My name is Michael Frodella and I’m married to Sylvia Lasalandra Frodella and we’ve been married for 16 years, and born and raised in New Jersey, both of us.
I had never heard about it, when it was introduced to me I actually had to write it down, because it was postpartum depression, and words that were very unfamiliar to me. With regards to if I said it, which was very rarely if I did, people would look at me with a little bit of a tilted head with no understanding at all. Nor did I have any understanding of postpartum depression.
I think the first time I did hear about it was when an office psychologist, or at a psychiatrist’s office and it was myself, Sylvia, my in-laws were present, and we were all in a room and after an interview with Sylvia they took us up to a room and after several visits to different doctors this one doctor said she felt that Sylvia may have postpartum depression.
Even at that point, as a professional, she was not able to depict whether it was or not, and obviously it was a severe depression. She was incapable of doing many basic things around the house and even personally. There was definitely something wrong and that was the first time I had heard of it.
Even though I was very busy with the restaurant, we had a very busy restaurant, I used to work 12- to 16-hour days, I always made time to go to the doctors and visit. We actually had a very good rapport with the OB/GYN, and I guess there was never really an issue with the pregnancy. We felt like we were going through a very normal pregnancy.
With regards to Sylvia’s demeanor, she seemed fine. We were happy to have a child, and when we found out it was a girl, I think the only issue was that maybe she thought I wanted a boy and it didn’t really matter to me. But that was the only blurb that maybe through the pregnancy she thought that there was an issue, and that probably lasted two hours, it was a conversation in the car and that was the end of it.
But, with regards to the pregnancy, everything went well other than it was a scheduled C-section and she was due a couple of weeks early and it was a combination of me watching the Mets game and her water breaking, and me asking if she was sure her water broke, but other than that it was pretty normal.
When Melina was first born, the doctor gave me the baby because Sylvia was in recovery because of her C-section, and I knew there was something wrong when Melina was three minutes old. I walked into the recovery room, and Sylvia was sedated, but knowing the woman for the 10 years that I knew her, not only were we married but we were great friends and we had a really great relationship, you just know the person. And I said to her, I was holding Melina, and I said, Sylvia look, it’s Melina, it's our daughter. And Sylvia kind of looked over at the child and kind of glanced away.
And I just knew, that wasn't right, I knew something was wrong. It was amazing, the connection, when I finally got Sylvia to say hello, and Melina was only 2 or 3 minutes old, but as soon as Sylvia said her name, Melina's neck just went to her right away. I was just amazed by that, and obviously, she heard the voice within all the time, but obviously she recognized it, but it's just amazing the alertness of a 3-minute-old child to recognize her voice. So I thought even that reaction to her would spark it and having no reaction to that, even sedated somewhat, coming out of sedation, I knew that there was something wrong but it kind of stood inside and didn’t come out.
I'm one of eight children, Sylvia's one of five and our mentality is we work, we raise a family, we go to work every day and we raise kids together. I noticed it in the beginning, obviously in the visits to the hospital, and the first night I slept in the hospital on the sofa in the room. There were some feelings of, I don't want to change the baby, the scar, it hurts, every excuse not to pick up the baby or even connect with it.
Every time somebody came in, there were enough friends or relatives coming in to pick up the baby, so she was able to get away with that. But from afar I was watching and knowing my wife and the love that she has for and the compassion that she has for people, I noticed something that there wasn't a connection.
When I brought Sylvia home from the hospital, she was hoping that I forgot the car seat so they wouldn't release her, and I didn't forget that. On our way home, when we were walking out of the hospital she was crying and I thought it was just hormonal but there was still something.
We got in the car and I put Melina in the carseat, Sylvia was in the passenger side and there was nothing said, not one word. I think I might've said a little bit about the business, I think I might've made a little small talk, but I knew, being with the woman so long that she didn’t want to talk right now, and I gave her that space. When we got home, there was a big reception there, and stork on the lawn, and there was my mother-in-law and my wife's aunt, and a whole bunch of people, and the video camera was out and Sylvia basically just gave the baby to my mother-in-law and ran inside and cried. I didn't know what to say, I was embarrassed to a certain point, there was another part that was protecting my wife, saying like, she's not feeling well, you know, and it's, whatever excuse I gave to people.
And the next day I woke up, that night was a tough night, just a lot of anxiety, as one would have on the first night that a baby would be home, and Melina was great through it. I think she woke up once through the first night, and then maybe early morning she did not cry, she was an easy baby.
The next morning I had to go into work, I was building a restaurant as well as running one, and I felt bad for her, I saw her eyes and they were empty. I felt guilty for going to work that day. Did I need to? It was just a responsibility I felt, we had 70 employees I was responsible for, not only for our business, but for our family, you know, we need to pay the bills. It was something I look back on and think, maybe I could've done it a little differently.
So I went to the supermarket and bought some of those easy bottles of formula like they have in the hospital, all you have to do is put on the little nipple and feed her, and I thought that was my idea of, everything's good, you can feed her now, and I left that day.
And I remember this server who used to work for me and my family for years, and when I walked into work everyone was excited for me and I was up pretty much the whole night, and she was like, how is it? How is it? And I looked at her, knowing that we were a little bit more friendly and more of a mother figure for me, and I burst out into tears and I ran up into the office, it was uncontrollable, but I knew it was this pain starting deep inside that I didn’t know how to express, nor did I want to express it.
