Father's Day is exactly 10 days away.....woot, woot! If you're like me, you're running around trying to figure out how to celebrate the special father in your life. Hopefully, you're not stuck deciding on whether to buy your favorite dad that dapper bowtie or new and improved power drill. If you are, that's cool too. But, if you want to save money, consider spending time by having an open conversation with your dad, hubby or significant other about their mental health. You may not know this, but one in ten fathers experience symptoms of anxiety and depression the first year after a baby is born (www.postpartum.net)......who knew?
Recently, I had a candid discussion with two fathers about how their mental health was affected during their wives' pregnancy and shortly after the baby was born. Check out the interview below and please leave a comment.
Interview: Fathers & Postpartum Mental Health
Details and names have been changed to maintain the confidentiality of the interviewees and their families.
Siha: Thank y'all for agreeing to participate in this interview, it really means a lot. First, I want you to think back to when you first found out you and your wife were pregnant. What were the emotions like? How did you and your wife react?
CB- I had a little excitement. With my first baby I was a bit apprehensive. At the time, my wife and I hadn't been dating long, but I could tell she was a good person. I had no doubts about her being a mom.
NS- For the first child, we were excited; I personally was anxious to see him when he came out. My wife was a little nervous about having her first child, ya know, naturally.
Siha: Prior to becoming a father, did you have any experience caring for children? If so, what did that consist of and did you feel prepared by the time your children were born?
CB- I come from a pretty big family so I knew about babies and some of the "ins and outs." But, nothing really prepares you for fatherhood. I mean, when you get frustrated, you can't just give up and give them back. You know, grandparents can always give them back to the parents whenever they feel like it.
NS- The only experience I had was babysitting my little cousins, but they weren't infants or babies. I never watched an infant or baby overnight, so I don't know if my answer qualifies.
Siha: How were your wives' pregnancies; were there any complications or concerns with any of your babies or mama?
CB- Yeah, with my first baby, we found out the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. This happened as my wife was delivering her. I was scared and worried, but the doctor made us feel better about the situation. They kept telling us that if anything happens they would be able to figure it out.
NS- With our first child, my wife had gestational diabetes, but it really wasn't a concern because she did well with making sure it didn't get out of hand. Other than that her pregnancies were fairly smooth.
Siha: Once your wife gave birth what were your thoughts on the arrival of the baby?
CB- With my baby girl , I had a different view; I was kinda in the streets still. So having a baby made me wanna be a better man all around because I had someone depending on me. When my second child was born the transition was easy because I was already in the process of being a better person. I was like, "I'm done with the foolishness," since I had a son this time around and I had to show him how to be a man.
NS- With our first child he came really fast and he was born at home, I actually delivered him. We found out the reason he came so fast was because he had a knot in his umbilical cord (true knot), so he was trying to get out of there. We were both really nervous about that. When my wife went for her one week check up she had the baby with her and we found out our son had lost a lot of weight. He had lip and tongue ties, which resulted in him losing like two pounds. That really concerned us and my anxiety went up. I know for me I wasn't even thinking about being a father at the time, I was more so thinking about how can I get my baby healthy, ya know? I didn't want to have to take him to the hospital and have him admitted because he wasn't getting enough food. For whatever reason I was thinking the worse and I was sad because this was our first child. HIs status at the time wasn't great. When our second child was born I didn't have any anxiety because of what we went through with our first son.
Siha- So what did you do to cope with that anxiety?
NS- At that time to cope with the anxiety I was drinking a lot, which turned out not to be the healthiest thing to do. I wasn't feeling well physically because of my drinking. Once our son started getting better and gaining weight, my anxiety went down and I started feeling better. I no longer had to go to that particular vice to cope with my anxiety. Then, that's when the father anxiety came in. I was thinking, " Am I going to be a good father? Am I ready to be a father? Am I going to do the right things? How I coped with that was thinking about my father. My father always made sure we had food, clothing, shelter, lights, and all the essentials. That's what comforted me as a father making sure they have the necessary things to live and survive. I think all the other things as far as spending time, watching them grow, and taking them places they need to go to just comes with the territory. I developed better coping skills as far as working out and meditating; that's why I wasn't anxious because I had things to occupy my mind.
Siha: Did you or your wife experience any mental health issues with either pregnancy or shortly after? If so, what was the diagnosis, if you don't mind sharing?
CB- So, I experienced panic attacks mainly because I was at the point in my life where I was changing careers. You know, I was trying to do something new and be a better provider for my family. My wife was depressed after our son was born; we had recently relocated from her hometown to my hometown. She was away from her family. She didn't have the physical support from her mom or her sisters. Fortunately, she was able to recognize the signs of depression because she worked in the medical field. She began talking about her symptoms with her doctor; I'm not sure if she was prescribed medication.
NS- One thing that stands out in particular was after our second child was born my wife was overwhelmed. She had just started a new job and she couldn't really take the time off she needed to in order to be with our son. She was ripping and running; still healing physically. She struggled with not being able to be home with our newborn child even though she wanted to be home with him. She was breastfeeding and she couldn't be home as often as she wanted in order to nurse him. Then her breastmilk started to deplete due to the stress of the job which was causing more anxiety with her. We had to put our son on formula and he started breaking out from the formula. He had an allergic reaction to the lactose in the formula. It was very stressful for both of us, but more so for my wife; it's hard to put it in words.
Siha- How did you and your wife manage your mental health?
CB- She talked to a doctor about her feelings. I asked my mom and sister to help more with the baby. I'm sure having my mom and sister around that really helped her, but she still had to deal with her depression.
NS- Eventually, she found a counselor. She had an initial consultation with the counselor and was seeing her every week or so. I could see the changes in her energy and her attitude. We decided it would be a good opportunity for her to take a break from work so that she can spend more time at home with our baby, so her breastmilk could increase. It was good that she was able to find that person and talk to them. The counselor was able to give her a different perspective.
Siha: By your wife working through her mental health what impact did that have on your mental health?
CB- I felt helpless because my hands were tied. I come from a military background, so my thought process is "do whatever you have to do to get better." But sometimes a person who is depressed doesn't know what they need. All I could do was offer help, but home life was getting harder because she felt like I didn't understand. There was nothing that I could say to make it easier, so I offered sympathy and a helping hand as much as I could.
NS- In 2020, I developed some really solid coping mechanisms: working out, meditating, staying present. It wasn't stressful for me, my approach was, "what can I do to help her?" I believed I was doing everything I could, but she needed more than just me. I mean, I'm her husband and I can talk to her objectively but she needed somebody outside of our space to talk to, I wasn't that person.
Siha: What advice would you give a father whose wife or significant other has symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns?
CB- Come from a perspective of being helpful any way you can. Ultimately, it's gonna take them to talk with someone who knows what they're going through. You have to take yourself out of the equation, because it's not about you.
NS- Just be there for her, find out what it is that she needs. Listen to her, don't necessarily try to give her advice, just be an ear, ya know? Take care of your house, find things to cope with, like healthy things. Whether it's working out, playing a video game, making music, going for a walk, just something to make sure your head is in a good place. It can definitely take a toll on the father as well if his head isn't in the right space. Find out what she needs and talk to her.
Siha: I'm so grateful to you both and appreciate you all taking the time to share your stories, your wives' and children's stories with me. Do you have any final thoughts?
CB- Anytime, you're going to help a lot of people. Women have a lot they deal with when having a baby and need someone who knows what they are going through to help them.
NS- You're welcome, being a father is a blessing and a gift.
Postpartum Support International-https://www.postpartum.net/get-help/help-for-dads/