Getting Better

Common Thoughts Dads Could Have

New parenthood can be emotionally overwhelming for everyone — and that goes for dads, too. This month, we asked TMC partner group facilitator Dr. Chuck Schaeffer for a candid take on the issues and fears new dads face — and often are too intimidated to admit — as they make the transition. Here are the top five common fears he’s encountered, plus help for how to decode them and deal with them in healthful, supportive ways.

Every day over 350,000 men become fathers to a newborn in the world — that means there’s a good chance you’ll know someone celebrating their first Father’s Day this year. In fact it’s a good bet your social media feed will be flooded with memes, posts, and advertisements all highlighting moments of bonding, love, and general “warm and fuzzies” between fathers and newborns. What you won’t see are the scary, intense, intrusive thoughts that also come up between fathers and newborns. Scary, intrusive thoughts are common in new parenthood but are often hidden due to stigma, especially among new fathers. The good news is that scary thoughts are common and actually signal positive parts of a new father’s development.

Here are the top five scary thoughts I’ve encountered in my work with many new fathers over the years and what they really mean.


1. Thoughts about your baby dying of SIDS

One of the most common scary thoughts I encounter with new fathers is a fear that their baby will die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in their sleep. This thought consistently appears in research about parents following the birth of their child. In a recent study of obsessional thoughts among postpartum parents, 45% of fathers reported intrusive fantasies about suffocation/SIDs.

Why is this thought so common? One explanation is that the public health community has done a great job in raising awareness of SIDS. In fact, the rate of SIDS has dropped exponentially since major public health agencies started including sleep and SIDS awareness into almost all preparatory parenting classes.

Another explanation is that when a new father begins to attach and feel connected to his child, his brain begins to imagine all the things he will need to do in order to keep his child safe. In other words, if you are having scary thoughts about your baby dying of SIDS, there’s a good chance your brain is preparing you to be a responsive, caring, and engaged father.


2. Thoughts about harming or abusing your baby

The same research on obsessional thoughts in postpartum parents found that 1 in 4 fathers report intrusive scary thoughts about accidentally or purposefully harming their child.

Does this mean that up to 25% of fathers are secretly violent predators? Absolutely not. I’ve worked with countless fathers who are so ashamed of these thoughts that they avoid their children leading to worse outcomes for their families. Scary thoughts are common especially around situations that we want to protect our children from, including sexual and physical abuse. What makes a new father’s brain come up with thoughts in which he is abusing or harming his child? Again, our brains are designed to protect us and others we care about by trying to anticipate and control threats that could occur in reality. It is too overwhelming to imagine all the unknown perpetrators in the world that could harm our children — it’s much easier to feel in control of your own actions and behaviors.

Many new father’s find that their brains are sending them these thoughts because even though they are scary, at least the person doing the harm can be controlled. What does this really mean? If you are having thoughts about harming your child which scare you, that’s a healthy sign that you want to protect and keep your child safe — not that you are some kind of secret monster.   


3. Thoughts about going broke or not making enough money for your family

When I ask new fathers in my groups what message they associate the most with being a father, it’s almost always the same: making money, and being a breadwinner/provider. This response makes sense when you realize the only messages we send most new fathers about their role in early fatherhood is to provide income to their families, despite the litany of research showing all the other developmental, social emotional, and literacy outcomes engaged, responsive father’s provide to their babies and young children.

The pressure to adhere to the early fatherhood myth — that in the first five years a father’s job is to provide primary income to his family—is often the culprit behind this scary thought. When new fathers learn about all the other ways they contribute to their children and family’s development, this thought usually fades. At the end of the day if you are having this thought, it likely means you care a lot about keeping your family healthy, and that you should check out more of the research out there showing how providing financially is just one of the things fathers provide to their families to keep them healthy.     


