Becoming a Dad
I can divide my life into two distinct periods. Pre-fatherhood and post-fatherhood. Becoming a Dad was a big deal for me. What surprised me was that nothing that I heard about, read about, heard at ante-natal classes or received as advice from family prepared me, or could have prepared me for the massive perceptual and mental shift that accompanied the birth of my son Louis.
Post Natal Depression
So if creating a new human being can feel such an incredible achievement, and if we accept that the need to achieve is an innate need of humans, why should there be an association between childbirth and depression? Of course, being a bloke, I didn’t have to do any of the hard work of being incarcerated in hospital, dealing with the uncertainty of the delivery, going through labour, being cut open, breastfeeding and the relentless cycle of nappies, washing, feeding and coping – though I certainly tried to, and I hope I played my part.
Needs Not Met
The picture gets clearer when we look at the situation of having a new baby from the perspective of innate needs – particularly those of the mother.
- The need for Movement: How can you expect to get regular physical exercise after childbirth? Running, gym, walks in the country – forget it, at least for a while.
- The need for Sleep: Sleep patterns are severely disrupted by being woken many times each night.
- The need for Security: Many mums experiencing the vulnerability of their baby find that their natural protective instinct generates an increased awareness of risk. They naturally feel less secure.
- The need for Attention: Having a baby dramatically changes the way you pay attention, and the things that you need to pay attention to. It’s tough to have a normal conversation with anyone when baby starts crying to be fed / changed / given attention.
- The need for Emotional connection: Many mothers feel an immediate bond with their new baby. But sometimes, for many reasons, this is not their first experience. If there have been difficulties or anxieties around the experience of childbirth, emotional connections with others and baby can be severely affected.
- The need for Fun / Friendship / Intimacy: Baby takes priority, meeting friends, having fun generally goes on indefinite hold.
- The need for Autonomy and Control: Suddenly, your agenda is completely irrelevant – you have to react to the needs of baby. You are lucky if you have any sense of control at all.
- The need for Achievement: With luck, you have a healthy baby. But that’s what everyone around expected anyway – you got pregnant, you had a baby – big deal – it doesn’t always compare well to career success. And if you or your baby are less than healthy, then your feeling of achievement may be completely missing.
- The need for Status / Respect: There was a time when a new mother had high status in her community. She was known to neighbours and her new status as a mother was celebrated. Now, even the government clearly wants us all to get back to work as soon as possible. If your need for respect was met through work, and you are no longer going to work, then it is quite normal to feel starved of the feeling of being given respect.
- The need for Community: Having a baby usually means withdrawing from many social and work activities. Even family activities become focussed on the new arrival and you may feel superfluous.
- The need for Meaning and Purpose: This, like many of the needs is a personal issue. If being a parent fills you with a new sense of meaning, then great. But if you didn’t want to be pregnant, or if you feel overwhelmed by the experience, even this need can feel unmet.
- The need for Privacy: Ha!
Need Not Met = Stress
It is easy to see that almost all of our innate needs are compromised when a new baby enters our lives. There is now a widespread understanding that depression is always precipitated by stress. We also know that stress is nothing more than our reaction to our innate needs not being met. So there should be no surprise that we have a common life experience (childbirth) that is so often associated with people finding it difficult to get their innate needs met that we end up giving the resultant ill-health that many experience around this life-event a special name: Post Natal Depression. There is clearly more to depression than the simple explanation above – but I hope you get the idea that the precipitating factors can be easily understood.
I am grateful that the birth of my son was a happy time. But I did struggle with depression fifteen years ago and this inspired me to learn more about it. I now find that understanding what depression is, what causes it, and how to escape its clutches, allows me and other therapists to effectively help others overcome it quickly and permanently.
If You Need Help
Before you contact any therapist for help with depression, you should ask them whether they understand what depression is and how it works. Many do not – a growing number do. But if they can’t answer your simple question – you should not consider using their services. Please feel free to contact us if you think we might be able to help you.