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Husband Depressed After Birth of Child

QUESTION: I am a new mother. I am one of those young mothers who although always wanted children never really thought that I would be somebody's "mom". My husband is ten years older than me and had just gotten out of a very depressing, bizarre, unhealthy relationship when we met. The woman he was involved with had a eight year old son when they met. He maintains that he stayed in the relationship because he didn't think she was a good mother and grew very attached to the child. Ten years later he was saturated with her "problems" and separated from her. He said he always wanted children of his own but never believed he could or would be able to have them.

Well now he has a new healthy nine week old and is depressed most of the time. What could he possibly be depressed about? He has his own child, he has a sane drug free intelligent wife, he has a nice new home, he knows that his son is being well taken care of and most of all he knows where I am at all times (an infidelity issue in his last relationship making this important to him). Whenever I question him he cannot provide any answers, sometimes he doesn't answer at all.

I am a no nonsense type of person and I fear that I will one day walk away from him for my own mental health and the mental health my son. What should I do?

You are right to be concerned about your husband. He is expressing symptoms of a depression rooted in his own childhood. His attraction to his first relationship was to save the little boy with whom he identified. Now that he has separated himself from this role in his previous relationship and found a more healthy situation, he is left to face his own depression.

Your loving care of your infant son provides a stimulus for your husband to get in touch with his deep neglect. Likely, his relationship with his own mother resembled the experience of little boy's he tried to save. Now it is time for him to rescue the little guy inside! But he will need professional help to do so.

Remind yourself of what qualities you fell in love with when you met your husband. Remember that he is still the same person covered in a fog of depression. Realize, too, that he has learned to walk away from the unhealthy situation in which he was entangled. Give him credit for recognizing the emotional bankruptcy of his role in his previous relationship. But require that he seek help for finding the answers to your very important questions regarding his happiness. Let him know that you love and care about him, but that his depression is deadening the relationship.

Your husband's current crisis stems from some sense of neglect and/or abandonment that was real for him in childhood, maybe even as early as infancy. Coming to terms with his childhood relationships to his parents is essential if he is to have energy available for bonding with his own son. Finding his place as a father and husband holds promise for being "exactly what the doctor ordered". However the prescription is not as simple as you expected it to be!

Your adjustment to motherhood is significantly stressful by itself. You are no doubt experiencing great disappointment in your partner's ability to nurture you through this period. You will need support of friends and perhaps other new mothers to help you process your disappointment. Without appropriate support, you will be prone to feelings of abandonment and likely to project this disappointment onto the marriage.

This is a formative transition in your family's development. If your husband does not treat his depression, you may find that you feel you have two babies on your hands. Each day this experience persists, your resentment grows and the marriage is being damaged. Hope can be gained from taking action. You may experience great relief, when your husband acknowledges his problem and seeks competent treatment. Passivity, on the other hand, will almost certainly assure that your desire to leave will become a reality.

Your husband's healing requires his acceptance of his problem. If he takes responsibility for his own "rescue" this time, he has a great family to support him. This much he has changed! Joining a father's group can actively support his involvement with his son. And finding a place by your side as a partner may come more quickly with both group and individual support.

Be patient. Be firm in your need for him to seek treatment, but do not reject or punish him. And take care of your needs for support and companionship. Join a new mother's group, seek out friendships and establish family goals with your husband. Imagine a possible future together in which you tell the story of how you successfully addressed this first hurdle together. The key to your family's development will lie in your ability to help one another, as well as take responsibility for self-healing. Teamwork is not always easy, but it can result in feeling bonded in response to problems, instead of alienated.

Look on this year as a journey in your family's development. Going up a steep hillside can be difficult, but putting one foot ahead of another inevitably results in progress towards the top. You may reach the top by the time you celebrate your son's first birthday, or you may be half-way or three-quarters of the way there. This first year as a family may represent the first major challenge for growth in your relationship. You owe it to your son, and each other to develop the kind of family you want. See how much can change in the next year, when you work at it!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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