We’re continuing with this week’s series focusing on dads, featuring several fathers who have been brave and kind enough to share their experiences of seeing their wives/partners go through postpartum depression (PPD) and anxiety and what they learned. Today I’d like to welcome Josh Balcunas, husband of Warrior Mom Andrea who blogs at Postpartum & Pigtails.
She is scowling at you. Literally, she’s looking to rip you to pieces. An ominous glaze has overcome her eyes. It’s like she’s struggling with some inner turmoil but you don’t know what. There’s no communication, only tension. You’re confused, lonely. You feel outcast, vulnerable and like your energy is out of tune with the one person you need right now. This is not about you, though. Imagine how she must feel. You did not exhaust every ounce of emotion and nutrient giving birth to your new bundle of joy. You did not carry the burden of pregnancy, and you’re light years away from carrying the new burden she has.
These feelings are just the tip of the iceberg. I may be lonely and confused and my wife may be fatigued beyond belief, but there is a more insurmountable challenge forthcoming. The best way for me to describe what was happening while my wife was experiencing postpartum anxiety and OCD is to imagine being in the middle of the ocean, side by side, with no life jackets. As a husband and father, although I was struggling and fatigued, I still managed to tread water and stay afloat long enough for someone to come by and rescue me. My wife, on the other hand, was sinking, fast. What she went through, to me, can only be compared to what it must be like to be drowning. That is how I perceived it. This is how it was for years with no answer to the problem. She was gasping for air and I was walking in circles dumbfounded. How can you save someone when you have no idea, or the wrong idea, as to what is ailing her? To me it was just fighting. It was the rumored “women just get crazy after getting pregnant” syndrome that she was going through and surely it would pass or she would just work it out on her own. Little did I know she needed me now more than ever.
What I have learned is that postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD is a very confusing thing for both spouses even when you know it is happening. So really, what is my role in all this? Whatever it takes. Aside from the standard “love your wife and be understanding and patient” stuff (don’t get me wrong those things are the foundation of helping her get through this), there also has to be many small instances of whimsical creativity coupled with the fortitude to listen to her intently at all times and actually hear what she is saying. Whether you know that it is postpartum depression or anxiety or not, it is important to engage in creative activities that promote bonding and encourage moving forward in positive ways. If you don’t listen and hear your wife, then you won’t know how to help her or what she really wants from you. My role has been plain and simple, to be there for her. To hear her and then react in a way that understands what she needs and helps her attain those needs.
I am not perfect. I have fallen flat on my face a lot during this journey. If anything concerns me, if there is anything I could have done better, it’s learning from my mistakes in trying to help her.
If treatment is scarce or even obsolete, then how can you diagnose and move forward solving the problem? There was nothing visibly available to help us embrace and tackle our issue. It wasn’t until recently that my wife has been able to open doors revealing a wonderful support system full of information and experienced people who are willing to help. Things are much different now. Blogs, support groups, guest speakers, and some very strong and motivated women (including my wife) are on the frontlines making any and all information on postpartum anxiety and OCD very visible and very available to those who need help.
You meet. You fall in love. You have a child. You may abruptly and suddenly become two different people. Something is wrong at this point and instead of tearing each other apart, a couple in this situation needs help and needs to come back together as one. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that your wife needs you to have the utmost strength and vigilance in order to listen and hear her clearly, infinite patience so as to not be discouraged by the lack of an immediate answer to her struggles, and pure unconditional love, because although you’ve grown apart, it is your duty as a partner to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health.
Thanks Josh. Also, if you missed yesterday’s post from my better half, Frank Callis, check it out: Dads Speak Out About Postpartum Depression, Part 1