When Tony and I had Ziggy, the first few months were nightmarish. It was Christmas time in Seattle, and I remember having insomnia so bad I thought I had lost the ability to sleep. In an attempt to heal, I decided to ask Tony 10 questions about his experience of being a partner to someone suffering from postpartum depression/anxiety and PTSD.
When did you realize something was wrong?
I knew something was wrong right away. But I didn't realize the extent of the problem. I kept thinking it would get better. But instead it got worse. I didn't know where mild baby blues ended and where postpartum depression began. Nor did I have any information on how to get help.
What was that experience like for you?
Extraordinarily frightening. I didn't know what was happening during labor. We were so connected as a couple and it began to shift in a way that was very scary. Once the full force of the PPD began to level itself in our lives in the first few weeks of being home with the baby, I felt confused and helpless and I was experiencing extreme anxiety. When you passed out from lack of sleep and fell to the floor behind me as I was holding the baby, my anxiety changed to terror.
What would you do differently now that you know about postpartum depression?
I would have reached out immediately to health care professionals for help. I would have encouraged formula feeding and weaning of breastfeeding right away to facilitate more ease of movement for you to be away from the baby for treatment or even just a break. I would have encouraged proper prescribed medication under the guidance of a psychiatrist to begin to ease the terrible burdens of the disease. It is so difficult to remember how helpless I felt and how under the influence I was of all the media hype about breastfeeding and bonding. That really affected my ability to act.
Were you aware of the PTSD in birth?
I think that my first clue that something was beginning to happen was during labor. It was specifically during transition that I noticed a slow but clear change in your presence. It appeared as though you began to dissociate from not only me but the world, as if your body had been left behind to experience the rest of the experience without you. It changed after we were home with the baby but for me, that was the moment it began.
What surprised you about PPD?
The insomnia. I was used to seeing depression and how it affected your daily life due to your chronic condition, but the affects of the insomnia were devastating.
What scared you the most?
The scariest thing was the constant fear that you may try to hurt yourself.
What advice would you give a partner?
To act quickly. To know that no matter what the level of depression, anxiety or insomnia your partner is experiencing, they should be seen by a health care professional and there are lots of options.
What do you think women need most if they have PPD?
They need people in their lives who are willing to acknowledge it for what it is and are willing to be there with them no matter how scary it is. They also need good professional medical care as quickly as possible. Whether it is therapy or medication, they need to be under the care of a professional. They also need to know that they are not permanently damaging their baby and that they can take time away during the day or night, whenever possible, for a break.
How did you see the interaction with our son?
I was worried about him a lot at first. Not just because of your depression but also because of my own stress and anxiety. I was very afraid that it would affect him adversely. But having watched him grow and mature over the last ten years, I am completely convinced that having the treatment that you finally did receive, starting around his third month of life was an invaluable change in the dynamic between the three of us. It was not all smooth sailing after that but it continued to improve because of it. I shudder to think of what might of happen, had you not found and accepted the treatments of the wonderful therapist and psychiatrists that first saw you.
How did the next pregnancy and birth of our daughter differ?
Everything was different, but for me, the most notable difference was choosing to bottle feed with formula from the start. That gave you a much greater sense of freedom. You were able to be away without the constant fear that the baby would starve without you. I can't recommend that enough to other parents. I know it goes against the conventional wisdom of the day regarding breastfeeding. But in my humble opinion (which is grounded in personal experience) they are flat out wrong. Our daughter is attached, loving, kind, deeply in touch with emotions and easily able to connect to others. Not to mention she is flipping brilliant (state test score fact¬ merely a parental opinion) and she was bottle fed from infancy.
Postscript from Lamaze:
Every woman and family's experience with PPMD is different, along with every set of solutions to address the illness. We at Lamaze honor Walker and Tony for their courage in sharing this story, as well as the means by which they engaged to seek treatment and healing. We also stand behind evidence-based research that in most cases, breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for mom and baby and can be relaxing, calming and healing in and of itself.