I still remember how hard it was. I remember how painful it was for my wife. Those first 14 months of Eden’s life were some of the most difficult months of our lives.
My wife was struggling with postpartum depression, but we had no idea.
As soon as my wife figured out that she had PPD, it was like a light at the end of the tunnel. We had hope again.
By the end of this post, you'll know:
9 Signs Your Wife Has Postpartum Depression
I’ll be honest with you – I’m not a doctor and I’m also not a mom. Instead, I’m a husband and dad who suffered alongside my wife with undiagnosed postpartum depression.
I’m not going to tell you the symptoms of postpartum depression according to the textbook… Instead, I want to share the signs I saw that all pointed to PPD, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Side note, my wife read through this post before I published it to give her stamp of approval.
She Feels Hopeless
Postpartum depression is like wearing blinders. You can’t see where you’ve come from or where you’re going… All you see is the darkness right in front of you. Depression defines your entire reality; it tells you that all of your past happiness is a lie and all your future happiness is never coming.
She might say...
She Has Low Self-Worth
This one is especially common in the age of social media. Chances are your wife is following new moms on Facebook or Instagram. She’s seeing these other moms post perfect pictures of their new babies showing off how happy they are. It looks so easy for them. Meanwhile she’s completely miserable in her role as a mom.
She might say...
She's Disconnected From The Baby & You
For many women, the mother-baby connection is missing from the moment of birth. I know for Kalee, we had a long and difficult labor that required minor stitches and anesthesia after Eden was born. She never felt that jubilation that a new mother is ‘supposed’ to feel the first time they hold their newborn.
Maybe that didn’t happen for your wife, but she is starting to say or do things that shock you… Things that you know she would never normally say or do if she were thinking straight.
She might say...
Short Temper Or Rage
One of the single most common things you will read from women who experience PPD is anger. Many women describe a constant irritability bubbling underneath the surface. They may feel anger rising every time the baby cries, every time she wakes up from a nap, every time something gets messed up.
She has an uncharacteristic lack of patience. It takes very little for her to give up or lose her cool. In extreme cases, she may insult, cuss or yell at you or the baby.
Recommended: How To Help Your Wife Through Postpartum Depression -- Be sure to read the part about dealing with the really bad episodes.
She might say...
Often this short fuse comes with a boatload of blame. It’s always someone’s fault, even the baby’s. She might say things like...
Reminder: Postpartum depression is a mental illness. If your wife suffers from PPD, then her heart and mind is being steadily and progressively poisoned. Your wife doesn’t want to do any of these things. She doesn’t want to have PPD. She probably feels an immense amount of guilt. Don’t judge.
She Always Looks Sad & Lonely
Over time, many of the women who start out angry will become sad. Other times, what starts as normal baby blues frequent crying never goes away, and the sadness comes with it.
The type of sadness that women with PPD experience is deep. It is heavy. It feels like your insides are being sucked into a black vacuum of despair. It is physically tiring.
Unlike many of the other symptoms of PPD, you might not hear anything about your wife’s sadness or loneliness. You might sense something is wrong without realizing how sad and alone she really feels.
Look out for non-verbal cues of this deep sadness:
- You might happen to catch her wiping away tears.
- She’s slumped over, like a ragdoll, too sad to do anything with the baby.
- She has trouble concentrating and carrying on a conversation.
Generally, you can assume that if your wife shows many of the other signs of postpartum depression, she probably also feels a lot of sadness and she probably feels alone… Many of these other things naturally lead to sadness, and most PPD moms start out assuming that there’s something wrong with them personally – like they aren’t a good mom and that’s why they’re struggling.
She Regrets Having A Baby
You may find that your wife is always longing for life before the baby. I initially assumed this kind of talk was harmless complaining, but it intensified. Things that I thought were said in low moments kept being said again and again.
She Threatens To Run Away, Or Wants To Escape The Family
When you’ve been dealing with postpartum depression for months on end without any improvement, it starts to feel like a hellish emotional prison. Like there is legitimately no way out.
This is when your wife will start to get desperate for a way out. She may start thinking about leaving you and her baby behind, desperate to escape the prison she feels trapped in.
This is when marriages start failing.
WARNING! If You See Any of the Signs Past Here, Seek Help Immediately! Call your family physician or pediatrician, or in extreme cases, go to the emergency room.
Current estimates state that around 600,000 moms will develop PPD every year in the US.
A very small percentage of those women will develop scary, life-threatening symptoms like the ones below.
