Caring for a Spouse with Postpartum Depression

Jamie and SuzanneMy wife blogs at SuzanneShares.com. This week she is writing about her struggle with postpartum depression, and she asked me to contribute a post. You can read the original post here.

Suzanne has been sharing her postpartum depression struggles over the last few days. I am extremely thankful for her risk in sharing this hard story with the world. I pray and long for God to use our struggles for the sake of His glory and His purposes in the world. Before I begin, you should know a few important facts about Suzanne and me. I love my wife deeply. Our marriage is strong and healthy. We communicate directly and openly about struggles, faults, sins, and weaknesses. In this post, I will say some hard things regarding my wife’s PPD. These statements are things we have discussed. We do not feel the statements belittle either of us. We feel that sharing with openness and honesty is worth the risk of being misunderstood.

When it comes to PPD, what do you call the spouse who is walking through the struggle and giving much care to the person with PPD? We have not landed on a satisfactory term to date. For our purposes here, we will call this person the “caregiver.” These are my experiences as the caregiver during PPD.

My Journey as a PPD Caregiver
I remember subconsciously thinking, “Did the hospital send me home with the wrong woman?” The hospital had extreme measures to ensure we went home with the correct child. No one every checked to see if I was taking home the correct wife. After a few weeks, the Suzanne I knew and loved was not the Suzanne presently living in our home and caring for our child. The before children (B.C.) Suzanne was fun-loving, outgoing, strong, persevering, initiating, and independent. The after children (A.C.) Suzanne was fragile, withdrawn, almost anti-social, void of initiative, and highly dependent. There was no doubt that the woman in my house was not Suzanne. One question haunted me. Will she ever return?

The Vise: A vise is a strong, metal clamp. When tightened, it prevents an object from moving. For 8 months, Suzanne’s PPD went undiagnosed, and I spent every day feeling like we were stuck in a vise. These factors were trapping us:

  • I had no experience with childbirth, childrearing, PPD, or anything related to it. So, I did not know how to explain or process what was taking place in our home.
  • We were new to our town and our church. We needed friends. I found myself longing for people to know the B.C. Suzanne. Because I did not want our new acquaintances to form wrong opinions of her, I attempted to hide the truth of A.C. Suzanne. We withdrew together. Accidentally, we shielded ourselves from the help we really needed. No one was allowed into our world to show us that Suzanne needed help and that help was readily available.
  • Since we did not know that help was readily available, I took it upon myself to fix the problem. I bore the weight and fear of Suzanne’s PPD while she battled for sanity by the day. This was a desolate existence for me. I had withdrawn from the world to fight for my family, and my home was breaking by the minute. My wife needed my care and assistance virtually every minute of the day. Our infant son needed my care and assistance virtually every minute of the day.

If you have read the previous posts and wondered how Suzanne went 8 months without being diagnosed, this is the answer–I was caught in the vise, and I did not know how to best help her. I spent 8 months attempting to serve and hold the family together until things got better. In the process, I was unintentionally denying Suzanne the better solution and care she needed through diagnosis, counseling, openness, and love within the body of Christ. The vise grew tighter by the day. We finally sought help when the vise broke me.

No Reprieve: PPD overtook my wife. Think about the worst day of PMS ever experienced, increase its intensity by 50%, add a needy infant, and stretch it over 240 consecutive days. Her actions, decision making, thought life, belief, disposition, and desires were altered. (The only thing unchanged was her love for Mexican food. For eight months in 2005, Nashville Mexican restaurants made a bundle of money off our family.) There was no element of our marriage or our home  unaffected. There was no realm within our withdrawn world that felt normal. Everything was new and more difficult than it used to be.

Help Wanted: As days became weeks and weeks became months, I knew that we needed help, but I did not know what that meant. Because I was scared and hurting, I was paralyzed. It took a series of meltdowns and interventions from old friends to see that we could get help. Once I shared openly with my pastor, the help came quickly and overwhelmingly. We were served and loved. If you hear anything from these blog posts, please hear this: Help is available. PPD is brutal, but it is curable. Your wife will return to you. Yet, do not wait for postpartum to “run its course.” Seek help. Love her by getting her the help she needs.

The Hangover: Suzanne was able to get much needed help. My wife was back. With equilibrium she was again herself, and she was a phenomenal mother. After a few months she was connecting, serving, loving, and impacting our new community. It took me almost four months to recover from walking as a caregiver during postpartum. No one ever gave me any medicine. No one gave me retreat to recover from the stress and tension of postpartum. No one sent me to counseling.  I do not say these things with angst, but they are a fact. Being a caregiver during PPD is prolonged survival mode. It is prolonged adrenaline dependency. There will be a let down. There will be some low, hurting days after your spouse is healed. There will be a hangover, and it will take time to heal. Give your body the time it needs to recover from surviving on adrenaline.

The Residual: About one year after her recovery, Suzanne looked at me and said, “Jamie, I am not sick anymore. Please stop treating me like I am still that person.” PPD is behind us, but there is still residual and fallout. It is a chapter in the book of our life, but the book is not closed. Postpartum depression is caused by a combination of hormonal changes and new life stresses. Remember the PMS reference above? As my wife goes through hormonal cycles as all women do,  there will be brief windows in time (at least monthly) where I notice an attitude, a response, a thought pattern, or an action reminiscent of our PPD days. Every time it startles me, scares me, and causes me to overreact in some way. My overreaction is not fair to Suzanne and who she is, but it is something I will always battle. Brief momentary residual is expected. Don’t overreact like me.

I am not a model husband for sure, but I have walked this line. I hope these thoughts help you as you love and serve those battling PPD.

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