4. Thoughts about running away from your family or your family abandoning you

New parenthood is a beast for most new fathers. While it’s already hard to find any protected family leave for new mothers, it’s nearly impossible to find it for new fathers in the United States — meaning most new dads get a few days before they are thrust back into the world of work and the new world of fatherhood with a massive amount of sleep deprivation. (Keep in mind: sleep deprivation is a preferred interrogation tactic used to break criminals by major law enforcement agencies.)

Given this atmosphere, many parents have fantasies about running away from this new role. Among fathers with a history of loss or abandonment, it is not uncommon to also to have scary thoughts about being abandoned or rejected by their families. In my work with fathers groups, a common scary thought shared among participants is that they won’t be a “good enough” partner to their spouse, which will lead to a catastrophic loss — for example, that their spouse will “run away” with their baby. What is the point of these fantasies? For many men, there is nothing scarier than losing their families which shows that they are dedicated, loyal, and committed to their partners and babies. Think of these thoughts as signs of how: a) overwhelmed you are, and, b) how much you care about your family.    


5.  Thoughts about being stuck in a sexless marriage and/or having no more fun ever again.

Aside from being a provider, a common message many men hear about fatherhood is that they will lose/sacrifice anything “fun” including sex, intimacy, and personal time. I have lost count of the number of men I’ve worked with who upon asking their friends or family for advice around fatherhood were told “get used to not having a life.” How crappy is that message for a confused, eager, expecting father? How appealing does that make parenthood sound to anyone? Yes, new fatherhood can be frustrating — fights about parenting and childcare take over prior time spent planning couple time or having sex. However, this doesn’t mean that it is forever. For many men this scary thought is a call to action about taking the lead in creating couple time with their partner alongside co-parenting responsibilities. In my experience men who view this thought as a signal that they need to take a more active role in planning couples activities and date nights fare much better than those who believe it to be a universal, unavoidable truth.

Although many men are able to understand these scary thoughts as a part of their development in fatherhood, some seek consultation and treatment to help negotiate and better understand their scary thoughts. Many more never seek out treatment, instead suffering in silence and isolation. Why? Because as a society we have difficulties letting go of our stereotyped assumptions  that “tough, resilient, independent masculinity” somehow protects men from the developmental crisis that is entering fatherhood.

So what does this mean?

While this this thought might relieve us from worry, we must also see it as not grounded in reality: in reality about 1 in 10 men will develop a depressive, mood, or anxiety disorder following the birth of their child. In reality, men, just like women, face numerous emotional challenges and vulnerabilities as they enter parenthood. Feeling constantly numb, irritated, angry, anxious, fatigued, drinking excessively, or having thoughts that your family would be better off if you were dead or out of the picture are serious warning signs that you should seek out treatment from a trained professional.

About 1 in 10 men will develop a depressive, mood, or anxiety disorder following the birth of their child.

If you care about the fathers in your life, help them to speak more about their scary thoughts and guide them towards treatment if they exhibit any of the warning signs above. The more we can pay attention to the realities of fatherhood, scary thoughts and all, the better we can support our fathers on Father’s day and every day.   


About the author

Dr. Chuck Schaeffer is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and an internationally recognized scholar, educator, and speaker who has spent nearly a decade working with parents, professionals, and couples to overcome reproductive challenges including insomnia, miscarriage & loss, postpartum anxiety and depression. He runs The Motherhood Center’s Partners Group every Friday from 9:45 AM to 10:30 AM. For more info and to register for classes please visit our classes and support group page here.

Mother’s Day with PPD

Mother’s Day can be a wonderful opportunity to appreciate the mothers in your life. And if you are a mother? To appreciate yourself. But for new mothers experiencing Postpartum Depression and/or Anxiety (PPD/A), this can feel like a tall order.

A new mom in the throes of PPD/A often feels like the worst mom on the planet. She may feel like everything she does in her new role is wrong, or not good enough. That her baby doesn’t love her (or that she doesn’t love her baby), and that her family might be better off without her. We hear many struggling new moms say that they want to buy a one-way ticket to another country or start their lives over, alone, on a deserted island.

