Chris McKibben noticed that his wife was not very interested in their newborn daughter right after she gave birth, but he assumed she was just tired.
Rachel McKibben had had a difficult pregnancy with the couple’s second child. The baby weighed 10 pounds so she had gained a lot of weight, and Rachel had contracted shingles and Bell’s palsy about a month before she delivered.The paralysis associated with Bell’s palsy triggered Rachel’s first panic attack.
Unfortunately the symptoms were signs of a perinatal mood disorder.
“I saw the physical attributes and, with her mood changes, I blamed the physical,” Chris said. “I didn’t really realize that there was a real mental issue until after Paige was born.”
After leaving the maternity ward, Rachel had recurring panic attacks that left her unable to sleep. She was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety and panic disorder. Her symptoms intensified, including delusional thoughts and thoughts of harming herself, and she felt she wasn’t safe to be alone. Six weeks after Paige was born, Rachel was sent to a psychiatric hospital in South Jersey, nearly an hour from the McKibbens’ home in Red Bank.
“It really kind of just hit me in the face when the doctor said, you need to go to a mental hospital,” Chris said. “And I was told to go home and pack her bag and I literally was standing in the middle of the road as an ambulance wheeled her away to wherever she was going. I didn’t even know where she was going.”
Rachel spent five days in the hospital. She was released after her father, a licensed social worker, created an outpatient care plan for her that involved therapy, psychiatric visits, a support group, medication and a doula to assist at home.
While Rachel focused on her recovery, Chris took care of everything else.
“Anybody that’s had small children would know that there is no off day,” he said. “At one point, it felt like I was taking care of three people and essentially I really was. Rachel, unfortunately, was helpless. There was really not much she could do. She wasn’t taking care of herself. She never got out of bed for the most part. I mean, everything from A to Z was my responsibility.”
Chris also had to deal with his own emotional response.
“It was very difficult for me to accept and I had a little resentment. It was partially towards Rachel but towards the whole situation. And I don’t know if it was a martyr mode or what have you, but I felt very alone and like no one really gave a care what was going through my mind,” he said.
“I was totally left out in the dark. I didn’t have a support group. You know, Rachel’s relatives and friends really rallied around her and, and there I was kind of holding the bag, if you will. And it definitely made me feel resentment.”
By summer, about six months after Paige was born, Rachel felt better. The medication had taken full effect. She was weaned off of the medication a year after her daughter’s birth and by about three months later, Rachel says, “I was me again.”
Four years later, Chris says their marriage has recovered from the strains of Rachel’s illness and there’s a part of him that doesn’t want to remember everything that happened. He prefers to focus on the “normalcy that we have today.”
He does wish he had realized sooner that Rachel was having serious mental issues.
“I had this feeling that, Oh Rach, this isn’t that big of a deal, you need to get over it, it’s just hormones or whatever the case may be,” he said. “And I don’t think anybody truly took it seriously until Rachel wasn’t there.”
His advice to other dads is to pay attention to their partner’s behavior after a baby enters the family.
“There’s a good chance they’re not exaggerating their feelings,” he said. “Rachel was really calling out for help and I didn’t recognize it at all so take it seriously.”
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