Parent Corner : What Are We Thinking?
Research: Bringing Home Baby
InterviewDavid Levine, MD, PSI Dads Coordinator
Resources : Relationships and PMADs
This month we focus on relationships. A perinatal mood or anxiety disorder of course impacts the parent, partner, and baby in the midst of the crisis, but it can also have lasting effects on the relationship--for better or for worse--even after the parent suffering from a PMAD improves.

Our Parent Corner delves into the often-unspoken wants and needs of each parent--both the one experiencing a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, and the one who is not. We highlight some research that shows that all by itself, bringing home a baby is highly stressful, even without a PMAD. We are lucky to have an interview with David Levine, who is Postpartum Support International's Dads Coordinator. And we include some additional resources if you want to find out more about relationships and PMADs.

Be sure to see the posting about our special Mother's Day Care Packages, which are a great way to both celebrate the mothers in your life and support Perinatal Support Washington.

What Are We Thinking?

Even the strongest relationships get rattled after a baby joins the family. Throw depression and anxiety into the mix and what was once kind of hard seems impossible. Both parents are feeling the exhaustion, the frustration, and the upheaval. It can get messy, and there is no magic answer. Both parents need to be heard and supported in order to get through to the other side. Sharing your personal needs and thoughts can be really scary, but also really beneficial in helping each other survive. Below are some common thoughts you may have never considered before that can provide some guidance during this time.

Parent with a mood disorder
What I want you to know:
  • I feel helpless and I don't like it.
  • I'm scared.
  • I need to focus on getting better; I don't have much energy for anything else.
  • We will be intimate again, but right now I'm exhausted, and my medication and/or mental illness has decreased my desire. It has nothing to do with you.
  • I'm worried you think I'm a failure.
  • I can get better and I will do what I need to do to get better.
  • I love you.

What I need:
  • I need you to be strong--so get your strength any way you can through your own support network, healthy lifestyle, or your own counseling.
  • I need to know I can count on you, but I also need you to show me you are vulnerable sometimes, too.
  • Even if I say hurtful things to you, know that I love you.
  • Just listen sometimes; don't always try to fix everything.
  • Give me a break. Tell me it's okay to leave or be alone in another room for an hour to replenish.     
  • Tell me you love me and that I am a good partner and good mom. Over and over.

Supporting Partner
What I want you to know:
  • I feel helpless and I don't like it.
  • I don't know what to do.
  • I'm scared.
  • I hate seeing you suffer.
  • I believe in you.
  • I don't think you are a failure.
  • I think you are strong.
  • I am human and sometimes I will make mistakes.
  • I love you and stand by you.
  • I'm not going anywhere.

What I need:
  • Tell me what you need, no matter how big or small.
  • Allow me a break sometimes, so I can replenish and be here for you when you need me.
  • Tell me you love me.
  • Tell me I'm a good parent and a good partner.

This is so hard, but it is not forever. You may need to find some outside support through friends and family or a trusted babysitter for date nights (or even just a date hour!), scheduling some time every week to just chat and catch up, or even possibly some joint therapy sessions.

"Love is a meeting of two souls fully accepting the dark and the light within each other, bound by the courage to grow through struggle into bliss."

Bringing Home Baby 

Popular culture tells us that bring baby home is one of life's most joyful events. For many new parents this is true, but for many more, having a baby is one of life's most difficult experiences.

A study published in August 2015 in the journal Demography concluded that for many couples, having their first child can have an impact more negative than divorce, unemployment, or even the death of a partner.

Researchers followed more than 2,000 Germans who had participated in a national survey that asked them to rate their overall life satisfaction on a scale of 0 (totally dissatisfied) to 10 (totally satisfied). Researchers tracked the subjects from their childless days up until at least two years after the birth of their first child. They found that new parenthood caused an average drop in happiness of 1.4 units on the satisfaction scale, for roughly 70% of the participants. In comparison, the average drop for divorce is 0.6, and the death of a partner is 1.

Bearing in mind that this study did not specifically consider the effects of a postpartum mood disruption (either maternal or paternal), we can imagine the impact being even more severe under those circumstances. The study reiterated what we know to be true: that as long our culture makes it taboo to talk about how difficult it can be to become a parent, new parents will suffer in isolation and silence.

