Tag Archives: depression

When a Father has Post-Natal Depression

 

Debbie says:

In the 21st century, at least in some cohorts, men are more and more involved in raising their children, not just kicking a ball around but also changing diapers, handling 3 a.m. feedings: the mundane, demanding aspects of raising babies. Whether or not it takes a village to raise a child, it’s undeniable that two (or more) people are better at managing the needs of an infant than one person can be.

Writing in Roxane Gay’s Gay Mag, Aubrey Hirsch says “My husband’s struggle with post-partum depression was my struggle, too.”

Most mornings, D drags himself into the living room on all fours. He lies face-down on the interlocking foam floor tiles, his upturned arms at his sides. The baby crawls over him, tugging his hair, drooling on his t-shirts. He doesn’t move. …

D’s depression is the weather in our house, except there’s no forecast. Some days we wake to sunny skies, gentle breezes. We talk and laugh. We eat and nap. We watch the baby the way one watches a campfire, not for any particular reason, but because it is there and strangely fascinating in its combination of predictability and surprise.

Other days there are storms, rough winds, hailstones big enough to take chunks of flesh off the bone. D stomps angrily around the house. Or he stays in bed and cries. He rages, he weeps. He sleeps, or he doesn’t.

Okay, you say. He’s a man with clinical depression. Or maybe he’s just a big baby, jealous of the new attention-grabber in the house, wanting more of his wife’s time just for him, the way it used to be. And maybe you’re right. Hirsch felt the same way:

Here is my postpartum confession: I hated him.

I hated D so much I could barely look at him. This sniveling, mushy annelid. Didn’t he see me? Look what I was doing. I, too, was parenting a fussy newborn. I, too, was working a stressful job. I, too, was pushing aside exhaustion to care for our baby. Only I was doing it more! I was up all night. I was using what precious energy I had to convert calories into breast milk. The baby wouldn’t drink from a bottle, or a syringe, or a spoon, or the fancy supplemental nursing system the lactation consultants swore would work, so I was doing Every. Single. Feeding. I was doing it amongst wildly fluctuating hormones and thyroid numbers that, three months after the baby’s birth, still weren’t balanced correctly. I was doing it with fresh stitches, with aching breasts, while actively bleeding. But I was doing it!

And what was he doing? Crying, kicking things, slamming doors, punching walls. To me, he seemed like a soap-opera housewife, in the grip of some inflated tragedy, flopping around the house.

This is the crux of the essay. It’s impossible to blame Hirsch for hating her husband — and yet, the very image of the “soap-opera housewife” is the canonical picture of someone who isn’t believed because of who she is. We frame the soap-opera housewife is spoiled, or lazy, or overdramatic, or self-centered–and then we don’t have to take her seriously. Similarly, the moment we frame the clearly miserable father of a new infant as a spoiled man-baby, we don’t have to take him seriously either. And he’s not the only one who suffers: the child and the mother both pay for the binary framing.

The essay goes on to describe the birth of their second child, after which D. was correctly diagnosed.

Now we treat it with antidepressants and therapy and support, support, support. After D starts treatment, everything in our house changes. Not only is he better equipped to cope, and to help, but I’m not mad at him anymore. Or, maybe I am, but not in the same way. I have a new enemy now, postpartum depression, and D and I are finally on the same team.

Hirsch’s essay focuses a lot on the importance of naming the issue, talking about what’s happening. That’s why she went public with her story. I appreciate that, because the concept was entirely new to me: of course, naming is an essential first step.

I can’t help focusing on three things that are completely missing from this well-told story:

1) why did they decide to have a second child after the intensely difficult first experience (I can think of plenty of reasons; I’d like to know theirs)?

2) Except for a passing acknowledgment that the term for this depression in cis men is “postnatal” rather than “postpartum,” Hirsch says nothing about the role of privilege in their story. Small clues indicate that they are white, reasonably affluent, educated, and have access to health insurance–and yet she never says how much harder their path would have been if any of those identities didn’t apply.

3) While she describes the problem I’m calling binary framing, she doesn’t name that. She doesn’t wrestle with how the fact that she hated him was part of the obstacle to finding out what was going on. She doesn’t talk about what it would have meant to believe D’s reactions, or how things might have been different. Okay, the doctors never asked D about postnatal depression, but what did he and she tell the doctors? Again, she was struggling with a new infant, an intolerable sleep schedule, and a miserable partner–no one expects her to be perfect. In a retrospective essay, however, more hindsight into what might have helped would be enormously useful to people who might be going through this now.