Remember what I said at the beginning?
The longer postpartum depression goes untreated, the worse it gets.
The longer postpartum depression goes untreated, the worse it gets. There is no rock bottom; it just keeps getting harder until you get help. Past here, we’re going to start looking at some very scary symptoms of postpartum depression.
I'll be honest, my wife did not have these symptoms so I don't have the same experience with them. However, if you’ve seen either of the signs that follow, get help immediately.
She Has Suicidal Thoughts
This is a tragedy so saddening that I can’t let myself think about it for very long.
Here is the reality: women do commit suicide because of PPD. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.
A quick search for postpartum depression suicide will turn up thousands of articles and news reports about women who took their own life to escape postpartum depression, leaving heartbroken fathers and children behind.
Suicide is the ultimate escape, and women who struggle with postpartum depression for long enough can and do get desperate enough to think about that escape.
In nearly all of these cases, suicidal thoughts are the culmination of all the other symptoms going untreated for too long… Hopelessness, loneliness, regret, low self-worth. They become too much to live with, literally.
Has your wife shared suicidal thoughts? Read this:
Through Husband Help Haven, I have had the unfortunate experience of talking to people who plan to commit suicide. I always do my best to help and contact local authorities when the person is in the US.
If your wife shares suicidal thoughts, however “insignificant” they seem, take them very seriously. Don’t be afraid of them and don’t avoid them. Confront them and ask her about them.
Ask her how she would do it; you won’t put anything in her head that’s not already there. If she has a plan, her life is at stake and you should strongly consider hospitalization.
How Suicidal Thoughts Progress
Usually, suicidal thoughts will start out harmless. They may enter your wife’s head randomly. Startling as they may be, she might brush them off.
But then, she’ll start to entertain those thoughts. She might fantasize about ending things, thinking more about what it would be like.
The problem is, all people considering suicide – not just PPD moms – can be great actors. Even if you can tell something is wrong, they may hide their intention to die.
She Has Thoughts Of Harming The Baby
Your wife may find herself having spontaneous thoughts of harming your baby, or worse.
I’ve read accounts of women who confessed, anonymously, that they had thoughts of dunking their babies during bath time, letting the stroller “accidentally” roll in front of a car, and leaving the baby at home unattended, just to name a few morbid examples.
I don’t like talking about this, but you need to know about it and we as a society can’t shy away from this.
If your wife shares thoughts like this, no matter how spontaneous or ‘random’ they might seem, get help immediately.
Technically, this gets into the domain of postpartum psychosis, a similar but much more dangerous postpartum mental illness.
I’ll be honest, I have no experience with postpartum psychosis. My wife didn’t have this. But, since the men whose wives have postpartum psychosis likely start out searching for PPD symptoms, I’m including them here.
Related: A more detailed list of postpartum psychosis symptoms
Postpartum Depression vs. Normal Baby Blues
The easiest way to tell if your wife has baby blues or postpartum depression is to simply look at the timing of her symptoms.
Baby blues is very short-term, usually being restricted to the first two weeks after childbirth.
Short answer: If your wife is showing symptoms of depression a month or longer after child birth, then it’s postpartum depression.
Quick Facts About Baby Blues
Quick Facts About Postnatal Depression
How To Tell Your Wife She Might Have PPD
If you suspect your wife has postpartum depression, the worst thing you can do is remain silent.
If something feels wrong, it probably is. If you suspect your wife is struggling with postpartum depression, you’re probably right.
But, what if she doesn’t know it? How do you tell your wife that you think she has postpartum depression?
If I could go back in time, here's what I would tell my wife...
"Hey Kalee, I just found this article about postpartum depression symptoms (below) from a mom’s support group. I don’t know for sure whether this fits you or not, but some of it sounded familiar so maybe it’ll help. Would you mind reading it?"
If she let me, I would add something like this, “I know you know yourself best, so I couldn’t really decide whether this applies to us or not, but I would never forgive myself if there’s something I could’ve done to help you but didn’t.”
Again, I would’ve picked a calm time, approaching her with no judgment or accusations, and I would’ve had the article ready to read on my computer or phone. An even better option would be to have an appointment made with someone who can help – whether counselor or psychiatrist or even just a phone call with your baby’s pediatrician.
This is the article that helped my wife realize she had postpartum depression:
Recommended: Symptoms of PPD in Plain Mama English
I’m so thankful for this article because once Kalee read this, it started her on the path to recovery. It also includes detailed symptoms for postpartum anxiety.
