The Baby Transition: A Few Words for Couples
Most of us know what a difficult transition it can be to have a baby, and it can be even more complicated if you or your partner is experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety. Whether this is your first child or not, the transition period after having a baby impacts your relationship with your partner. Try to keep in mind that the first months are the hardest, and once you find your rhythm, things get a little easier.
I was recently talking to a friend of mine, going through her own struggles after the birth of her second child, when it occurred to me that I should write down some of my own observations after working for years with women and couples. Women tend to follow certain patterns as they adjust to life after having a baby, and men tend to follow certain patterns in reaction to their partner. The following paragraphs are just a few words to shed some light onto the new dynamic you and your partner may be experiencing.
For the new father…
I am sure it seems you have lost your wife for good! You may not recognize her or your new life together. She is probably a shadow of her former self. But things will get better and you will get your wife back. There are some things to understand about this. First, the more you try to talk her out of her feelings or get her to see things in a rational way, the worse she gets. Even though it seems counter-intuitive, she is feeling completely overwhelmed which is an emotional response to the situation and it cannot be intellectualized or dealt with logically. You must appeal to her emotions. That means, when she is upset the best thing you can do is reassure her that you are there and willing to help in whatever capacity she needs. In addition, during this time women need lots and lots of reassurance. Even if you feel that you have already said something, say it again, and again. It won’t always be this way, but for now, her anxiety is probably through the roof, and the reassurance is comforting, even if it is only temporary. Realize that the depression/anxiety is a symptom that will go away at some point. The very best way to get it to go away is sleep. Women should only be put on medication after they have gotten enough sleep for many weeks following sleep deprivation. In order for the brain to replenish itself it needs 5 consecutive hours a night, plus some. Although this is not always possible, getting as close to that is ideal. Please be patient with her, remember that she is not in control of her moods. She does not want to feel this way either. This is not an easy road for either one of you, but remember, it will get better.
For the new mother…
I know it feels like you have lost your former life for good, and that things will forever feel overwhelming. To add to it, when you feel at odds with your husband, it just makes you feel even worse. You are probably too tired to try to deal with the situation. Trust me, it will get better. Pease keep in mind the following about your partner. Men generally are hardwired to want to “fix” things. They usually pride themselves on this attribute and feel very helpless and powerless when they are unable to fix the problem. On top of that, probably in his mind, you are not only not letting him fix the problem, but you don’t trust that he is competent to fix the problem. Of course, this is not really the case, but it is generally how the man feels in this type of situation.
Try to keep in mind that things will feel more normal after the transition period is over and you both fall into a normal pattern. In the meantime, try to cut your partner a little slack, keeping in mind that this is an adjustment for you both.
* If you or your partner’s symptoms seem like they are more than just a difficult time coping to your new baby, please keep in mind that postpartum depression and anxiety is real, and help is necessary. Postpartum depression, or PPD, affects 15-20% of new mothers and can begin gradually or very suddenly at any point during the first year after a woman has given birth. Women who have experienced depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder before or during pregnancy, and women who have experienced a traumatic labor and delivery may be at a higher risk for developing PPD. Postpartum depression can feel very scary and overwhelming and many women feel a tremendous sense of shame and guilt for having their feelings, especially if infertility is an issue. For this reason, few women actually seek help because they fear they will be judged harshly or that their child will be taken from them. PPD affects everyone in the family, including the baby, so it is essential that women get help.