 

Today in Intersectionality: Disability, Gender, Sexual Orientation, and More

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Debbie says:

queer-crip

Once we get Intersectional theory into our framework of thought, it crops up absolutely everywhere. Intersectionality is the concept that we are best served by looking at overlapping (i.e., intersecting) identities and “related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.” Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, who first coined the term in 1989, would be interested in these two posts:

First, Andrew Gurza, writing at the Huffington Post, connects the dots of queerness, disability, and depression:

When I was a young disabled kid, I was told by everyone around me to speak up for myself, and to go after what I want. I learned that I had to do this, to be seen and be heard; to be taken seriously as a disabled person, I had to be obtuse about it. I had tried to apply this same principle of directness to dating dudes while disabled. I was dismayed to learn, almost every time, that asking for what I wanted, standing up for myself as a young queer cripple, didn’t work in this arena. I was knocked down by ableism time and time again. Each time, the guy couching his ableist rhetoric in “unawareness” and “honesty.” They would tell me that they were telling me the truth, and being real with me about how my disability affected them. They’d say this in easy tones, as if I should be thankful to them for hurting me. They could care less about how their words affected me, leaving a scar bigger than the last.

This kind of subversive ableism that runs rampant in our community is not okay. It is dangerous and divisive. Moreover, the disabled individual dealing with this has nowhere to turn. No one to talk to. Our friends, no matter how kind or empathetic, “just don’t get it”, and therapists are ineffectual, and altogether financially inaccessible to the queer cripple. C’mon, would you want to pay $150 an hour to have the person charged with helping you, tell you that they never even thought of how things might affect people in your circumstance? Yeah, didn’t think so.

That last experience happened to him, when he laid bare his issues to a therapist who said, “Oh, I never thought of it like that.” It makes me think of a friend of mine who was discussing BDSM with her therapist, and the therapist, having been trained to believe that all BDSM was simply about power dynamics, said naively, “You mean it hurts?”

***

Second, Matthew Rosza, writing at Quartz, addresses gender stereotyping and autism diagnosis, also paying some attention to racism. (Warning: lots of out-of-control web ads at the site can take over your browser. But the article is worth some patience.)

“I believe that my experiences as an autistic person has definitely been affected by my gender and race,” says Morenike Giwa Onaiwu of the Autism Women’s Network. “Many characteristics that I possess that are clearly autistic were instead attributed to my race or gender. As a result, not only was I deprived of supports that would have been helpful, I was misunderstood and also, at times, mistreated.” …

“Social awkwardness? Of course not; apparently I’m just rude—like all the stereotypes of ‘sassy’ black women rolling their heads and necks in a circle while firing off some retort,” Onaiwu says. “Lack of eye contact? Apparently I’m a ‘shy girl’ or ‘playing hard to get’ or ‘shifty.’ Or maybe I’m just being respectful and docile because I’m African and direct eye contact might be a faux pas. Sensory overload, or maybe a meltdown? Nope, more like aggression or being a drama queen. Anything but what it really is—an Autistic person being Autistic who happens to be black and happens to be a woman.”

The issue, according to Rosza, can go both ways. Girls can be underdiagnosed, transitioning women can be considered “not feminine enough to transition,” and autistic men can get some degree of acceptance unavailable to women.

“Some of the behaviors displayed by those on the autism spectrum scale seem to be the way many men in patriarchal societies (like ours) conduct themselves,” explains Esther Nelson, an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth College. Nelson, who believes her husband’s symptoms are consistent with an ASD diagnosis, has written about the intersection between autism and feminism, especially in terms of relationships. For example, Nelson notes that men who seem “rigid,” aggressive or lacking in empathy may not stand out in the way that women exhibiting the same behavior might. Even people who are aware of autism and are educated to some degree are more inclined to give her spouse a pass for certain negative behaviors.

Kudos to Rosza for bringing in race, gender identity, and various ways privilege expresses itself beyond straightforward sexism. And kudos to both authors for shining a light on intersectional relationships rarely examined.