- Courtesy of Keegan Albaugh
- Keegan and newborn Coraline
The month following the birth of my first daughter, Coraline, in June of 2016 was unlike any other period in my life. After spending a couple of days at the hospital, my partner, Stephanie, and I eagerly returned to our home in Burlington's New North End. We were both fortunate enough to be able to take time off from work to be together during this huge transition.
The weeks that followed were full of joy and excitement. The time off allowed us to devote 100 percent of our attention to becoming a family of three. Because we had no commitments besides caring for our newborn, the concept of time had little meaning. I remember happily sitting in a chair night after night, clutching Coraline to my bare chest for skin-to-skin contact, a practice which has been shown to help with parental bonding.
Most evenings after dinner, we strolled our daughter to the newly renovated Bessery's Butcher Shoppe for Italian ice. A meal train had been set up for us, so every other day, friends stopped by to drop off some food and visit for a bit. This was the first grandchild for both sets of parents, as well, so we were consistently showered with love and attention. I must have taken a few thousand photos during that first month. It felt almost surreal.
And then the excitement started to wear off, and it got real.
I returned to work after three and a half weeks at home, while Stephanie stayed at home for the remaining nine weeks of her leave. The visitors stopped coming, and we were responsible for cooking our own meals once again. Many of the friendships I once considered strong now just felt disconnected. Time, once again, had meaning, and suddenly the option of taking a nap alongside my child in the middle of the day was no longer a possibility. I'd return home from work feeling exhausted, only to find Stephanie even more exhausted from flying solo with Coraline all day. Piles of spit-up-soaked laundry seemed to multiply.
I socialized less, ate more handfuls of chips in between doing tasks at home, and suddenly had a lot less time to myself. I certainly loved being a father, but I also struggled with the transition and experienced periods of feeling down.
I had attended most of Stephanie's prenatal doctor's appointments, and I remembered hearing a handful of conversations about postpartum depression in new mothers, but my understanding of the topic was minimal. I thought it was something that only mothers "got," and that it was mostly due to a sudden change in hormone levels. I really didn't understand that there were a bunch of factors that contributed to a mother becoming depressed after the birth of a child, including sleep deprivation, social isolation and feeling overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood.
And I certainly didn't think about postpartum depression happening to fathers. But it does.
A study published in Pediatrics in 2014 showed that depression increases by 68 percent for new dads during the first five years of a child's life. And, according to Dr. Will Courtenay, a psychotherapist who specializes in postpartum depression in men, "the fact is, one in four new dads in the United States become depressed — which amounts to 3,000 dads who become depressed each day."
The existence of other risk factors can dramatically increase the likelihood of postpartum depression in fathers. These include financial instability, housing uncertainty, employment struggles, a history of depression and/or other mental health challenges, and having a baby with complicated health issues. The presence of postpartum depression in one's partner also increases the risk.
The range of emotions new parents experience during the months following the birth of a child can be huge, and it can be extremely difficult to distinguish between minor baby blues or just feeling a little down from time to time and having diagnosable depression. No matter what the official diagnosis is, there are proactive things new parents can do to feel better.
- Seek professional help. You don't need to wait for things to hit the fan before you address your mental health. Connect with your primary care doctor, your child's pediatrician or a therapist to talk about the moods you are experiencing.
- Call 2-1-1. Don't know where to go or who to talk to? You can always call 2-1-1 to speak with someone about what types of supports exist in your community.
- Talk honestly, openly and consistently with a peer network. Identify people in your life you feel comfortable getting vulnerable with, and share how you're doing often. Don't be afraid to tell your friends how you're really feeling.
- Get dressed and get outside. I know when I start and end the day in the same pair of pajamas, I don't feel great about myself. Having a small goal, like putting on a pair of pants in the morning, can have a really positive impact. Then, once those pants are on, put your kid in a stroller and soak up some vitamin D. Movement and fresh air are great for the brain.
- Keep visitors coming. Set up a schedule for friends to come over, even if just for a short (socially distanced or outdoor) visit. Prior to having children, hanging out with friends was as easy as picking up the phone. Once kids enter the picture, scheduling visits ahead of time is helpful and keeps relationships intact.
- Prioritize sleep over house cleaning. New parents are universally sleep-deprived, so catch those Z's when you can. A 45-minute nap when your kid is sleeping can be more beneficial than emptying that laundry basket.
- Get a meal train. Prior to the birth of your child, talk with family, friends and coworkers about helping you with prepared meals. Although a lot of folks just focus on the first month, I would suggest thinking beyond that. Having one less thing to worry about is huge.
When Coraline turned 18 months in December of 2017, both Stephanie and I hit our breaking point and finally sought out a therapist. I remember sobbing in front of my supervisor at work, admitting that I needed help and would need to take time off work to address my mental health. I remember filling out a questionnaire prior to my first therapy session, and my therapist saying that I sounded depressed during our first meeting. It felt strange to hear someone say it, but I'm glad they did. Acknowledging and accepting that I was experiencing some level of depression allowed me to start taking more active steps in addressing my mental health.