby duty at night and providing space for her to get out and about, she may still seem resentful because you get to go to work every day and interact with other adults while she’s stuck at home with this creature who barely babbles and needs to be fed every other hour. Meanwhile, you’re jealous that she gets to stay home with the baby and wonder why she is unable to show gratitude for your willingness to leave the people you love the most every day to work hard and provide for them.
Why do we women hide our feelings? We hide our feelings because we know how we are supposed to present ourselves when certain life events happen. We hide our feelings because we are afraid of admitting failure. We hide our failures because we don’t want to become the next item in the gossip mill.
So how am I supposed to know if my wife is struggling with a Postpartum Mood Disorder if she’s not communicating with me? I’m not a mind reader!
We know you are not a mind reader. We may expect you to be once we have a baby and are struggling with a Postpartum Mood Disorder. I expected this of my husband and can’t even begin to share with you how many arguments to which this train of thought contributed. Turns out that had I just asked for help or allowed him to jump in without judging how he was doing things, the arguments could have been blissfully avoided.
Here are some basic signs and symptoms of Postpartum Mood Disorders to be on the lookout for after your wife has a baby:
- Crying for no reason
- Sleeping too much or not sleeping enough
- No appetite or increase in appetite
- Unable to make decisions
- Irritable, anxious, angry
- Sudden or increase in anti-social behavior
What do I do if my wife is showing these symptoms?
Talk with her about them. Approach her compassionately and non-judgmentally. Let her know you’ve noticed she’s not been herself and ask if she would like to share anything with you. Offer to sit with her in silence until she’s ready to talk or to call your wife’s doctor for help and let her know you will go with her to the appointment to provide support. She may not thank you right away, but down the road, she will.
Wendy Davis of PSI has a good list of things you can do to help your wife as she begins to recover:
- Encourage her to talk about her feelings, and do not judge them.
- Help her reach out to others. Help her find support and health care.
- Help her cope (practically and emotionally).
- Pitch-in before she asks.
- Offer reassurance, positive feedback, and patience.
- Have confidence in her strength and recovery.
Above all, remember that a Postpartum Mood Disorder is not anyone’s fault, no one is to blame, and she will be well again.Postpartum Resources: Postpartum Support International: www.postpartum.net Postpartum Stress Center: www.postpartumstress.com Postpartum Dads Project: www.postpartumdadsproject.org Med Ed PPD: www.mededppd.org Article image by: Nihan Aydin, SXC
Ben Martin is the CEO of THE FATHER LIFE. He lives with his wife and five children in the Rochester, NY, area.