We sat next to each other on the hotel bed, the awkward silence between us laden with guilt, fear, confusion and trepidation. Something had transpired on the drive to our weekend getaway with my husband's family, who had come into town for our youngest daughter's dedication. A celebration, a joyous occasion, marked by a colicky 4-month-old, a whiny three-nager, the stress of planning an event, having in-laws in town and my recent diagnosis of postpartum depression, which my husband and I were both trying to understand.
On the car ride to Gatlinburg, I had experienced a wave of rage like never before. After an incredibly stressful morning (in which we had the baby's dedication, a big celebratory lunch right after and then packed up and left for the trip that afternoon), I became extremely irritable and snappy with the kids and my husband. The kids cried. And my husband immediately shut down and started stonewalling. I became so overwhelmed and upset by our tension-filled car ride that I couldn't handle it anymore. Rage took over me, and I started screaming and hitting the dashboard uncontrollably. I was dry-heaving and sobbing and screaming bloody murder. It scared my children. It scared my husband. It scared me.
And my poor husband had no idea what to do so he just kept driving.
Eventually, I calmed down. He placed his hand on my thigh and a rush of relief spread through my body, accompanied by extreme guilt, shame and so much regret. When we arrived at our hotel, we were able to sneak a few minutes to ourselves without the kids. But where do you even begin to talk about what just happened with something like that?
He told me he had no clue how to handle my PPD symptoms, especially the rage. Should he be caring and understanding and let things slide? Hold me accountable and fight back? Should he ignore me and let me figure things out on my own? There was no easy way to navigate the minefield of my mental health. But talking about it was definitely the first step.
As we continually communicated about the journey of recovery I was on, we figured out ways he could support me that made managing my PPD much easier. Here's what worked for us.
1. He acknowledged what I was up against. Having that validation was everything. He made it clear that he knew I was struggling. He also admitted not really understanding all I was dealing with. But he recognized that it was significant and difficult and that he was there for me no matter what.
2. He asked what I needed. It's not always easy to voice your needs, so when he could tell I was getting agitated or feeling "off" and he had no earthly idea how to help (because I wasn't offering up that knowledge), he would ask. "What can I do for you right now? What do you need?"
3. He reassured me that I was a good mom. In the pit of my despair, the resounding lie that I couldn't shake was that I was a bad mom. No matter what I did or how many times I told myself it wasn't true, hearing it from my husband made a world of difference. It was like an anesthetic for the constant pain of mommy guilt I had. And the more he said it, the better it felt.
— Postpartum Support International offers resources for postpartum mental health. Visit the website at postpartum.net. Call the help line at 1-800-944-4773 (#1 en Español or #2 English). Text to 503-894-9453 (English) or 971-420-0294 (Español).
— Climb Out of the Darkness is a global campaign by PSI that raises funds and awareness for the mental health of new families through community walks involving survivors, providers and others. The Chattanooga walk is 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. June 25 at Renaissance Park, 100 Manufacturers Road. Join by registering at climbout2022.causevox.com/team/chattanooga. Fundraising is optional. If you decide to create a fundraiser account, money will go toward the local goal of $10,000.
4. He encouraged me to have "me" time. Speaking of mommy guilt, it prevented me from truly feeling OK about taking care of my own needs. So when my husband not only encouraged me to do things for myself but also reassured me that he was proud of me for doing so, it gave me the confidence to believe that taking "me" time was actually a good thing.
5. He made an extra effort to balance responsibilities. After excessively exclaiming, "I can't do everything!" my husband realized that in this season he needed to take on extra responsibilities to lighten my (over)load. He told me to write down ALL the things I needed to accomplish that were overwhelming me and then went through that list and took as many tasks off my plate as he could.
6. He didn't try to "fix" it. I'm sure I was a broken record, saying the same things, experiencing the same negative, intrusive thoughts. But regardless of whether he thought I should be over this by now or if he thought he knew exactly how to fix the issue, he always, always, always made time to listen to me. He let me cry on his shoulder, vent about frustrations and troubleshoot coping strategies. He let me feel what I felt, reassured me that he loved me and that it was going to be OK.
It definitely took time to figure out what helped and what didn't and, to be honest, my husband didn't always do those things that helped the most. But the more we were open and honest with each other, the easier it was to maneuver the intricacies of PPD together.
Tamara Slocum is the creative strategist at family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.