My husband, Dijon, has general anxiety disorder. I am accustomed to his need for context and his desire to work through multiple worst-case scenarios. It is because of these reasons I love him and need him. I, the more carefree and overly optimistic partner, appreciate his grounded (at times uptight) responsible nature. We keep one another centered. We compliment one another.
Discovering Paternal Postnatal Anxiety
Nearly four years ago, when our boys were born, Dijon’s general anxiety manifested into paternal postnatal anxiety. When we brought our twin boys home his general desire to have a plan, to keep things logical, and to be in control became a road block in his ability to be a new father. He was paralyzed with insecurities and bombarded with overwhelming thoughts. I wrote off his agitation and poor attitude to the feelings of being a new parent and the massive learning curve we were both encountering on the daily.
Throughout my pregnancy and into the boys’ young lives, my husband would accompany me to doctor’s visits. During these visits I was frequently asked how we were generally feeling and how we were adjusting as a family. My laissez-faire attitude and adaptable personality breezed through these questions as I spoke for all of us. I would shrug my shoulders and say, “Having two babies is hard, but we are managing.” And with that one statement we would move on to discussing the boys’ growth and milestones.
In the safe and healing space of a doctor’s office, I didn’t let my husband express his mood changes, his fatigue, or his feelings of defeat and lack of expertise. Through my entire pregnancy and post-delivery, it was very obvious that my husband experienced less social and medical support than I did and I think this may have contributed to his difficulties in coping with the increasing and sudden demands of parenthood.
I think the process of becoming a father is a sudden and shocking experience for new dads that occurs when the child is born. Mothers have had more time to prepare for this change because they go through body changes for nine months before the baby is born. For new mothers it is a gradual transition to parenthood, but for new dads, it can be a sudden overnight change once the child, or in our case children, is born. -Dijon
Today’s fathers look very different than the fathers of our grandparents’ generation. My husband didn’t buy into to the outdated roles of masculinity. He wanted to be involved at home and highly engaged in the boys’ lives, but he felt he was falling short of his expectations.
The postpartum transition into parenthood is swift. In those early days as a new father my husband was searching for competency and mastery. Anyone who has raised children knows, that infants (heck all children) are a difficult thing to master. His anxiety was exasperated when self-doubt and sleep deprivation were occupying his mind. Since day one, Dijon has been an all or nothing king of guy. As a new parent, he often felt like he had to choose one thing over another. Finding a balance was not an option for him.
It was impossible for me to feel like I was doing a good job. I was literally in survival mode, treading water, gasping for air, with the goal to keep everyone alive. I felt like I was a hamster on a wheel. Running in cycles of diaper changes and feedings. When you have anxiety, the thought of hamster wheels with no unforeseeable way out is terrifying. -Dijon
Our New Normal
When the boys were 11 months old we moved to Omaha for professional opportunities. With the preparation of the move and transition to a new job, my husband made an appointment to talk to someone. His doctor suggested the importance of finding a balance that adjusts to the new situation, but keeps him grounded into the beliefs and practices at his core. My husband was a marathon runner before kids. Distance running was one of the ways he reduced stress and controlled his anxiety. Post children, he was barely getting out of the house to jog around the block. Per the doctor’s orders and in an effort to create a new balance, he had to trade in his marathon training (and his desire for mastery) for 30 minute runs around the neighborhood.
While running helped it was not an end all solution. I was also prescribed anti-anxiety medication. Those two remedies have really helped me to regain a sense of control and a means to cope with what is now my new normal.-Dijon
Now, three years into our twin parenting role, we are finding our groove. We have adapted our plan, we have let go of being in control, and are definitely more adaptable. Paternal postnatal anxiety was once our road block, but it is now our driving force to be better partners and parents. We are more communicative of our needs, we are honest about our expectations, and we are cognizant of finding a balance between personal time and family time.
Click here for resources for fathers suffering from Postnatal Paternal Anxiety.