A couple of years into my mental health journey I was listening to NPR and heard this interview by Andrew Solomon. He was talking about the prevalence of peri-natal depression and anxiety. One of the things he mentioned was that most of the women experiencing depression and seeking help are so afraid to tell their husbands that they text (instead of call) their therapist because they don’t want their husband or partner to overhear them on the phone. What the fuck? I mean, really? Women have so much shame about how they are feeling they cannot tell the person they are creating a child with.
In a typical healthy marriage if you are sick with any physical ailment most likely you’re going to tell your partner. Your partner is going to suggest some type of antidote to treat the condition. Except when it’s a mental health problem then we keep it a secret, hope it goes away, or are told, “can’t you just not think that way?” Obviously, if I could just turn it off (‘like a light switch’- name the musical) I would. You think I want to feel this way?
With each of my subsequent pregnancies I took an anti-depressant for OCD and later in the pregnancy anti-anxieties. I did EXTENSIVE research about the safety of these meds while pregnant. I have OCD, of course I researched the shit out of it. I spoke to midwives, OBs, Perinatologists, and my PCP. I read research studies. Don’t get me wrong, if you can avoid meds while pregnant, great! But not all of us can. And my need for medication was not going to stop me having kids if I wasn’t putting the fetus at risk.
I remember one particular encounter with my perinatologist (they are the doctors that work with high risk babies.) I was asking, repeatedly, about my use of a benzo later in the pregnancy. She assured me it was safe. I mentioned my experience with my first pregnancy and how it came to me using meds while pregnant. Betsy, briefly explained her role in the whole process and the perinatologist commented to Betsy, “You should give a talk on how to recognize signs in your partner and how to be a better support for those struggling.” She proceeded to tell us about how many women don’t have a supportive partner. They live in fear and shame about telling their partner if they don’t feel absolute love for their new baby.
Part of the reason I was able to get my mental health crisis under control so quickly was because I was completely honest about what I was experiencing with Betsy and my parents. During my first week of therapy the therapist suggested Betsy not be part of the sessions because it might influence what I shared. I instead she was involved knowing that I would not be able to tell her alone what I was thinking and feeling. She needed to know and I was willing to tell the therapist with her present.
Betsy, and the rest of my support network (few knew the severity of my situation) were amazing. But this isn’t the norm. Lying to our partners and trying to get through it alone is the norm. And it should not have to be that way.