Antenatal and postnatal depression – men’s experiences

A few fathers experienced depression or anxiety during a partner’s pregnancy or in early parenthood. For some, prior experiences of depression or anxiety resurfaced during this period, though not all men with past experiences of depression went on to experience antenatal or postnatal depression. Men reflected on diverse reasons for their depression during the perinatal period. They also talked about support from partners, family and friends, and supporting partners who experienced perinatal depression or distress.

A few fathers experienced distress or depression while their partner was pregnant or during the early parenthood period, and gave varied reasons for their feelings. Some men identified adjusting to parenthood as the cause of their distress or depression. Fred, a father of two, experienced depression when his wife was pregnant with their second child while Andrew, a father of four, experienced difficulties adjusting from the role of ‘breadwinner’ to stay-at-home father.

Fred struggled with the idea of having a second child and was critical of the ‘assumption’ that fathers don’t need help.

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Andrew talked about adjusting to being a stay-at-home dad, and having ‘no dad time’.

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Other men described distressing situations beyond their control as contributing to postnatal distress or depression. Tony, a father of two, faced a sequence of stressful and upsetting events when he became a father for the second time. This included his baby being born with gastroschisis and his ex-partner having major health problems in the first year of their baby’s life. These included postnatal depression, liver failure, and ‘deep depression’ for several months after a liver transplant. During this time Tony had to care for his newborn baby and older stepchild, support his partner, and continue working. Daniel, now a father of twin daughters, experienced grief and depression after his twin sons died, one at birth and the second several weeks later.

Daniel described how he felt after his twin sons died after being born at 26 weeks.

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A few men described themselves as having ‘always’ been inclined to experience depression or sadness (see Experiences of depression and anxiety before becoming a parent). Fred said he’d ‘always had periods of being melancholy and feeling down’ while Andrew said he was ‘a little morose most of the time’. Due to his and his partner’s history of depression and anxiety, Daniel thought both he and his partner were ‘at risk’ of depression following the loss of their twins.

Several men discussed having to juggle work responsibilities with stress related to early parenthood and how this impacted on their ability to support their partners. Work stress was central to Fred’s difficulties adjusting to parenthood. This was exacerbated by his wife reneging on their agreement that she would go back to work when their baby was six months old and Fred would become the primary carer. Having looked forward to this, Fred was very disappointed. Andrew felt that his busy job had meant his wife had to bear most of the work of caring for their twins single-handedly, which contributed to her experiencing postnatal depression.

Tony said having to ‘go to work and do things’ helped him through the first year of his baby’s life when his partner had major health problems.

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Support from family and friends was an important consideration for fathers who experienced perinatal or antenatal depression or distress. They were proactive about both recognising they were struggling with early parenthood, and asking for help or support from partners, family members or friends. After their twins died, Daniel was grateful for the support he received from his partner, as well as that they received as a couple from family members. This was especially so as he was aware that some men and women who become parents via surrogacy do not tell their families until well into the process for fear of negative reactions. Tony, a father of two, relied on family and friends to help him get through his wife’s illness, hospitalisation and depression.

Fred recognised he needed to talk with his wife and other friends who were ‘dads’ when experiencing distress during his wife’s second pregnancy.

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Tony found the support he received from family and friends invaluable when his ex-partner was in hospital and undergoing rehabilitation after liver failure.

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Tony and Andrew described supporting partners experiencing postnatal depression or distress, then went on to experience depression or distress themselves. Both men talked about the support they provided, as well as the impact their partner’s postnatal depression had on their relationship. Andrew’s partner’s hospitalisation for postnatal depression gave him ‘a deeper understanding of the problem’ and he took a more active role in caring for their baby twins after she came home. However, things were more difficult for Tony. His partner’s depression after the health problems she experienced following their baby’s birth eventually began to affect the couple’s children and led to their relationship breaking down. As Tony explained: ‘I was expecting the good things to start happening [when she came home from hospital]. And it wasn’t good. It was really, really bad. And it was hard. It was very hard to come to terms with. Because I was glad that she was home and we had the family together but she wasn’t happy and I couldn’t make her happy. So that was a very difficult time. A very difficult time’.

After Andrew’s wife was hospitalised for postnatal depression, he encouraged her to bottle feed their twins so he could the share the workload.

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