Study Confirms: Fathers Suffer Postpartum Depression

Considering that my natural father had a family of four children with one on the way when it was discovered through x-rays that his pregnant wife had a large abdominal tumor, I’d say that he had more than his share of stress in the few weeks leading up to my birth. After my premature birth, I spent the next six weeks in an incubator while my mother lay dying. Nearly one month later, my mother died.

What father would not experience depression under these circumstances?

Toss in to the equation his decision to relinquish his newborn daughter to adoption and there is a real mess of emotions.

There has never been a day or a moment during my reunion with my father that I ever blamed him for my relinquishment. Expressing my anger and feelings of abandonment, yes, I did that. Expressing my sadness, yes, yes, I did that. Did he truly abandon me? No, I don’t believe he did. It feels as though he did and that is a problem for many parents of adoption loss to understand about their adopted-out offspring.

But that’s not the point here.

The reason I never blamed my father is that, even at age 18, when I first met him, I instinctually knew he lived through horrendous circumstances at a time when a father should be happy. My birth was not a happy occasion.

Radical acceptance of the circumstances surrounding my birth and relinquishment is all I can do. I can’t fully understand, but I can empathize.  

Under normal circumstances, a father does, indeed, suffer postpartum depression, so confirms a new study. Here is the article in its entirety:

Study Finds Dads Suffer Postpartum Depression

by Joanne Silberner

May 18, 2010

While it’s been widely known that some mothers suffer from postpartum depression, a series of studies over the years have suggested that new fathers may become depressed after childbirth, too.

Now an analysis of 43 earlier studies validates the fathers’ experiences with statistics. About 10 percent of men whose partners are having babies suffer depression during the time period ranging from three months before the baby is born through the baby’s first birthday. That’s twice the usual rate of depression in men, and it’s in the same range as postpartum depression in women.

The riskiest period for the father is when the baby is 3 to 6 months old, according to the study, which is published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study’s conclusion is well supported, says Gregory Simon, a psychiatrist with Group Health Research Institute, a nonprofit in Seattle, and likely to be a surprise to men and to many health care professionals.

“The traditional thinking was postpartum depression among women was related to hormonal changes,” he says. But both he and study author James Paulson of the Eastern Virginia Medical School say this theory is not completely nailed down. And this study puts some pressure on researchers to figure out what exactly is going on.

A lot of fathers, as well as medical professionals, don’t recognize paternal depression as a problem. “I think that part of that has to do with the belief that most people believe that depression in women is caused by hormone changes,” says Paulson.

Debunking The Myth

Pregnancy-related depression comes as a surprise to most men it hits. Psychologist Will Courtenay of Berkeley, Calif., has made a career of helping men with depression and maintains the website SadDaddy.com. He says there’s a myth in this country that men don’t get depressed, and that’s a danger.

“The cultural myth that men don’t get depressed also communicates to men that they shouldn’t get depressed — or at least, not express it. And so they don’t. They’re more likely than women to try to hide their depression or to talk themselves out of it,” he says.

That’s what Joel Schwartzberg, 41, a producer with PBS, did. “Before my son was born, I had expectations of joy,” he says. “I thought I would sail through the whole process. But it was like a wrecking ball on my life.”

Schwartzberg was sad, dejected and irritable. He started eating and gained about 10 pounds. He eventually came out of it, but not before the stress led to the end of his marriage. He wrote about his experience in Newsweek in the hopes of letting other fathers know they’re not alone.

The Stress Of Parenting

There are lots of things that can be affecting fathers just like they might affect mothers, says study author Paulson. “Going from being a single person to a parent is a real shock,” he says. “And certainly both parents trying to cope with a big change in life can be stressful.”

There’s the financial stress of having a child. And Paulson speculates that the spike in depression when the baby hits 3 months of age may be due to having both parents back at work as parental leave ends.

And of course, there’s the sleep disruption that goes along with parenting. “Sleep disruption and sleep deprivation is a risk factor for depression, and sleep deprivation among new parents is the norm,” says psychiatrist Simon.

Paulson warns against ignoring the signs of depression in fathers. “There’s evidence growing that depression in fathers is negative for children and increases the risk of emotional and behavioral problems,” he says.

But there’s help for new fathers who are hurting. Treatment options include talk therapy, group counseling and drug treatment — or just open and frank discussion within the family.

And the new study may help by raising awareness about the issue, says Simon, so that new mothers know their partners may be having problems, so men know to seek help, and so health care professionals recognize the symptoms.

I can’t deal with the magnitude of your problems so I’m angry with you

I came across a note the other day. It was written during the editing process of my book, Forbidden Family. One of my early editors told me his initial reaction to the contents of the book. He summed up the frustrations of the general public when confronted with the particulars of my adoption/reunion process:

I can’t deal with the magnitude of your problems so I’m angry with you.

Don’t talk about it.

Don’t write about it.

If you don’t talk about it I won’t have to deal with it.

I don’t think I can handle it my own life.

If it happened to me I couldn’t handle it.

Precisely.

Normal people tense up dealing with their own lives. Normal stress adds up the stress-level scale. People break down going through divorce, death of a parent, or a job loss. Some people don’t recover or develop stress-induced physical or mental illness. When adoption trauma is added to normal life stresses, the results are of a magnitude that are not even indicated on social work or psychiatric life stress scales.

Is adoption trauma discounted? Is adoption trauma off the charts?

Those of us who have been affected by adoption know all too clearly, we suffer unbearable anguish of stress brought on by relinquishment of a newborn or older child, or adoption search, or adoption reunion, or complications of reunion and rejection and loss. Our life partners, significant others, our spouses and children may not even understand what we must live with each day. Communication becomes a struggle with non-adopted people, or with normal parents.

My message to normal people: It could be worse. If you lost your child to adoption, if you were adopted, on top of all of your other problems, would you be able to cope?

~ ~ ~ Joan M Wheeler, BA, BSW, author of Forbidden Family: A Half Orphan’s Account of Her Adoption, Reunion and Social Activism, Trafford Publishing, Nov 2009.