Albany Times Union
Fears of postpartum blues
Dear Carolyn: “Sadie” and I have been married two years. I have a 7-year-old daughter from my first marriage. As much as I adore her, I believe her birth marked the end of my marriage to “Jessie.” I have always believed Jessie suffered from undiagnosed postpartum depression; she resisted any screening. For an entire year after our daughter was born, I was expected to carry the entire load at home. I cooked, cleaned, managed Jessie’s emotions and did a fair amount of caring for my daughter solo while Jessie rested. This was all on top of my full-time job. Jessie did not return to work until our daughter was almost 7 months old. I was made to feel evil if I ever wanted any form of positive attention or interaction with Jessie that did not involve child care. And despite all this, when we went to couples’ counseling, Jessie said she felt she was doing all the work at home. We split when my daughter was 18 months old.
Sadie wants a child, and I believe she would be a great mom. But I also believe Jessie is a great mom — and terrible partner. I am fearful about going down the same path, so I’m stalling. How do I know that Sadie won’t turn out to be Jessie once we spawn together?
— Pre-postpartum Nerves Dear Pre-postpartum Nerves: Ew. Wordflinch on “spawn.”
Sadie won’t be Jessie because Sadie is not Jessie. I get what you mean, but do stop. Oversimplifying people and staring at them mystified when they’re struggling is a pretty reliable way to ensure that struggles become insurmountable. View people instead as complex individuals with multiple possible sources for their distress, and you’ll navigate those struggles more effectively.
So, Jessie’s shift to “terrible partner”: Postpartum depression is one possible culprit, yes. (So Sadie might not be different.) But Jessie’s own closed-mindedness may have hurt, too. (So Sadie might be different.) I can’t tell you how many difficult situations get upgraded to impossible due to the refusal to consider treatment.
And speaking of — I won’t minimize how lonely and hard it was for you to keep the household together. But it also sounds as if you fault Jessie entirely for your having to do that? Not to mention prefaulting Sadie. And really, seven months is hardly a scandalous maternity leave. U.S. standards on this are shameful. A body forms and births a human, must repair itself (never fully, by the way), goes through hormonal mayhem, and we’re supposed to hop back to work at six weeks? Three months? There’s a reason actual, civilized societies provide a year of leave or more. It’s not soft, it’s humane.
Yet the drive-thru birth has become so normalized, you can be forgiven for not understanding how utterly foxed up that is — but in the end, we still have the fact that Jessie suffered for a year, within the range of normal, and you held that against her. And still regard it as her fault. When it might not have been her choice.
So. You don’t want Sadie to Jessie you? Then learn from Jessie. People who have babies and become their primary caregivers may take months, a year, more, to recover as partners. And you may have to carry way more than you want to — or would have to under saner conditions: Support for co-parents needs to be a million times better, too.