How Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Affected My Relationship with My Husband
Having a new baby puts a lot of strain on a relationship, whether you’re married or not. The dramatic change in routine, your roles and the responsibility of keeping a tiny baby alive will test your relationship in ways that you can’t imagine.
My husband and I had been married close to five years before we decided that it was time to start our family. We both knew that we wanted children, but we were just unsure of how many. The plan was to start with one and go from there.
This just makes good sense, right?
Our Life Before Baby
My husband and I met in the spring of 2007 and were married by August 2008. I was still finishing university, my husband was already establishing his career, and our life was great – though not without its challenges.
Anxiety and depression were something we had both already dealt with prior to our meeting. He was taking regular antidepressants to manage situational depression, and I was trying my best to avoid medication – in denial about the extent of my mental health challenges.
My husband was extremely supportive, and would spend countless hours talking me through my anxiety or helping me to re-frame my negative thinking patterns.
In 2009 I took up long distance running and started going to regular therapy. These two things made a huge difference in my mental health, and ability to cope with what life would throw my way.
During the pre-baby years we built a new house, traveled, and both of us worked diligently to buildour careers. I spent hours running and training for races, and started a Master’s degree program. My husband and I were total foodies and would dine out once a month at up and coming new restaurants.
We loved to have friends and family over for dinner or for board game nights. There was always someone coming or going from our house and we loved it.
Baby Makes Three
In March 2013 I found out I was pregnant with our son. We hadn’t ‘officially’ started trying to have a baby, but we weren’t trying not to. Regardless, we were both surprised and overjoyed at the prospect of becoming parents.
My pregnancy was relatively easy. I was anxious initially, but after the first trimester it subsided. So when I was hit with antenatal depression, anxiety and panic attacks at the 34 week mark, both my husband and I were terrified.
The first panic attack came around 10pm on a Sunday night, right as we were going to bed. He held me for a hour and then walked me up and down our hallway while I breathed through the anxiety.
The next six weeks would see me take my maternity leave early because I couldn’t sleep and was having multiple panic attacks everyday.
My biggest fear was that my health was going to directly impact my husband’s ability to go to work – that he’d be too tired to make it to the office – and he’d end up fired.
I would sit at home and ruminate all day about him losing his job, which would mean we’d lose our house and end up on the street. There were also countless hours spent researching baby sleep and ways to get an infant on a sleep routine.
When he would walk in the door at the end of the day I would breathe a sigh of relief, and immediately bombard him with all of my anxieties and fears that I’d fixated on during the day. Despite his patience, I knew it was exhausting him. There was a growing rift between us.
We had gone from sleeping in the same bed to him moving to the couch because I was moving too much, trying to get comfortable. All we talked about was my anxiety and fear about delivery.
I couldn’t concentrate on anything he had to say about his day at work, and at that point I was too anxious to care. It was all about me – and trying to get to week 40.
PPD & PPA and Our Relationship
We both assumed that after I had my son, things would get better but we were so, so wrong.
I ended up hospitalized for my anxiety immediately after giving birth. My husband was left to fend for himself, and try to organize help to take care of our son who was less than 48 hours old.
Fortunately, we have lots of family nearby that could be relied on to assist, but the stress this put on my husband was unbelievable.
There he was with a brand new baby and his wife had just been admitted to hospital because of her panic attacks. I can’t imagine the feeling of total overwhelm and complete helplessness that he must have had.
It took months to actually get the right diagnosis and proper treatment, and during that time I became a shell of my former self. I was living and breathing, but just barely.
I became increasingly resentful and angry of his ability to leave the house each day and go to work – to engage in adult conversation. Meanwhile I was trapped at home with a baby, miserable, unable to sleep and sliding further and further into depression.
My anxiety went into overdrive during this time and I was dreadfully afraid he would leave me. Despite having conversations about this with him over and over, I could never find the assurance I needed to make my anxiety go away.
Our collective exhaustion led to fighting and arguing that was completely out of character for either of us. I struggled with rage and anger as part of my depression that cut me so deep, there were many times I was ready to physically go after him.
The gulf between us widened further and by the time I was well enough to go back to work, he slid into his own depression.
Damage to Our Relationship
The next few years were marked by the two of us fighting our own battles with depression and anxiety, while trying to keep our lives together and raise our son. I was too exhausted and consumed with my own mental health to really care about his.
All I knew is that I was angry and so was he.
I took him for granted and fixated on all the things that he wasn’t doing to help me, instead of looking at how we were both trying to do the best we could.
There was always a simmering tension between us that sat just below the surface, and was liable to boil over at any minute. We didn’t talk much any more about our feelings or how the other one was doing, we were just going through the motions.
In 2016 I began to question whether we’d stay together. I wondered if there was a point because I felt nothing but resentment towards him, and he felt the same towards me. It seemed like our relationship and marriage was on life support.
I pushed for us to attend couples therapy, but my husband wasn’t interested and wanted us to figure it out on our own. This was a mistake that left us trying to pick up the pieces and rebuild our relationship without any real guidance or direction as to how to move forward.
It lengthened the time it took for us to feel like a couple again. We struggled to have the difficult conversations that were necessary to get us back to a place of connection, love and trust.
I had a lot of work to do on myself in the meantime. In therapy I started to unpack all my anger, fear and resentment towards him, and learned that so much of it was rooted in a deep fear of abandonment and rejection. I was subconsciously pushing him away and building walls to keep him out in order to avoid the pain of potentially losing him if we were close.
Rebuilding Our Relationship
There was deep damage done to our relationship because of my postpartum depression, anxiety and panic – but it wasn’t my fault. We were both so overwhelmed with just trying to survive that there was no time to think about anything else. How could we?
In spite of everything, we’re still together and our relationship is stronger than ever. It has changed over the years, as all relationships do, but we’re both in a place of stability and happiness that came only because we didn’t give up on one another.
Our journey together as parents has been transformative, and we’re still trying to figure out who we are as a couple, separate from our son and family. The work is ongoing and I don’t think you ever really have it figured out because relationships and people always change. It’s the only constant in life – and I’m at a place now where I’m okay with this reality.
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Shannon Hennig is the Program Director of the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative.