Being a father when the mother has mental health challenges
Theme: Perinatal mental health
I have learned a lot and acquired knowledge I would not have been without, but the price I have paid has been high. What can we learn from it?
I know at least a thousand women who have given birth. Nevertheless, I had rarely heard of mental health challenges linked to childbirth. Of all the women I know, I knew of one case of postpartum depression. At the same time, I knew of a mother who went on a bike ride just a few days after giving birth. I had heard many different stories about people who were back at work, exercising and living life apparently the same way as before the pregnancy.
Statistically, 100 of the 1000 women I know would have suffered postpartum depression. And one of them has postpartum psychosis. In addition, 50 of their partners would have experienced depressive symptoms, and that is just considering the known figures. I had no understanding of predisposing factors or how to prevent them. As a result of my partner and I speaking up about our experiences, we have gotten to know of many cases and keep hearing about new ones. This has given me many new perspectives, new knowledge and has really enriched my life, but it has also made me engaged in a cause I previously knew nothing about - maternity care.
If I had had more knowledge about perinatal mental health challenges beforehand, we as a family could have sought out help at an earlier stage. We met a healthcare system that was struck by corona regulations with workers subjected to very poor conditions. The first contact we had with the health centre was under the condition of wearing masks, keeping a distance and without the father being present. If the conditions had been different, both in terms of my own knowledge, but also the competence and conditions at the health center, we might have been able to seek steady help. Instead, the first step we had to take was to directly get in contact with the specialist service. Had it not been for the fact that a family friend of my partner worked as a midwife, I would have remained ignorant of the possibility of directly contacting the specialist service at night in the Easter Holiday. This could have delayed me even more in taking action.
In Norway, it is fortunate that the partner is granted maternity leave in the event the mother falls ill, which in our situation meant I could also look after her.
We decided straight away that I should be there for as many of her treatment sessions as possible. This was the right choice for us, and the healthcare system should be glad for it. In retrospect, I should have noted the number of people who were in the picture from the health care system during this period. My partner engaged with over 10 main therapists during this period. On top of that comes all the other healthcare personnel. Had I not been there with her, a lot of the continuity and knowledge would have been lost. This situation would have resulted in less effective help for my partner.
Thinking back on it, I realize how vulnerable those who do not have a partner to follow up are. I think my incessant nagging and the pressure I applied were vital in receiving proper treatment for her in this vulnerable period.
Being given paternity leave for such an extended period of time was a gift. I was given the opportunity to perform a role and responsibilities I did not have with our first born. In hindsight, I see that I could have fulfilled that role and those responsibilities to a greater extent the first time had I been aware of them. I believe that partners/fathers must take up a much greater part of their kids’ early life.
I am very grateful for the follow up my two children and I received from the medical centre. At the same time, my impression is that this was due to the high competence of the employee alone. She had high competence, burning passion and interest in the work and a heart of gold. I also believe that we were especially looked after due to the severity of my partner's condition, although I wish that women who give birth could receive this attention and assistance earlier so that we may avoid the escalation of situations like this.
Our situation was especially difficult due to the restrictions regarding covid-19. Closed shops and shortages provided additional challenges with practical tasks such as getting bottles and breast milk substitutes. We also encountered problems with a partially closed healthcare system, which worsened the situation further for us as a vulnerable family.
Although our situation was especially difficult because of covid, there are numerous challenges others face even in a time where there is no pandemic. There are always women predisposed to mental illness or living in a situation that might cause problems after childbirth, be they finances, lack of permanent work, family situations, and other harsh conditions which may lead to stress, worry and anxiety.
It is important to strengthen the knowledge for the supporting parent, the health centre, the hospitals, and the specialist health service. I also think it is important to involve the family as a whole during the therapeutic process. Every party will benefit from this. Joint cooperation will lead to a less costly treatment, both financially and emotionally. Prevention will of course be even smarter and cheaper.
Finally, I would like to thank. Landsforeningen 1001 dager, for fighting for families who struggle with all kinds of mental health during pregnancy and the first years after giving birth. I would especially like to thank the saints from the Norwegian healthcare system: Anne, Stine, Eivor and Ingrid – which are of course all women. You yourselves know who you are. You go above and beyond what your job description indicates. Thank you! □