“Man Up?” Man Down Is More Like It

Amie Newman

Postpartum depression in new dads? New research confirms it's a very real condition afflicting more men than previously known. For one father, it's a relief to know he's not alone and that his experience is "authentic."

Before it was fodder for every major, mainstream media outlet, before its “official” unveiling in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) as a male affliction as well, Joel Schwartzburg was told to “Man up!” when he expressed feelings of overwhelming anxiety and sadness after the birth of his son. But the diagnosis Schwartzburg received over ten years ago can now deliver a knock-out to that sort of belittling declaration. His condition?

Post-partum depression.

In April 2009, Schwartzburg wrote an essay for Newsweek detailing, according to him, his “suffocating depression” following the birth of his son.

I fell into a well of depression so deep I wasn’t even aware of it. It was only years later, after I spoke to a psychotherapist, that I learned I was experiencing male postpartum depression. It seems ridiculous on its face: men don’t do the hard work of carrying a pregnancy for nine months. We don’t have to bear the pains of labor. We never had an umbilical connection to our children. We just have to hang on tight. But giving my emotions a name, and an explanation, helped me feel less alone and better able to cut myself some slack. Before then, even calling it depression felt like an excuse for weak, pathetic behavior.

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In May of this year, JAMA published the results of a meta-analysis undertaken at Eastern Virginia Medical School which essentially confirms that Joel Schwartzburg’s experience is not uncommon. The analysis looked at 43 studies involving thousands of incidences of postpartum depression (PPD) in males. The researchers found that up to ten percent of new fathers may experience prenatal or post partum depression and, according to a recent article in Time magazine, Postpartum Depression in New Dads: Fathers Get It Too about the study, the high rate was a surprise to the authors, 

“It is surprising and novel that the rate is much higher than most people would guess or expect,” says study author James Paulson. “This is a condition that is not recognized by many folks. Postpartum in men is an alien concept to most people.”

It was not, however, a surprise to Schwartzburg who says that,

“Many men I’ve spoken to share a similar story of struggling with depression when their children were first born, but they do so secretly, quietly, away from the dinner table. They understand that there’s no truly acceptable place or context for men to publicly reveal being challenged — much less rocked to the core — by what I call “sudden parenthood.”

Symptoms of PPD for fathers mirror the symptoms new mothers with PPD experience as well – feelings of emptiness, sadness, anxiety. These are feelings that go far beyond the so-called “baby blues.” As Dr. Richard Friedman, a psychiatrist who treats men with PPD, writes in a New York Times article last year about one of his patients,

A few weeks after the baby arrived, he had become uncharacteristically anxious, sad and withdrawn. He had trouble sleeping, even though his wife was the one up at night breast-feeding their new son. What scared her enough to bring him to my office was that he had become suicidal.

Schwartzburg tells one story of the first weeks following the birth of his son:

I couldn’t mask my sadness when my work colleagues asked excitedly about fatherhood. “It’s good … well, it’s OK,” I said. “Actually, it’s very, very hard.” By then, I was close to tears. We were all happy when the conversation ended.

What causes PPD in men – so we know what might help prevent it? Paulson offers what he’s found:

“…fathers are just as susceptible to factors that tend to trigger PPD in mothers — especially in first-time parents. In new moms, postpartum depression typically stems from feelings of stress and anxiety associated with fatigue, lack of sleep, changes in the marital relationship and concerns about finances and work. Fathers experience the same stresses and the same overwhelming emotions that accompany the life-changing event of becoming a parent…”

Many assume PPD arises, in new mothers, from intense hormonal changes. Hormonal shifts during pregnancy can certainly contribute to PPD but predictors or risk factors also include everything from marriage conflict to employment or childcare issues.  In fact, in one study, lesbian mothers were actually more likely to experience PPD than hetero mothers, with potentially “lack of support from family and society at large…to blame.” And while a major predictor of PPD in new mothers is previous depression, during pregnancy or prior to pregnancy, according to the Time article, “…if depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated in women during pregnancy, it goes doubly so for fathers, who are not often asked about their mental state during pre- or postnatal visits.” Dr. Friedman agrees,

Unlike women, men are not generally brought up to express their emotions or ask for help. This can be especially problematic for new fathers, since the prospect of parenthood carries all kinds of insecurities: What kind of father will I be? Can I support my family? Is this the end of my freedom?

The analysis also found a correlation between maternal and paternal depression. It is more likely for a father to exhibit symptoms of depression when his partner is depressed. Dr. Friedman notes that “fathers whose partners were also depressed were at nearly two and a half times the normal risk for depression.”

