Desperately unhappy parents need professional help now
Q: Please help; I'm desperate. My husband and I are parents to an 8-month-old son, and while we were very excited to welcome a baby, we have learned in the past eight months that parenthood is not for us. We knew we would be changing a lot about our lifestyle, but we had no idea we'd be miserable every day doing it.
We can't talk to anyone because it's so shameful admitting this level of failure at something others do naturally. We are honest only with each other, and it is obvious that what we are doing now won't work. We can't imagine what options we have. Please, please help me look at this from a new angle and, hopefully, save my family somehow.
A: Out of almost 12 years' worth of letters, this might be one of the most heartbreaking — and bravest. I can't tell you how many people want to hold your baby right now and not let go.
But as visceral as this is, the crucial first steps are clinical ones: Get screened for postpartum depression, and do it today if your OB-GYN can fit you in. It might not explain your misery, but it's common, it wreaks havoc on mothers' ability to bond with their babies, and it can lead fathers to turn on infants for "causing" the unhappiness.
While you're on the phone to the doctor's office, ask for your doctor to call you as soon as possible. Say it's urgent — do not take no for an answer. When the doctor calls, ask for two or three names of psychotherapists who work with young families.
The moment you hang up, call the first one to make an appointment. If s/he can't meet within a week, then call the next one, and so on through the list. If nothing works, call your doctor again. (Don't be afraid to go to the emergency room if you ever think you might hurt yourself or your baby.)
When you get in to see someone, tell the truth. This is the safe place to tell it.
It's also the place to get new angles on your specific situation. While it's understandable that you two are honest only with each other, it's also, in this case in particular, dangerously limiting. Your imaginations and expertise haven't come up with answers, and that's not going to change unless you bring in someone else's imagination and expertise — someone with the mileage and training to apply more than just one person's perspective.
You asked me to serve that role, probably because of the anonymity I afford you, but that also means I don't have the specifics of your health, your marriage, your life context, your baby's health and temperament, or anything else that factors in — and given the stakes, I can't afford to throw out suggestions blindly that might not apply. In these most formative days for your son, you need high-percentage guidance from someone who sees you up close.
I will say this, however: Not everyone takes to parenthood "naturally." What's unnatural, in fact, is our society's unspoken expectation that parents tough it out alone. Don't see it as your personal failing that you need to ask for help. Don't do that to yourself, or your son. Call in the troops today.