Today’s Observer has a remarkably vicious article about post-natal depression in fathers that is quite breathtaking in both its ignorance and its venom:
“One notices more talk of postnatal depression in fathers. I use the word “talk” advisedly, scientific proof still being in short supply. Were hormonal levels tested? Was postpartum bruising measured? How about the emergence of a human head in what – in deference to what might be your leisurely Sunday breakfast – I will refer to as the front-bottom area? In fact, was there anything at all to suggest that the subject had, at any point, given birth, thus making sense of adding the term “postnatal” to depression?”
Firstly, journalist Barbara Ellen clearly doesn’t know the difference between postnatal (after a child has been born) and postpartum (after giving birth). It is equally as possible to describe postnatal depression in fathers as it is to describe men, or indeed, women, having a postnatal breakfast.
The statement about “scientific proof still being in short supply” is just odd considering she then goes on to cite a study of 8,431 fathers published in the Lancet on postnatal depresison.
However, this is by no means the only study, as there are plenty more where that came from.
Ellen is also convinced that postnatal depression is “directly related to the physical act of pregnancy and childbirth”.
It is surely the case that the act of being pregnant and giving birth does increase the risk of postpartum depression owing to hormonal changes, but we also know, for example, that disruption to sleep patterns is also a risk factor – something that could equally affect both partners.
This part, though, is just amazingly and needlessly cruel:
I would have been more concerned that the mothers in question were having to put up with such exhausting narcissists as partners – men incapable of hiding their sulky self-absorption, even while being watched by researchers for a period of, wait for it, three minutes. Even serial killer Ted Bundy managed to look “normal” for longer than that.
Sadly, that’s not the only insult thrown in to the mix and just to top it off, the piece finishes on a logical fallacy / insult combo – enter the false dichotomy applied to human suffering:
It was a long, hard road for womankind, getting postnatal depression recognised as a condition, and also to receive medical attention or even routine sympathy. It seems to me that saying men can also get it is just cheapening this achievement.
Mental health is important for all and we don’t cheapen anyone else’s suffering by recognising the pain of others.
22 thoughts on “An antidote to post-natal venom”
The article in the Observer was disgusting, and interesting you point out the post natal vs partum thing. A very important point that seems to be missed by many.
Looking at the comments as well there it just seems that many people are treating depression like a pissing contest. Person As depression isn’t as bad as Person Bs. As a depression sufferer myself I think the entire article and included comments are so disgusting and damaging.
Depression is such a serious illness and it still has a lot of stigma attached, the article in the Observer helps to continue the stigma and downplay the severity of mental health issues.
This is why I don’t like feminists. I’m a mother and I know for a fact that my husband experienced depression after our child was born. The reasons for it were just as valid as the reasons I had for the post-baby blues, even though they were different. Seriously, is this woman a wife and mother? I can’t imagine any man being able to tolerate such venom. Even as a woman, I find her words to be offensive.
Her ridiculous attitude has nothing to do with feminism as far as I can see. Trying to ringfence emotional vulnerability as being strictly the preserve of women is as negative towards women as it is towards men.
Eleanor, yes, she is being negative towards women. Just a five in the morning musing, but I wonder if you were to ask her if she considered herself to be a feminist what her answer would be. Could we consider her a misguided feminist? Or is she just a glorified troll, as draust says? Hmmmmm…I’m guessing probably a bit of both.
But back to Eleanor’s response, perhaps feminist wasn’t the right word. I may have been giving her too much credit.
@Debra – this woman is NOT A FEMINIST. Feminists are not people who think that women are better and more special than men, and entitled to special magical women diseases than men don’t have. They highlight areas where women are disadvantaged compared to men because of their gender, but that’s not the same thing as calling all men entitled scum.
This woman is, in fact, trying very very hard to reinforce gender roles. Women have babies and are emotional creatures who are entitled to their emotions and therefore are subject to depression which needs to be taken seriously. Men on the other hand, are strong, unemotional creatures who just need to “get over it” if they feel down.
That is the *opposite* of feminism.
I don’t think you should be too surprised at the tone of the Absurder piece, given that it was written by Barbara Ellen.
Ellen is a magazine columnist (‘journalist’ would be stretching it), and her whole schtick, not to mention her job, is to say ridiculous things off-the-cuff and wind people up. I always have the impression she aspires to be the new Julie Burchill.
Rather then just complaining about her, I should say the opprobrium should be directed equally to the editor of the Observer magazine, assuming that’s where this piece appeared in the print version.
Not to be overly simplistic, but if men can have sympathy pains, medically known as Couvade Syndrome, throughout the pregnancy then why wouldn’t they also experience similar emotional, mental, and physiological responses during the post-natal period. All the rush of excitement and stress of the pregnancy over, does it not make sense to be exhausted, confused, and emotionally drained. Not to mention the transition to a new identity as “dad” and all the cultural baggage that comes with that role. I know my own father considers my birth as a pivotal turning point in his life history, partial because my mom made him get a “real job” with regular hours, steady pay, health insurance and retirement plan. Adjusting to a new role, a new person, and added responsibility is far from easy.