A new mom with PPD/A may feel hopeless, helpless, worthless, trapped, frozen with anxiety, and — most of all — lonely. She may cut off friends and family because she doesn’t want to be seen feeling the way that she does, and expending energy that she just doesn’t have. And when she is around other new moms? She perceives them as having figured everything out: yet another mental note-to-self that she’s failing by comparison. 

A new mom with PPD/A can feel like she is drowning in a deep sea just waiting for someone to throw her a life preserver. She may be mourning the loss of her former identity and freedom, and feel like this new role is not what she signed up for. She may not trust herself or her ability to make crucial decisions for herself, her new child, and her growing family.
 

For these new moms, it may feel impossible to celebrate or be celebrated on Mother’s Day. Here’s what you can do to show up for a mom you love who’s suffering:

  • Tell her what a good job she is doing feeding the baby, holding the baby, and caring for the baby.

  • Let her know how the baby gazes at her adoringly, and clearly feels soothed by her voice and touch.

  • Hold her while she cries and tell her you love her.

  • Listen to her fears when she is anxious. If she is angry, know that it is the PPD/A doing the yelling (and that it mostly has to do with how bad she feels about herself.)

  • Tell her how proud you are of her mothering — and how lucky the baby is to have her as a mommy.

  • Tell her that there is no such thing as a perfect mom. Remind her that all the moms she sees in commercials are paid actors, and the woman at the grocery store who had her hair done, makeup on, and silent sleeping baby in the stroller might very well be losing it on the inside, too.

  • Ask her how you can help her — and figure out how you can make this happen. Can you do the laundry? Make dinner? Watch the baby while she goes for a walk or takes a nap?

  • Tell her that you can see she is struggling, and that you want to help her feel better. Encourage her to get the help she needs. Remind her that PPD/A is very common and very treatable.

  • Make an appointment for her at The Motherhood Center if you are in New York City, or, if you are out of state — contact Postpartum Support International for specialists near you.

And then? Offer to take her to the appointment.

A new mom struggling with PPD/A needs to hear these things on Mother’s Day — and every day. The good news is that with treatment — everyone feels better, and there will be many, many more Mother’s Days in the future that she will cherish and enjoy.

Read on for more ways to support moms in your life who may be suffering from PPD/A, from common warning signs to self-care habits you can encourage her to put into practice.


If you think you have PPD, Call The Motherhood Center - 347-343-4257. We are here to tell you for sure if you have postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. And more importantly, if you do, we will provide the treatment you need to feel better. With the right treatment, EVERYONE feels better.


Recognizing the Signs of Postpartum Depression

The birth of a child is an event in a woman’s life that often brings a sense of overwhelming joy. But this is not always the case...and even when excitement and anticipation are at their peak, they can come amid a slew of other not-so-great feelings, too. As it turns out, 1 in 5 women suffer from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders including postpartum depression or PPD.

Thankfully, there is finally a national conversation happening about the prevalence of PPD. For too long, women have kept their uncomfortable feelings and thoughts about becoming moms to themselves, for fear of judgment and guilt over not being the “perfect mother” that we so often see on diaper commercials, mommy blogs, and the like. More and more women are coming forward and sharing their stories - thus normalizing PPD – and assuring mommies everywhere that it’s common and treatabl

After my baby was born, I felt incredibly anxious about everything. Was he eating enough, was he sleeping too much, was I making enough milk? And then came the scary thoughts. These intrusive thoughts would pop into my head out of nowhere, they were so uncomfortable. I didn’t tell anyone. Since receiving treatment for PPD at The Motherhood Center, I now know that scary thoughts are very common.
— Amy S. graduate of The Motherhood Center Day Program



Difference Between PPD and “Baby Blues”

It is vital to make a distinction between two similar yet very different conditions.

Baby Blues” is a common term used to describe the feelings of “worry, unhappiness and fatigue” that many women experience after giving birth. The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that up to 80 percent of women experience them. Unlike PPD, the above mentioned feelings are mild in comparison, and generally dissipate after a week or two.

