Q: We were overjoyed when our daughter was born, but since that time my wife has slipped into a pit of depression. She's uncommunicative and completely uninterested in romance. This is taking a toll on our marriage. Help!
Jim: Between 50 and 80 percent of new moms experience a temporary emotional slump, popularly known as "baby blues." Another 10 percent suffer from a more severe condition known as postpartum depression. In view of the intense physical and psychological changes that accompany the birth of a baby, these figures are not surprising.
The postpartum blues usually develop during the first week after delivery. Symptoms can include irritability, tearfulness, anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating. While this slump typically resolves itself within a couple of weeks, it should not be met with an attitude of "ignore it and it will go away." Your wife needs your emotional support and practical assistance during this time.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is more serious, and can last for months. A mother with PPD may be so intensely depressed that she has difficulty caring for her baby. If symptoms continue for more than two weeks, seek professional help. Treatment might involve counseling, the use of antidepressants or both. If your wife is breastfeeding, input from the baby's doctor will be needed before initiating drug therapy.
Meanwhile, assist your wife in practical ways during this difficult time. Even though you're tired after a long day of work, put her concerns ahead of your own. Help with the household chores, and ask her what she needs from you to get through this period. Don't expect any sexual response if she's exhausted and depressed and you haven't done much to help. This situation will get better, but you'll need extra doses of patience, delicacy and understanding in the meantime.
Q: In the past year, my wife has started seeing a counselor to deal with memories of childhood sexual abuse. I want to be supportive of her, but I wish I could just have my old wife back. It's like she's falling apart. I'm not sure how to help.
Juli: I am so sorry for what you and your wife are walking through. It is quite common for memories and the trauma of childhood abuse to resurface in adulthood, particularly when a woman becomes a mom.
Although it seems like your wife is falling apart, working through the trauma of the past is a necessary step to maturity and healing. Many adults spend their entire lives finding ways to hide from deep pain. They may become addicted to alcohol, control or spending money and will try to keep the voices from the past silent.
I understand that your wife's healing is disruptive to your life and probably even a bit frightening. Remember that her step toward dealing with the pain from her past is a courageous one and will eventually result in strength and confidence.
Because emotional wounds are not visible, it is easy to assume that they don't need to be addressed. However, your wife's pain is as legitimate as physical pain. Think of her "healing journey" as similar to going through chemotherapy for cancer. It is painful and apparently damaging, but it also temporary and has the purpose to bring health and life.
You have an important role in helping your wife get through some deep waters. Although you don't have to be involved in all of the details, it is key for you to understand the process of healing. It may help you to meet with her counselor periodically. Most importantly, your unconditional love and support are critical.
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