Chris Illuminati recently posted a great article over at Asylum about Postpartum Depression for men, and what it’s recently meant for him. He’s a new father, and freelancing from home is giving him all of the signs of postpartum that we typically associate with women. It was “the crazy thoughts doing laps around my head at 4 a.m. that troubled me the most,” Chris says. “What if I just left him and went to bed? Threw my hands up, packed a bag, checked into a hotel and came back for his second birthday when most of the hard stuff was over?”
Well, Chris. I’ve got to tell you – it’s not just for stay-at-home dads. I’m a working father, and I also had a version of postpartum. Read on for another perspective.
Unlike Chris, when my son was born, I wanted to stay home but couldn’t. Having the sole income in the household, I had to go back to work. And as happy as I was about having a child, there was something wrong. I was leaving my wife home with a colicky child, which was complicated by my wife’s Multiple Sclerosis. See, people with Multiple Sclerosis love pregnancy because their symptoms all but disappear – something that researchers are trying to reverse-engineer in order to find a cure. Symptoms include some of the worst things to couple with a cranky newborn…fatigue, loss or numbing of arms and legs, partial loss of sight, and in-general, the feeling that your body is fighting against you. And unfortunately, people with Multiple Sclerosis typically have their largest “attack” directly after pregnancy – so you go from a 9-month high to a frightening low when you need it least.
So there I was with an unhappy baby that never slept, and a wife that disliked the son she wanted so badly. And then there was me – going to work at 7:30am every morning, hoping that I wasn’t going to come home to some unspeakable tragedy. If we didn’t need more factors, I also have sleep apnea, which means that I needed every second of under-effective sleep I could get, since driving to work was a 25-mile trek – one during which I often had to fight myself to stay awake. Given the circumstances, both my wife and I needed sleep – her for the Multiple Sclerosis, and me for my sleep apnea. But head-to-head, I needed it more, because if I didn’t sleep, I could very well die in a car wreck (remind me to tell you about the time I once fell asleep behind the wheel for 10 miles). And if I was dead, I’d most certainly not be getting paid…which left my wife unable to pay rent. Luckily, my mother-in-law was available to babysit during the day, so my wife could at least get a couple quick cat naps during the day.
That decision killed me. To know that I had to choose between my own good and my wife’s good was terrible. I would wake up in the middle of the night and hear my wife, still up at 3am with a crying baby, and have to consciously put my head back down on the pillow and go back to sleep. In retrospect, there’s always a million ways to handle things. I could have just found other work – just to get by. I could have had a heart-to-heart with my boss and asked to work from home. I could have strong-armed my boss into letting me work from home. I could have worked part-time. Anything. But when that baby comes into the world, no one is thinking clearly. New parents hate their babies because the baby changed everything. No one is sleeping, no one is thinking clearly. Husbands and wives fight about the most infinitesimally small things – for no reason, except that you feel your old life is slipping away. You come to the quick and depressing realization that you now own and are responsible for something that needs you 100% of the time, 24 hours a day.
(And yet, some of your coworkers will still insist that they know how you feel, and that them having a pet is like you having a child. Because, you know, when you’ve got to go get more formula at the store for your baby, you can either leave them there in the middle of the living room, or take them along with you, leaving the car window rolled down a little so fresh air gets in.)
In the end, the resolution is that at some point, as a man, you realize that you’ll get through this. You will grab your family by the scruff of the neck and carry them to safety. You do what you need to do – which sometimes entails fighting with your wife, and sometimes entails staying up with her all night and calling in sick the next day so that she remembers that you’re on the same team. It sometimes, sadly, means you’ve got to close your eyes and go to sleep, when you know everything is out of order. You know that any depression is curable, and that’s what keeps you, like it kept Chris Illuminati, from doing something out of control. You also realize that kids are born everywhere in the world, in every community – rich, poor, dirt poor, in hospitals, living rooms, bathtubs, alleyways and space stations. Okay, not space stations, but I had to lighten this article up, and the thought of a zero-gravity birth is totally rad.
You get the idea; men get postpartum too – and sometimes it’s not just because they’re home with the child and losing sleep. Sometimes there’s other factors at work that make a man feel lost, depressed and powerless. And then, even though it’s not politically correct to do so anymore, you just realize that you’re a man. And you suck it up, put on your big boy panties, and be a man. Which isn’t to say that you can’t be sad. It just means you go and be sad, but then go hit something inanimate until everything’s better. And voila, by that point, your kid is 2 and just put a slice of cheese in your Xbox, so you’ve now got more important things to be sad about.
If you haven’t already, check out Chris Illuminati’s article (linked in the Sauce below). He’s got all the facts and stats that I didn’t link to.