Study: Dads suffer post-partum blues, too

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Medical experts commonly acknowledge women with symptoms of unhappiness and anger flashes after giving birth can be suffering from post-partum depression.

What isn’t as commonly known is new fathers also can be prone to depression. A study, of 5,000 families, published in the August issue of the Journal of Pediatrics found the percentage of fathers feeling depressed was 10 percent, not that far below the 14 percent of women diagnosed with depression within their child’s first year of life.

“Men can suffer from post-partum depression,” said James F. Paulson, of the Center for Pediatric Research at the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va., who participated in the research. The study found fathers and mothers showing symptoms of severe sadness, emptiness, withdrawal, and having feelings of failure and suicide after the birth of a baby.

Recently, Andrea Nonnemacher of Flemington, N.J., said she suffered from the illness after the birth of her quadruplets last year, but it wasn’t until she received a call from her husband’s doctor that she discovered a similar condition may have consumed him.

Darwin Nonnemacher remains in Hunterdon County jail charged with physically abusing the four boys born Oct. 14. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on all four counts of second-degree endangering the welfare of a child.

Authorities declined to release details of how he allegedly hurt the babies, who will be 3 months old on Sunday. But according to his wife, one of the boys was choked.

Andrea Nonnemacher said she had not noticed any violent tendencies in her husband, but she suspected he may have suffered from undiagnosed depression before her pregnancy and “it just escalated with the kids coming along.”

Nonnemacher, 35, sought medical help and on Dec. 26 told a physician about the abuse, his wife said. He went to Hunterdon Medical Center for psychiatric evaluation, she said, and was released a week later on medication and mandated to outpatient counseling.

But before he had a chance to return, the doctor reported the possible abuse to authorities. The Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office arrested Darwin Nonnemacher on Jan. 4.

Andrea Nonnemacher said she saw the stress in her husband. “I don’t think people can grasp all of a sudden having four children,” she said.

Andrea Nonnemacher was having difficulty getting pregnant when she finally conceived through the help of in vitro fertilization. What came next was the unanticipated challenge of raising four babies at once, compounded by her own bout with post-partum depression.

She’s convinced depression played a part in the alleged abuse, and she was even grateful to the doctor who turned her husband in. “I’m glad he did,” she said. “Who knows what could have happened otherwise?”

At the Garden State Mothers of Multiples Club, president Andie Kundla said she hadn’t heard of post-partum depression in men. Still, the mother of twins understood the pressure of raising multiple babies.

“I know the difficulties of two, so just double that to four,” she said. “I can sympathize yes, but I guess I was horrified, too.”

Paulson said men are more likely than women to show irritability as part of their depression. He said the study did not look at whether men also felt compelled to hurt their babies.

Post-partum depression has long been linked to hormonal changes in women, and there have been several recent cases in which women who have harmed their infants used the condition as a defense.

In New Jersey, Mary Jo Codey, wife of the former governor, famously described voices telling her to suffocate her baby or to kill the child during a bout of post-partum depression. She did not harm her children. Codey pushed for better support and treatment of the condition, and a law went into effect in October requiring mandatory screening for pregnant women.

But Paulson said the depression also can be tied to the stresses of parenting.

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