First-time father shares his experience with postpartum mood disorder
- on June 17, 2012
If you think postpartum depression just affects mothers, think again. Dads can suffer, too.
Carrie Wendel-Hummell, a graduate student in Kansas University’s Department of Sociology, said a 2010 study found that 10 percent of fathers experience depression within one year of having a child, which is twice the normal rate for depression in men.
While maternal postpartum depression is prevalent and can have negative personal, family and child developmental outcomes, she said there is less research on the prevalence, risk factors and effects of postpartum depression among fathers.
Wendel-Hummell said often postpartum depression is portrayed as a problem of hormones, but it involves many other factors such as sleep deprivation, social isolation and financial strain.
“Many mothers and fathers are getting postpartum depression and other mood disorders well after the hormones are supposed to be back to normal,” she said.
Since May 2011, has been interviewing parents who have went through an emotionally difficult time after the birth of their first child as part of her dissertation research project. She wants to learn more about the causes of distress and how they differ between moms and dads.
Among those she has interviewed is Kyle Stern, 29, of Kansas City, Mo., who suffered anxiety after the birth of his 19-month-old son Sam.
At the time, he knew he wasn’t himself, but he wasn’t sure what was wrong until he searched online and found some dad blogs.
“There was one where a dad talked about how he was a survivor of paternal postpartum depression or something like that,” Stern said. “It was the first time I had even heard that dads might suffer.”
During the first three months after Sam was born, Stern had a lot on his plate.
He was working a full-time job in information technology, pursuing a master’s degree in education at Kansas University and taking care of household chores. And his wife, Amelia Stern, 29, a school psychologist, was suffering postpartum depression. That meant he also was taking care of their newborn most of the time. Amelia said at her lowest point, she wanted to run away because she didn’t feel like she was being a good mother.
With the help of medications, she recovered and that’s when Kyle let down his guard and his postpartum depression started to show.
“Kyle was so busy taking care of me and compensating for everything that I was going through that he didn’t really have time to take care of himself and process what he was going through,” Amelia said.
She said Stern is typically laid back, loving, helpful and a good problem-solver, but that had changed. He became more short-tempered and grumpy and small daily tasks would overwhelm him, especially when Sam cried.
“When Sam was fussy, it almost felt like the world was closing in around me,” Kyle said. “It was like I wanted to be the best dad but felt like I was failing when the baby cried. Thoughts like, ‘I can’t take care of my own baby started to creep in.’”
At times, he said it felt like everything was happening at once and that everyone was talking louder and louder.
“It’s almost like I perceived things completely different than what was actually happening. Everything seemed to be elevated, like if Sam was crying it seemed to be the worst cry,” he said.
Sometimes, he would lose his temper and that frightened him the most.
“It’s like where did this loving person and guy that wants to be a great dad go during this experience,” he said. “It’s like I become a completely different person.”
After talking to his wife, he decided to approach his primary care doctor in Lawrence. The doctor helped Kyle figure out that he was suffering from anxiety and not so much depression and then prescribed medication for him. With a few days, Kyle said he noticed a difference.
“Things didn’t stress me out so much, so it was a great breakthrough for me,” he said.
Wendel-Hummell said she would like to see more education for fathers and a screening process. Currently, there’s nothing available because fathers don’t go to the doctor for a postpartum checkup like mothers do.
Melissa Hoffman, a state coordinator for Postpartum Support International, said men often are at higher risk for postpartum depression when their wife is suffering. She said while the symptoms are similar, there’s often a later onset.
“There’s a lot of reluctance to talk about it just like with moms and maybe even more so because of the idea that a man shouldn’t have those feelings,” Hoffman said.
HAVE YOU SUFFERED?
Carrie Wendel-Hummell, a Kansas University doctoral student, is conducting research on parents who went through an emotionally difficult time after the birth of their first child. She is looking at the differences between mothers and fathers. Her goal is to conduct interviews with at least 45 parents.
To qualify, parents must meet the following criteria:
• You had strong feelings of sadness, fear, anxiety, anger or frustration after your first child was born.
• You were married to or living with the child’s other biological parent when your first child was born.
• You are 18 years old or older.
For more information or to participate contact, Wendel-Hummell at 785-393-6366 or firstname.lastname@example.org.