This does not appear to be a case of “one more thing to blame on moms.” The evidence does not suggest that new mothers are the cause of new dads’ depression after the birth of their baby. Dr. Paulson is clear:

“Our study found a clear, consistent moderate correlation between Mom’s depression and Dad’s depression, but what the study doesn’t say is what direction the causality might be,” he says. “There’s no clear pattern in the research we have so far.”

Jill Di Donato, writing on Huffington Post, addresses the potential for the blame-game and quickly dispels the notion:

As feminists, it’s tempting to let reports like this rub us the wrong way. But we need not take this as an indictment suggesting the sanctity of a family’s mental health rests on mom’s shoulders. Studies like this one point us in the direction of an inclusive family model – one that recognizes a variety of experiences for each member. Moreover, studies like this can help women and men alike recognize risks and take additional steps to prepare for the mental, emotional, and existential changes that come with the birth of a child.

But if it looks like PPD and it feels like PPD, is it really PPD if it isn’t a woman experiencing it? It seems as if women have had to fight tooth and nail for post-partum depression and other post-partum mood disorders to be recognized as clinical, valid and very real medical conditions in order to begin to receive necessary help. Di Donato traces a general history of PPD:

The Women’s Movement of 1970s brought an increased interest in the study of mothering, and over the next two decades, when public anxiety about the breakdown of the family mounted, research into postpartum depression grew at an unprecedented rate. In 1994, the condition was officially added to the (DSM-IV). The new millennium saw postpartum depression grow into a high profile public concern. From the 2001 Andrea Yates case to the 2005 feud between Tom Cruise and Brooke Shields, postpartum depression drew media attention and became fodder for debate.

It’s only in the last few years that PPD has really made it onto the radar screen of many new mothers and even many health care providers. In 2007, in an article on the importance of raising awareness of PPD among both new mothers and providers, Stefanie Pistole-Mangum, a first-time mother and volunteer for Postpartum Support International’s (PSI) Washington chapter, told me:

“Postpartum depression wasn’t even on my radar screen before I became pregnant. I didn’t know what PPD was. It’s not something I even thought about. If I would have thought about it though, I probably would have said Tom Cruise is right – people shouldn’t take drugs. I would have told a new mother who told me she was depressed to go get a pedicure or listen to some happy music.”

With the help of dedicated advocates helping to raise awareness in order to increase resources to identify and treat PPD, the condition even garnered special attention in health care reform legislation through the passage of the Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act:

With this long sought federal mandate, states will find more support for PPD programs, researchers will find funding encouragement to continue their search for etiology and cure, and communities will harken to respond to this unmet need. Grants will be made available to fund a variety of entities and programs charged with caring for women suffering from postpartum depression.

Katherine Stone, blogger for Postpartum Progress, “the most widely-read blog in the U.S. on postpartum depression & other mental illnesses related to childbirth,” admits that after the initial reports about the condition in men, many refused to believe it:

“I saw several tweets on Twitter with people saying they didn’t believe it for a second.  One tweeted that male postpartum depression “sounds like a good SNL skit”.  Men can’t have postpartum depression!  They don’t have the babies!  They don’t have baseball-sized hemorrhoids!  They aren’t leaking from their head-of-lettuce-sized sore breasts!  They aren’t still bleeding and exhausted from childbirth!”

But she is quick to offer that, as I wrote above, the research suggests that PPD for men is caused by the same factors that seem to cause PPD in women. It makes sense, then, that PPD would pop-up in couples – couples experiencing similar external conditions:

They also can experience sleep deprivation.  They also can worry when their children are born with health problems or when their wives have traumatic births.  They also can have dreams about what having a baby will be like, and then must face when the reality doesn’t live up to those dreams.  Why wouldn’t they be susceptible?

And, as Di Donato notes,

“Overall, this is a good thing. Interest in paternal postpartum depression speaks to a wider range of experiences that fabricate the modern family. Respectively, getting to know the “sad dad” deepens our understanding of the psychosocial issues parents confront without necessarily minimizing the seriousness of postpartum depression in mothers…”

As a mother who experienced post-partum depression after the birth of my first child, without – intially – fully understanding how it came about or why, I certainly empathize with anyone who experiences anything similar to the painful, sometimes traumatic, symptoms. Increasing awareness of the existence of post-partum depression in new fathers means we’re increasing awareness of post-partum depression in new mothers. And while the rising attention must not result in the siphoning of necessary resources away from addressing the condition in women, of course, the more we call attention to why mothers and fathers may experience PPD, the better we can be at addressing specific risk factors and eradicating this condition completely.

