My name is Gary. My wife Becky and I have lived through two bouts of postpartum depression with each of our kids: our daughter, born Dec 1998, and our son, born May 2002. Looking back there were many signs of Becky’s depression after our first baby, all of which we dismissed as “just part of having a baby”. Neither of us had any experience at all with newborn babies, so we had absolutely no idea what to expect. I thought, Becky not being able to sleep and doing loads of washing at 4am, my constant feeling of helplessness and anxiety, and feeling like the most hopeless father and husband on the face of the planet, was what everyone went through the first time around. At the time I thought, “We can get through this together. We just need to hang on, just one more week, just one more day”. Which really translates to “Everyone else can do this without extra help. Why can’t I? What am I doing wrong? What’s wrong with me? I’m a hopeless husband. I’m a hopeless father”.
In a horrible kind of way, we were lucky that Becky had had experiences of breakdowns before. She knew that the time had come to seek some professional help, just to help get the baby settled. When we did make it to a mother-baby unit (a specialized ward in many hospitals in Australia), it was always for the baby: problems with her feeding and her sleeping. I really hadn’t come to accept that the problem might be with Becky.
When Becky was assessed, and we found out that she had scored top-marks on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression scale, I was actually quite relieved that someone could put a name to what was wrong. It meant that we could address the problem.
Just a quick aside, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) is described in the British Journal of Psychiatry June, 1987, Vol. 150 by J.L. Cox, J.M. Holden, R. Sagovsky as follows: The EPDS was developed at health centers in Livingston and Edinburgh. It consists of ten short statements. The mother underlines which of the four possible responses is closest to how she has been feeling during the past week. Most mothers complete the scale without difficulty in less than 5 minutes. The validation study showed that mothers who scored above threshold 92.3% were likely to be suffering from a depressive illness of varying severity. Nevertheless the EPDS score should not override clinical judgment. A careful clinical assessment should be carried out to confirm the diagnosis. The scale indicates how the mother has felt during the previous week and in doubtful cases it may be usefully repeated after 2 weeks. The scale will not detect mothers with anxiety neuroses, phobias or personality disorder. I found this on Google by searching for Edinburgh Depression.
After Becky had several sleepless nights three weeks after our second child was born, I knew that PPD was visiting itself upon us again, and I organized a bed in a mother-baby unit that very evening. I’m glad I did. The depression was even worse the second time around.
It is difficult to estimate the impact on our family that PPD has had. In a strange sort of way, Becky and I may be closer than we might otherwise have been. I have seen her go to hell and back. I know her inside and out and I know myself a lot better too. I’ve had to learn a lot, but it’s been an interesting experience, to say the least.
I’m pretty sure my little girl has come through the experience emotionally unscathed. She is a very happy little person, and my son is a prodigious comic. The hardest thing for the three of us has been watching Becky go through pain and despair, withdrawing from our reach, and not being able to do anything substantial to ease her suffering. I know how partners of cancer sufferers must feel. We thought it would never end, but of course it did.
There have been many things that have helped me through this, but I think the key is the insight that I have been able to gain with the help of my wife, her doctors, the staff at the mother-baby units, pop psychology books, and my own experiences with psychotherapy. Another thing is reminding myself that no one wants Becky to be less depressed than she does. If she could “snap out of it” she would have years ago. I’m convinced that Becky’s depression is not a form of attention seeking or emotional manipulation, though it’s easy to think that, especially at the beginning. It’s hard not to think of it as a sign of weakness. “Show some backbone, will you?”.
What I’ve come to realize is that it is more like someone experiencing incredible amounts of emotional pain and torment, without anyone to help. Depression, like most other chronic illness can take a lifetime to run its course. I am not expecting to wake up one morning to find it gone forever. And, like other serious illnesses, our whole family must live with it. We are all impacted in one way or another. But I think that’s what families are about: sharing each-other’s pain and joy for our whole lives.
Projects like the beyondblue website (http://www.beyondblue.org.au/) and the beyondblue postnatal website (http://www.beyondblue.org.au/postnataldepression/) can help demystify PPD and give people a place to start understanding what is a dreadfully common phenomenon. I have worked in the IT industry for a few years now, mostly in the Internet and Multimedia areas. I know the power that the internet provides. Putting useful info like PPD resources and descriptions of other peoples experiences really shows what good the internet can do in actually helping people. It seems to me that awareness is the key. The more a thing is talked about, the less mysterious and frightening it seems. Thanks Gary