What If She Gets Mad?
One of the most common symptoms of PPD is rage, so this is a legitimate question.
Perhaps the most difficult thing about supporting and loving someone who has postpartum depression (at least in my experience) is that even when you do the right thing, it doesn’t feel good in the moment.
Chances are, your wife will get either mad or sad or both when you suggest that she might have postpartum depression. Be prepared for an episode. The hope is that once she gets out of that, she actually thinks about what you said and does some investigating for herself.
What If She Doesn’t Think She Has PPD?
What do you do after you’ve already suggested that she might have PPD? What do you do if she doesn’t want to go to a counselor or get any kind of help?
You can try asking her to share some of her thoughts and feelings with someone who can definitely tell her whether she has postpartum depression. For example, after she says that she doesn’t have postpartum depression, you could reply with something like this:
“I believe that you don’t have postpartum depression, but I would still feel better if you would at least talk to someone about what you’ve been feeling. Maybe the next time we’re at the pediatrician you could just ask the doctor how to tell if you have PPD or not?”
If that still doesn’t work, you have three choices:
- You can believe her. Maybe you’re wrong and she doesn’t have postpartum depression. If you’re here reading this, she probably does, but open yourself up to the possibility that you’re wrong.
- You can be patient. Continue being as supportive and helpful as you can, and, keep gently nudging her towards getting help. This is what I recommend most of the time for men in this scenario.
- You can intervene. Call your family psychiatrist or pediatrician and share your suspicions. If your wife has expressed suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming the baby, you may need more extreme intervention.
However, if you suspect that your wife or your baby are in danger, their safety is your top priority above all else.
It’s sad that our society is this way, but there is a lot of stigma and shame that comes with mental illness.
For many women, it is very, very hard to self-diagnose their postpartum depression. They assumed that mothering would come naturally and happily to them. Even once they do start thinking something’s wrong, it usually takes time to admit that PPD is what they’re struggling with.
The good news is – mothering CAN come naturally and happily to women who suffer from postpartum depression, they just need to get treatment first.
The first thing most PPD moms have to do in counseling is figure out how to deal with the guilt, and understand that struggling with postpartum depression doesn’t make you a bad mom or person.
Acknowledging Postpartum Depression Is ALWAYS The First Step To Recovery
The first major turning point in my wife’s journey through postpartum depression came when she realized what she’d been struggling with.
Some women already know, deep down, that something is wrong. They don’t want to admit it’s PPD because of the stigma attached to mental illness. They might not say this out loud, but the thought is, I’m better than this, if I just try harder I’ll be better, depression doesn’t happen to me.
The day that Kalee came to me and said, “I think I have postpartum depression,” suddenly everything made sense.
Other women have heard of PPD, but they don’t know the symptoms. As soon as they do some reading, it ‘clicks’ and suddenly everything makes sense – THIS is what’s been making things so hard.
For both types of women, discovering and acknowledging that they struggle with postpartum depression is the first step.
Before my wife knew she had postpartum depression, we had no idea what to do. We knew something was wrong, we thought one or both of us must be doing something wrong. I blamed her, she blamed me. I blamed myself, she blamed herself. It was a vicious and futile cycle.
The day that Kalee came to me and said, “I think I have postpartum depression,” suddenly everything made sense. We had something to put all the pain on – it wasn’t either of us, it was this mental illness that we didn’t know about.
Suddenly there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Once your wife knows and admits that she has postpartum depression, the door for recovery is thrown wide open.
You’ve Done The Research, Now How Do You Help Her?
Don’t Stop Here…
You know that your wife has postpartum depression, but what do you do about it?
How do YOU help her and love her through the valley of depression?
A supporting husband is one of the most powerful weapons against postpartum depression.
In the next article, I'm going to show you exactly how to to be that supporting husband your wife needs.
A big reason that I’m writing these two articles is so that other men like you can learn from my mistakes and skip to the part where you finally start doing the right things that will actually help your wife.
In the next post, we’ll talk about what you can do as her husband (or co-parent) to love her and help her recover from her postpartum depression as quickly and effectively as possible.
?What I wish I’d done when my wife had postpartum depression
?(and the strategy that finally worked)
With much manly love,
I'm Stephen, the guy behind Husband Help Haven. I'm not a marriage counselor or a lawyer, I'm just a guy on the Internet who has talked to a loooooot of men going through separation... Over 2,000 in the past 5 years. My goal is to give men the tools they need to save their marriage from separation. Read more here