For more information on the study, see:

David Levine, MD, PSI Dads Coordinator

What is your background and experience working with couples experiencing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders?

I screen all moms and dads, if possible, for PPMD at the first visit, one-month visit, two-month visit, and six-month visit. I screen with the Edinburgh and discuss PPMDs at visits, including prenatal visits. I do not offer counseling but there are behavioral therapists in my practice that specialize in this area and I will refer to them.

What are some common challenges in a relationship during the postpartum period?

PPMDs cause distress and sadness, especially if the affected partner is not interested in getting help. Getting the affected party into therapy is the biggest challenge I see. The second biggest challenge would simply be diagnosing the problem.

Are there particular relationship challenges that occur when one partner suffers from a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder?

When one partner suffers from a PPMD, it can affect bonding with the new baby, as well as with the spouse. This can cause long term issues within the family unit.

How can couples keep their relationship on track during this unique time?

Talking and lots of it. Often this will need to occur with the help of someone specialized in treating PPMDs.

Do you have tips for couples experiencing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders? 

Talk to each other and don't be afraid to mention it to the doctor. There should not be a stigma for experiencing things like this, and it does not make you a bad person/spouse/parent.

At what point should couples consider seeking professional help?

As soon as one partner thinks that the problem is getting worse as opposed to better.

  • Postpartum Progress has a good two-part series on how PMADs impact relationships, and how to keep relationships on track while you are experiencing a PMAD. See here and here for the two parts. 
  • The book Tokens of Affection: Reclaiming Your Marriage After Postpartum Depression, by Karen Kleiman with Amy Wenzel, is a rich resource that zeroes in on why marriages are so impacted after a PMAD and how to get back to connectedness.
  • Postpartum Stress Center's blog has a series of articles about PMADs and marriage. 
  • Seattle Mom Prom is May 14, starting at 8pm, at Fremont Abbey Arts Center in Seattle. This is special night to celebrate and honor moms--a night to let loose on the dance floor, enjoy some drinks and desserts, and ultimately help raise money for postpartum support. It's a chance to celebrate and acknowledge all the hard work moms do, support a great cause, and have tons of fun. It is the ultimate ladies night out! For more information, see our Event page.
  • Seattle Climb Out of the Darkness is June 18, starting at 10am at Maple Leaf Park in NE Seattle. PS-WA is spearheading the Seattle climb, which is part of the international event from Postpartum Progress that raises awareness of all types of PMADs. For more information and to register, see the Event page.
This Mother's Day, show all the moms in your life how much you appreciate them by sending them a special  Mother's Day Care Package from Perinatal Support Washington.  By doing so you not only support the moms in your life, but you also provide financial support that will help other moms in Washington who are struggling with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders--100% of proceeds from these Mother's Day Care Packages will be used for support services like Perinatal Support Washington's Warm Line, support groups, and educational events.
Care Packages come in different varieties and price levels. The best part is that we will write the note and send it out for you in time for Mother's Day! See our Care Package page for more information and to order.  
  • Our training on birth trauma, "When the Unexpected Happens: Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth," takes place June 4, 9am - 5pm, at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma. See the event page for more information and to register. 
  • There's one last spot available for scholarship for our Seattle consult group, which starts this month. See the event page for more information and instructions for applying for the scholarship. 
  • We still have room in the Tacoma consult group. The group will start when we have enough participants. See the event page for more information.
Swedish Hospital is looking for a full-time clinical social worker with postpartum specialty to assist in both outpatient psychotherapy services as well as the development and beginning of our Day Program for pregnant and postpartum women. For more information, see this page  

Are you a Microsoft or King County Employee or spouse of one?  
Please consider supporting us through your respective workplace giving programs. For King County employees, our code is 9187. Our tax ID is 91-1448669. If you are looking for us, be sure to check our old and new name if you don't see us-- we are there. 
Warm line: 1-888-404-7763(PPMD)

Support, Education, Referral
Perinatal Support Washington (formerly Postpartum Support International of Washington)