Raise Awareness. Spread Joy. Serve Others.
In December 2017, my wife Diana and I experienced the happiest day of our lives when our son, Fletcher, was born into this world. As any parent knows, the birth of a child is a moment encased in joy. Accompanying our bundle of joy were new challenges for both of us. Sleep deprivation, lack of routine, and learning to feed and clothe our new child were mountains we climbed during the early months of his life.
When Fletcher was just over a month old, it became apparent that Diana was anxious and sad. As the days progressed, I could see that these symptoms were more than just ‘baby blues’ and signs of a deeper issue - postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is a mood disorder that can affect both sexes. Symptoms include sadness, low energy, and anxiety, among others. Fortunately for us, Diana’s OB/GYN practice quickly referred her to a psychiatrist. After a period of 10-15 days, which included paralyzing anxiety and feelings of hopelessness, Diana began to recover and continue to be Fletcher’s loving mother.
Some months later, when Fletcher was about six months old, I began to feel depressed myself. I sought care from my primary care physician who prescribed me medication that should have addressed my low mood. He referred me to a psychiatrist for follow up however that visit wouldn’t occur for a protracted period of near 90 days. Instead of lifting my mood, the medication had unintended side effects that complicated my mental health. I ended up in an emergency room for a mental health crisis and began an outpatient mental health program. I saw counselors, learned basic mental health skills, and began to improve my mood.
Unfortunately, I would continue to struggle with depression for a full year. During this time, none of the activities I liked to engage in brought me joy. I fell victim to addictive behaviors like gambling and video games. I struggled in my relationship with alcohol. Fortunately for my family, I had access to a psychiatrist (after a long wait), a psychologist, and support from my wife. During my treatment for depression, however, no one made a connection between the arrival of my son and the timing of the presentation of my depression symptoms. I was unprepared to face these challenges as I had not had any previous mental health history.
Today, after my son's second birthday, my depressive episode is fading into memory. I have returned to the activities I love like cycling, spending time outdoors, and household activities. I credit my recovery to the care of skilled mental health professionals, the support of my wife, and the daily work of looking up out of depression. During the year that I was depressed, I struggled to feel anything save for sadness. No activity brought me joy. Today I find joy in spending time with my son. Our daily adventures range from story time at the library to cycling the Neuse River Trail.
Studies suggest the occurance rate for postpartum depression in new dads is 1 in 10 in the 3 to 6 month postnatal period. If mom also has postpartum depression symptoms the rate can be as high as 1 in 2. While mothers present with more classic depression symptoms such as sadness or anxiety fathers often experience more diescreet symptoms like anger, frustration, and irritability. Gender norms are still pervasive and men are viewed as stoic and strong, meant to carry the weight of their new family on their shoulders. Women, however, are screened during pregnancy, at delivery, and throughout pediatric followup visits. No such system exists for fathers. There are opportunites to screen men alongside women at all of these events.
I have chosen to raise $5,000 for Make-A-Wish as a vehicle to raise awareness around paternal postpartum depression. If I can help one new father be prepared for postpartum depression, share the joy I have with my son with one person who is struggling, and serve others by making wishes possible, then I believe the world will be a better place. Join me today in contributing to Make-A-Wish so that they may continue their mission to “create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.”