A beautiful byproduct of creating Coco Moon has been the incredible community that has grown out of it. And I’m proud of the way our community shares its stories, especially when the stories are hard.
A brave member of our Coco Moon ‘ohana, Mitzi, stepped up to share one such story - her experience with Paternal Postpartum Depression (PPPD). Yes, you read that right, Paternal PPD. I myself was surprised to learn that PPPD is actually quite common and is just as devastating and detrimental as that of its female counterpart.
Often times we focus so much on the mental and emotional well being of new mothers. But what happens when new fathers experience depression? How do we support them? How do we survive?
Below, Mitzi shares the weight of bearing this disease, how her family is getting through it, and her realization of the true strength and selflessness of women. Every mom has her story, this is hers…
What was your experience like leading up to and immediately after having your baby?
My husband, Yone, and I found out we were pregnant in April 2016 and we were both very excited as we had been doing the classic “not trying but trying.” However, as I got closer and closer to our due date in January, there were times when I felt he was distant. He was doing everything a supportive husband would do – be at every appointment, cater to my needs, let me go through the crazy nesting phase – but he wasn’t the same. When I tried to ask him what was wrong, he didn’t want to talk. I shrugged it off, kept busy and enjoyed being pregnant… looking back I’m not sure I would have done anything differently.
Hawke was born in January 2017 and the first week with him was amazing. We were thrilled to be new parents and could not have been more in love with our son! The emotional roller coaster of parenthood was exciting and overwhelming at times, but we tackled it as a team.
About 2 weeks into our new life, I experienced the baby blues and it seemed that Yone was, too. I’ve been an athlete my entire life and have a very positive outlook, so I managed to mentally snap myself out of it in about 2-3 days. However, Yone’s blues didn’t go away, and there was nothing I could do to snap him out of it.
What was Yone acting like during this time?
Yone was there physically, but no longer emotionally engaged. He’d say things like, “I don’t know why, but I don’t think Hawke is cute anymore,” and “I feel nothing for him.” He would stare at Hawke but there was no love in his eyes. When Hawke would cry, Yone would get frustrated. He did not hurt Hawke in any way, but there were times when I was nervous about him holding or changing him.
I kept hoping that it would pass and kept trying to be positive. But it just wasn’t going away.
How did you react and manage things during this time?
This year has been very hard time for our family. There are more “down days” than good ones. It was hardest in the beginning – there were days where I would say “good morning” and not get a response. Days when he wouldn’t even get out of bed. Yone has always been one to pop out of bed, hop in the shower and start the day, where I’d be the one rolling over and covering my head with the blanket wanting a few more minutes of sleep. To have him stay in a dark room in bed literally was like seeing him close himself off to us. You go into things like this so excited to have a partner to go on this journey with together, but he was void of emotion and energy when I needed it the most. Yone has always been my rock, but at times I felt he literally became a rock!
Even though I didn’t have the baby blues any more, I was so sad because Yone was going through something and I couldn’t help. I was overwhelmed because I now had to take care of both our new baby and my husband. Breastfeeding sucked. I cried every day.
It was so hard for me to understand why he couldn’t snap out of it. I called my friends and every time they asked how I was doing, I’d burst into tears. And while they were supportive, I felt that they couldn’t really understand what we were going through. This was more than just a dad not being able to bond as well with a baby as a mom. There was something darker happening to my husband.
Finally, about six months after Hawke was born, I reached my breaking point. I couldn’t take it any more and insisted that we see a doctor. Yone could see how much our relationship was suffering, so he agreed.
What was it like when you sought help?
We walked in to that appointment together as a family – it was important for Yone to know that as I’m sure he was nervous. I was nervous!
Yone went through a screening with a nurse and then the doctor came in, looked at the results and asked more questions specific to mental health. He then gave us a diagnosis: severe depression and high anxiety.
Once we heard those words, I felt like a huge weight lifted off of our shoulders because I knew that it was something that he couldn’t control. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t Hawke’s fault. And it wasn’t Yone’s fault.
How are you moving forward?
We now understand what we are up against and are doing our best to deal with it. Yone started taking medicine and so far it’s helping. We learned to recognize the signs of a down day and we both know what the other needs to get through the day. There are little tricks I do to make Yone smile, but there are times when I know to give him his space. Gaining this insight and understanding represents significant progress for us.
We also do A LOT of research to educate ourselves – we read a lot of articles about depression, how to deal with it both personally and as a partner, different treatments, etc. While we never sit and read together, we do talk about our findings.
I learned that depression is a very common mental health disorder… about 1 in 6 people suffer from the disease. I also read that EVERY DAY 1,000-2,700 new dads become depressed, which means as many as 1 in 4 new dads have postpartum depression!
Has Yone’s depression impacted Hawke in any way?
Thankfully, no. Hawke has always been a very happy, perceptive baby and tough mentally and physically. But most importantly, he LOVES his daddy. He gets so excited to see him and it really warms my heart knowing how hard it’s been. Yone has found his own ways to bond with Hawke and I do my best not to interfere when they have their special moments together.
What are the biggest things that help you to keep moving forward?
First, taking time for ourselves - both individually and as a couple - has been very important. The space I gained when I went back to work was actually really helpful. Hawke started daycare, which gave Yone more freedom and flexibility to use his time as he pleases since he used to watch Hawke at home twice a week after I went back to work. He now has a choice on when he wants to watch Hawke versus when he has to watch Hawke.
Second, talking about what we’re going through has been the most helpful. I was lucky to have a great group of friends both at work and back home in Hawaii that really stepped up to help and be there for me when I needed. Being open about things really helped me to process everything and I think it helps Yone too.
Third, educating ourselves. Understanding what we are up against puts us in a better position to beat depression.
What advice would you share with someone navigating a similar challenge in parenthood?
The biggest thing is don’t be afraid to get help. Recognize the challenge and take the step towards improving your situation. Talk about it out loud (to acknowledge it) – whether it’s to a friend, family member, or your partner… don’t be ashamed or hard-headed about what is happening because it really is not your fault. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Also, you really need to be patient with the process. It is so very hard, but we take it day by day. We can get through this. We can beat it.
If you’d like to learn more about PPPD, these resources may be a good place to start:
As our Coco Moon ‘ohana grows, so to do the stories that shed light on this incredible journey of parenthood and how we each navigate our way through it’s sometimes turbulent waters. If you’d like to share your story with us, we’d be honored. Please send us an email and we’ll be in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org