It’s hard to argue with the fathers who know, undeniably, that what they feel is real. Schwartzburg, writing on coming to terms with his own experience and the recently-released research is unwavering:

I hope this can be a starting point for discussion of the unique pressures sudden fathers feel. At the end of the day — and days are never longer than when you’re a new parent — “manning up” should include expressing feelings of vulnerability, depression, and personal need, not just burying them. In my experience, that’s the only hope of truly overcoming.

I feel lucky to have children, but with every Father’s Day I now feel even more lucky to be a real dad, an authentic-to-me dad. I wish the same for all fathers.

Commentary Politics

On Immigration, Major Political Parties Can’t Seem to Agree on What’s ‘Un-American’

Tina Vasquez

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.

It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.  

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“No Business Being in This Country”

For context, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence are the decidedly anti-immigrant ticket. From the beginning, Trump’s campaign has been overrun by anti-immigrant rhetoric, from calling Mexicans “rapists” and “killers” to calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. And as of July 24, Trump’s proposed ban now includes people from countries “compromised by terrorism” who will not be allowed to enter the United States, including anyone from France.

So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymorenow they’re murderers, too.”

Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”

Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”

It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of originconditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”

There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.

Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.

“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”

Broadly, the takeaway from the RNC and the GOP nominee himself is that undocumented immigrants are terrorists who are taking American jobs and lives. “Trump leaned on a tragic story of a young woman’s murder to prop up a generalized depiction of immigrants as menacing, homicidal animals ‘roaming freely to threaten peaceful citizens,’” Hing wrote for the Nation.

When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.

“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

“The Border Crossed Us”

From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.

“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”

Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positiveillustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoricat the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.

Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”

Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?

At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.

“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.

The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativist Donald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.

Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:

There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.

But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.

If Democrats were being honest at their convention, we would have heard about their failure to end family detention, and they would have addressed that they too have a history of criminalizing undocumented immigrants.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expanding mandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.

In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

In addition, President Obama is called by immigrant rights advocates “deporter in chief,” having put into place a “deportation machine” that has sent more than two million migrants back to their country of origin, more than any president in history. New arrivals to the United States, such as the Central American asylum seekers coming to our border escaping gender-based violence, are treated with the same level of prioritization for removal as threats to our national security. The country’s approach to this humanitarian crisis has been raiding homes in the middle of the night and placing migrants in detention centers, which despite being rife with allegations of human rights abuses, are making private prison corporations millions in revenue.

How Are We Defining “Un-American”?

When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”

This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.

During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.

News Politics

NARAL President Tells Her Abortion Story at the Democratic National Convention

Ally Boguhn

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the story of her abortion on the stage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.

“Texas women are tough. We approach challenges with clear eyes and full hearts. To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path,” Hogue told the crowd on the third night of the party’s convention. “I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time.”

“I made the decision that was best for me — to have an abortion — and to get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community,” she continued. “Now, years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.”

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Hogue noted that her experience is similar to those of women nationwide.

“About one in three American women have abortions by the age of 45, and the majority are mothers just trying to take care of the families they already have,” she said. “You see, it’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families. We are the same women at different times in our lives — each making decisions that are the best for us.”

As reported by Yahoo News, “Asked if she was the first to have spoken at a Democratic National Convention about having had an abortion for reasons other than a medical crisis, Hogue replied, ‘As far as I know.'”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards on Tuesday night was the first speaker at the DNC in Philadelphia to say the word “abortion” on stage, according to Vox’s Emily Crockett. 

Richards’ use of the word abortion was deliberate, and saying the word helps address the stigma that surrounds it, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Vice President of Communication Mary Alice Carter said in an interview with ThinkProgress. 

“When we talk about reproductive health, we talk about the full range of reproductive health, and that includes access to abortion. So we’re very deliberate in saying we stand up for a woman’s right to access an abortion,” Carter said.

“There is so much stigma around abortion and so many people that sit in shame and don’t talk about their abortion, and so it’s very important to have the head of Planned Parenthood say ‘abortion,’ it’s very important for any woman who’s had an abortion to say ‘abortion,’ and it’s important for us to start sharing those stories and start bringing it out of the shadows and recognizing that it’s a normal experience,” she added.

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates. In April, Clinton called out moderators for failing to ask “about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care” over the course of eight debates—though she did not use the term abortion in her condemnation.