Congratulations to all the new mamas out there celebrating your first Mother’s Day—or your first with your newest kiddo! As you celebrate Mother’s Day, consider having an honest discussion with that new mama in your life (in addition to offering her a child-free meal and mid-day nap). Ask her questions like: How are you doing? How are you feeling? What do you need? Ask honestly and really listen! And keep checking in.
In the summer of 2012, my wife Erin and I were proud and exhausted first-time parents of our baby boy, Owen. Although we didn’t know it at the time, Erin was experiencing pregnancy-related depression and anxiety. As time went on, Erin’s “happy mama façade” was becoming harder and harder to maintain.
I also noticed something was wrong. Erin wasn’t the same person. She didn’t have her usual enthusiasm and while in the past she could veg out on the couch for a day or so to relax, it was unlike her to sit or stay inside day after day. As her partner, I wanted to be supportive but instead I just became more frustrated by things Erin was doing (or not doing). I distinctly remember even thinking, “What are you doing all day?!” (I know now!) I also didn’t want to make things worse by highlighting the changes she was going through so I didn’t press Erin on how she was feeling or what she needed.
It wasn’t until seven months after Owen was born that we decided we needed help. Erin started to talk to her doctor and signed up for a postpartum support group. Slowly, she began to regain her sense of self. Taking care of her needs as a new mom saved our family.
Looking back now we can recognize some things that we did that helped and also identified some things that we could have done differently.
One thing that helped was when I would spontaneously offer Erin a few hours where I would take Owen and she could just go and be by herself. Sometimes she would head to Target or IKEA and walk the aisles. Other times, she took a break at a local coffee shop or another quiet spot. She reflected that she really valued those few hours of not feeling like she was banging her head against a wall. I also talked with friends and one volunteered to come and sit with Owen a few mornings a week so Erin could go to the gym.
Be unrelentingly patient and persistent. And recognize that, as a partner, you can’t really “fix” the pregnancy-related depression and anxiety. But as a partner, you are someone who can provide support, a sense of stability, resources and patience to that new mama. To do that you also need to make sure that you are available when that mama needs you so don’t forget to check in on yourself! Partners can also experience pregnancy-related depression and anxiety. If you are male, testosterone levels sometimes drop after a new child joins the family. Low testosterone contributes to or exacerbates many mood disorders. Early this year, about three months after our second son was born, Erin and I both noticed that I wasn’t being who I wanted to be—and who our family needed me to be. Recognizing the help Erin received back in 2012, I started talking with a therapist that specializes in men’s health issues. Within a month, I was being treated for clinical depression and anxiety. I continue to work with the therapist and my primary care doctor to address some of the underlying issues, one of which is likely my low testosterone.
It really does take a village to raise a child. Although it was so hard early on to recognize that we needed help, the outpouring of love and support when we did ask was truly life changing. We are grateful to our family, friends, supporters, and care providers as we navigate this amazing (and really hard!) journey called parenting. We are fortunate and privileged to have a great network of supporters and the resources to explore options for mental health care. If you aren’t sure who to ask or what to say, there are many resources available to you. Here’s one place to start: http://www.postpartum.net/colorado.
This Mother’s Day, give that new mama a hug and some time for honest reflection—and keep doing it. And don’t forget as a partner that you need it too. You aren’t alone, you are not to blame and help is available!
Read Erin’s experience she wrote about here.
About the Author:
Jason Kenworthy lives in Lakewood with his wife, Erin, and two sons, Owen and Bryce. Based on their experience with pregnancy-related depression and anxiety, Jason and Erin want mom’s know they aren’t alone and they can get help.