Also a key part of this puzzle that seems to be completely overlooked is that the people in a family unit are deeply connected to one another. Back to quoting my own father, but “if moma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It has been proven that people’s immune systems are affected by their social relationships (particularly couples and parent-child relationships), why would the shared stressful experience and the mental health of a person’s partner not influence his mental health as well? Sure we probably need more research on it, but isn’t it better to help both people in anyway possible. Depression Men do not need another societal pressure to bottle up and hide their emotions. Feminism for the sake of “womenkind” alone is not only outdated, but harmful to the application of feminist critique to constraining factors of all culturally constructed genders.
It sounds like this writer is a bit of a rabble-rouser, and I find it unfortunate that publications continue to support that sort of thing, since it really doesn’t serve the greater good.
I don’t know why we can’t just say that becoming a parent can trigger depression for mothers and fathers – depression isn’t a zero-sum game. For far too long, our culture has been unsupportive of the true feelings both genders experience in dealing with the challenges of life, and I think we need to work on changing that for everyone – not just women, not just men.
Comparative suffering serves nobody.
How ridiculous! Of course, father’s will have their life upheaved. Bu, there is very little comparison to pushing a head and body out of you. Simply so not in the same realm. If you are not aware of statistics, let me just say, men might lose some sleep! But women will always wear the brunt of the agony and ecstacy, which thank, God, most will bear with grace. Again, I am of the mind that raising children is sometimes a cross to bear, but mostly you will be well rewarded if you do a good job. This is a gift and if it is like my family, the older they get, the bigger the problems. Just wait – drivers ed, under-age drinking, college…the fun has only just started!
Oh yes, I noticed the same thing in our family. I felt the change immediately, having been the one who gave birth, but it affected my partner as well, only more slowly. As he described it, I emerged from the delivery room feeling like a different person, for him it took a couple of weeks to realize he was no longer “the same person he used to be”.
Other obvious issues applying to new fathers – chronic sleep deprivation, feeling that life has changed forever (which it has), clear ‘re-ordering’ of family pecking order, fathers feeling emotionally excluded from bond between mother and new baby etc etc.
What is odd about all this, as several people have said online, is the idea Ellen starts with – that is, that acknowledging that having a new baby around is a mental, emotional and physical strain on both parents is somehow to belittle the inarguable fact that women bear the brunt.
As well as agreeing with all the comments re unnecessary, uniformed viciousness of the article, I’m intrigued that someone who I presume considers herself feminist should use the antiquated and deeply misogynistic term “front bottom.” I lack a vagina, but I’m pretty sure were I to have one I would not particularly wish to compare it with the place I shit from, and the idea that the anus is a more Sunday-breakfast-friendly orifice than the vagina staggers me.
I think this is interesting because I DON’T think fathers get post-natal depression. But I do think that fathers can genuinely suffer equally badly from depression when a child is born for all the reasons given above.
I have a 20 month old boy and suffered horrific PND for a year after he was born. Pretty much as soon as he was placed in my arms, it was like someone had switched off a switch, and I felt numb. Empty. Terrified. I can’t imagine that depression suffered by fathers has the same instant ‘switch’ that PND can have, as I think the physical trauma of childbirth (and in some cases near death experience) and post traumatic shock some of us get can often be a precursor to PND (it certainly was in my case).
I also think that PND is different from depression because the highs and the lows are extreme, and often related to our monthly cycles. Depression seems to be about hitting rock bottom and slowly crawling out. My experience of PND though was one of Jekyll and Hyde – I’d be ok for days, and then, within an hour, the darkness would return and I’d look at my son and see a stranger. I’d be like this for a couple of days, and then suddenly, again, within an hour, my mood would lift. This was the pattern for over a year. This seems to be a very common experience for other sufferers I’ve met, and different from friends with depression, who say that, although they can have good and bad days, they seem to have a more gradual and steady recovery process.
I think the problem with labelling the depression that men can get when they become fathers (which can be common after many life-changing events, parenthood included) as PND is that it trivialises their illness in society’s eyes, as it is supposed to be a ‘women-only’ illness. PND is still pretty taboo for mothers to admit to, calling it PND for fathers just gives people like Barbara Ellen bait to attack fathers who are suffering for ‘not being man enough’.
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I posted about this story as well. As much as postpartum depression is a much more established and clearly acknowledged pattern of suffering I was struck by the somewhat egalitarian spirit of the article (and the study it was based on). As you suggest, we don’t cheapen anyone’s suffering by recognizing the pain of others. The battle of the sexes doesn’t need to migrate into the realm of the depressive. That would just be depressing…