Postpartum Depression (PPD) also evokes these feelings, but the degree to which they are experienced is magnified. Also, other symptoms will often surface.. More mild to moderate PPD symptoms respond best to outpatient treatment while more acute symptoms respond best to a day program model of care.  So, what are some signs that you or someone you know may have PPD?


1. INABILITY OR UNWILLINGNESS TO MAKE DECISIONS

Anxiety is a near-universal symptom of those with Postpartum Depression (PPD) – and it is often extreme. For first-time mothers, this anxiety can even seem debilitating; making it much more difficult to make any decision.

But decision-making for those with PPD often involves fear, too. A woman with PPD is already having a tough time making choices, but when it comes to having to decide on something relating to baby care (e.g. feeding, nourishing), a sense of fear -- mostly, of doing something wrong -- can take hold on top of everything else she’s thinking and feeling.

 

2. FREQUENT CRYING OR EMOTIONAL OUTBURSTS

As with all Postpartum Depression (PPD)-related symptoms, the depressive feelings felt by those with the condition are magnified, making the person more susceptible to its effects. Severe depression drastically changes the chemical makeup of the brain, including serotonin – the neurotransmitter responsible for mood stabilization. For mothers with PPD, this chemical alteration of the brain – combined with sleep deprivation and the inevitable stress that motherhood brings – can result in an overwhelming flood of emotions. This emotional buildup can manifest into frequent of crying, anger, verbal outbursts, and other “erratic” behavior.

 

3. BEING EXHAUSTED, YET UNABLE TO SLEEP

To begin with, new mothers often do not get an adequate amount of sleep. Feeding and taking care of a newborn throughout the night is a common routine, after all. In most circumstances, when the child is asleep, the new mother will compensate for any sleep deficiencies by falling asleep herself.

However, due to a myriad of reasons (including those on this list), Postpartum Depression (PPD) patients often report the inability to fall asleep – a condition known as insomnia, or an inability to stay asleep even when the baby is sleeping. This unhealthy cycle further complicates an already difficult situation.
 

4. THOUGHTS OF HURTING SELF OR BABY

Thoughts of hurting self or the baby, also referred to as “scary or intrusive thoughts” can be very common in women suffering from PPD. Unfortunately, many PPD patients are too ashamed or embarrassed to seek out guidance for these thoughts. But psychiatrists and clinicians are adamant in supporting the fact that there is no shame to seeking help. In fact, many women that have sought help received prompt reassurance, not to mention a treatment plan that can help them through this difficult time.

 

5. FEELINGS OF INTENSE ANGER AND RAGE

Typically, when we think of PPD, we think of sadness, despair, weepiness, helplessness and hopelessness. But depression can also be characterized by irritability, frustration, anger, and even rage. These feelings may be directed toward your partner, your baby, your other children, or yourself.

Anger can take the form of yelling, fighting, withdrawing, isolating yourself, hostile feelings toward others, arguments, or chronic dissatisfaction. It's typically accompanied by related feelings of being trapped, resentful, and full of guilt.

Anger is one of the most troubling symptoms of PPD because it's scary, and usually quite uncharacteristic for the woman experiencing it. It can make you feel as though you're slipping out of control: Even moms who say they would never hurt their baby or themselves may fear that something undesirable will result from their anger.


If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to find out if it is in fact PPD. Women can feel better with therapy, medication, and -- in more acute situations – participating is a partial hospitalization program. To schedule an evaluation with one of our clinicians at The Motherhood Center today to find out – call 212-335-0034. We are here to help!


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Paige Bellenbaum, LMSW is the Program Director at The Motherhood Center. After experiencing severe postpartum and depression after the birth of her son, once she got better she made it her plight to ensure that women would not have to suffer as she had. In 2016, she joined forces with The Motherhood Center founders, Dr. Catherine Birndorf and Billy Ingram, and together, with an excellent team of reproductive Psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and specialists, treatment for mild to severe ppd symptoms is available for pregnant and new moms that are suffering. And the good news is, with treatment - everyone feels better.