She is stressed all the time and can’t enjoy being a parent
Our baby is over his illness but my wife is so anxious
Even without the worry of illness, lots of new parents can find themselves worrying more about the future once they have a new baby in their arms.
We had our first baby three months ago. He has had some early health issues which required surgery in hospital. This was of course very worrying and stressful for me and my wife but this has been resolved now and physically he is doing fine.
However, the reason I am contacting you is because my wife is suffering consistent and debilitating anxiety about our baby’s health. Even now that the health issues have been resolved, she does not seem to be able to move past this and is constantly worried about him. She seems stressed all the time and does not seem to be able to enjoy being a parent. I am quite worried about her.
Are you aware of any psychology or counselling services (private or public) which might be able to help her deal with this anxiety more effectively and start her back on road to full mental health? Any contacts or suggestions you might have would be greatly appreciated.
Answer: It is great that you are making contact and seeking support for your wife and your new baby. While having a new baby is one of the most special events in a couple’s life, it can also be very stressful and bring lots of new challenges. Parents can struggle to adjust to their new roles, feel overwhelmed with the demands of caring for a small infant, while also suffering a lack of sleep and reduced personal recovery time. In addition, you and your wife are dealing with the special challenge of having a baby with health problems and this understandably brings extra worry and strife. As a result, it is not surprising that many new parents ( both fathers and mothers) encounter mental health problems such as anxiety and depression at the time of their babies birth and during the subsequent months.
So it is understandable that your wife has become worried and anxious in response to your baby’s illness. And once anxiety has been triggered it can continue long after the original reason. Your wife might continue to worry that the illness could return or that something else could go wrong. Even without the worry of illness, lots of new parents can find themselves worrying more about the future once they have a new baby in their arms. Sometimes feeling anxious and helpless comes with the territory of being a parent.
Helping your wife recover
You are right to want to help your wife recover from her anxiety and to manage it a bit better so it is not interfering her enjoyment and satisfaction at being a new parent. In doing so it is important to be patient as recovery is likely to take time and consist of small steps. There are lots of excellent supports and services that might help, such such as Postnatal Depression Ireland 021-4922083 (pnd.ie) or the Nurture Charity (nurturecharity.org) or Aware (aware.ie). There are also some excellent parent-to-parent support services, such as Cuidiu (cuidiu-ict.ie) which offers both individual and group support and Parentline, which offers a telephone helpline (1890-927277, parentline.ie). Your wife should also make contact with her local public health nurse or GP who will be able to offer support and recommend the best local services and support groups.
What you can do to help?
As your wife’s partner you have a very special role in helping her recover. The key is to be empathic, supportive and patient. Try to listen and understand when she expresses her worries – it is useful to make sure you have daily talking time when you listen to whatever she wants to say. Try to gently encourage her to take some action towards recovery – but remember this has to be at her own pace and could be only small steps such as going for a walk one day, ringing a friend another and contacting the public health nurse another.
Become fully involved as a father
Remember, practical help and becoming fully involved as a father is likely to be really important. For example, perhaps you can arrange your routine so that you are always there on a certain day to care for the baby so your wife can attend a much-needed yoga class or you can commit to taking over the baby care every evening at the same time so she can have a rest then. Being fully involved in the parenting will not only support your wife but will also benefit your baby and you personally as a father.
Help your wife enjoy the baby
As you suggest in your question, perhaps the most important thing you can do is help your wife enjoy her baby and the role of being a mother. Daily enjoyment and connection with the new baby is the antidote to postnatal depression and anxiety for most parents. Think what you can do to help her have simple enjoyable moments with the baby, perhaps during feeding, bathtime or special playtime where you simply watch and marvel at your baby together. Celebrate and notice together these little moments.
Get your own support
Recognise also your own needs as a father – you could be feelings some of the anxiety, stress or depression that your wife might be feeling. In addition, you might find it distressing to see your wife being debilitated by the anxiety or you might feel frustrated that she has not moved on from this or you might be worried about her and what will happen next. Take time to acknowledge however you are feeling and take steps to seek support. For example, you might get support by contacting the services above yourself or by contacting a friend who you can talk to. In addition, just like for your wife simple things will help you cope such as ensuring you carve out a relaxing time for yourself daily as well having a daily fun time with the baby and doing as much as you can to get a good nights sleep.
- Dr John Sharry is a social worker and psychotherapist and co-developer of the Parents Plus Programmes. He will deliver a number of parenting workshops this autumn including Parenting Young Children on October 20th and Parenting Teenagers on October 21st (both in Dublin) as well as Helping Anxious Children on November 18th and 19th in Cork. See solutiontalk.ie for details.