Part of it was embarrassment and inability to raise a family, and there was failures not only for the mother but for the father too, you have to understand that. I was a person that felt like they were in control of things, together with Sylvia. You try to control things and certain things you can't control, there's those anxieties and depression that you start feeling. But on the most part, it starts there when you start to bury it, and not knowing much about it, you protect it, and because that's what's going to harm you, that's what's going to expose you, so you dig deep and just kind of bury it there for as long as you possibly can.
Listen, I'd like to paint myself as the perfect person, but the point of not understanding it 100 percent, and you're married, and you have your own frustrations in work and trying to handle life's challenges on a professional side.
Then there's the home side, and you're trying to balance it. With regards to how I treated Sylvia, you know, there was a point of feeling robbed a little bit because you come home every day and you'’re working and you want to come home every night and just say hi to your daughter and kiss her or hug her, or go to sleep with her on your belly. All those things that you see on TV that happens.
And I think with regards to, there's a feel for normalcy, so I think that although you dig deep and you know that, listen, my wife has to get better, and the only way for her to get better is, A, appease her, and give her whatever she needs, whatever she asks for, you try to appease to the best of your ability.
Then there's the other piece where you have to be an actor, where you know you have hurt inside and you know your wife's hurt, but you have to be the stronger one, knowing that you're not the one dealing with depression, not from a medical standpoint, but the reality is you do, and when things aren't well at home, you feel depressed and you feel trapped and now where do you go.
Not only is it at this point, we're starting to understand somewhat of what Sylvia has, meanwhile you're balancing things, and you feel, almost a feeling like, what about me? And you don't want to, because it's so selfish, and you don't want to feel that, but it's human nature, and you start feeling like, well, I'm feeling it, I'm feeling depressed. But, at the same time, you have to show your strength to support your wife and support everything that you feel and it's a rollercoaster and what you really have to do is, I remember one point we went down to Florida for a week thinking with the craziness of everything happening, the restaurants, at this point my mother-in-law took Melina and we went down to Florida, and it was the first time I was able to read a book in a very long time, because there was really not a lot of conversation, Sylvia was sleeping a lot, and when we did find time to go out to dinner, there was one time when Sylvia said to me, why don't you find somebody and we can't have this baby, we need to put the baby up for adoption and inside I knew that would never happen.
But there was one point when, well it was two parts, but first I had to make sure I wasn't going anywhere and I wasn't going to leave her to give her that confidence, but then the second part of it is, I almost had to appease her and tell her whatever it takes, if it takes that, to do that, which you never want to do, which I knew would never happen, you almost have to say it, just to appease her and make her feel better, so she comes out of that dark hole that she's in, like sending a rope down so you can pull her out, just a little bit, so you can see a little light at the end of the tunnel.
And that's probably one of the hardest things I've had to do, in trying to do the appeasement of getting her back out of that dark hole where you don't want anyone to be.
With regards to exactly day to day, there's so much that I could go on and on and say that every day had a different occurrence and the tension that you feel when she looks at you in the morning, and your wife looks at you and says, I know you want Melina home, what do you say? Do you say yes, I definitely want my daughter home, the obvious answer, or you go down deeper in your soul and you say, whatever it takes, my daughter will be home soon, or however long it takes, and when that time comes that's the right time.
I wasn't that keen to always say that, I will tell you. I eventually got it, that is the right answer, that's definitely the right answer, when it's time, our life will come back together again. But until that time comes we'll wait and be patient because I will be honest with you and say I wasn't savvy enough to say that from the start.
When she says, I know you want your baby home, and I was like, yes, I know, that's the wrong thing because it's just like letting go of that rope and letting her go deeper. And I didn't get it at the time, but I eventually got it. It was hard, the first couple weeks and first couple of months there was so much going on, forget about going in to work and the craziness of seeing a thousand people, and answering questions, that's the hardest part.
Answering questions about how is it, how is it at home, how's the baby, yeah, the baby's fine. I think the one time, and I think I learned by mistake, a couple that I knew well and they didn't have a baby, the woman couldn't have any children, and the man did have a couple children, and she said, oh, how great is it, and I was at the end of the night and I was just ready to go home, and he goes, have a drink with me at the bar and I said OK, I'll have a drink. He goes, how is it, and I go, to tell you the truth we're having a lot of problems and Sylvia's depressed. She wants to give the baby up for adoption. Well, that didn't go over too well, he looked at me like I had three heads, and I learned from that to be careful and choose your words. That's kind of what the feeling of the day to day and what you go through to try to cope.
What we started to do as an exercise was to, I had to take more responsibility in the role, and it was something I wanted to do and it was a chance for us to spend time with our daughter alone. On our day off, we closed the restaurants on Sunday. I used to pick up Melina either before or after church, I'd pick her up from church and I'd bring her home after and we'd spend the day together. And we'd do things, we'd go to family functions if we needed to, or go out, or even just stay home and spend some time watching TV on the sofa. I tried to keep every responsibility away from Sylvia, washing the baby, changing the baby, even feeding the baby, and then she would pick up and say, hey, let me do it.
Sometimes I'd see her face and it becomes challenging because there's almost this disconnect to a point of, it's a chemical imbalance, and I think that was the start to turn, picking up the baby and doing those things on a slower pace. Remember our lives weren't like everyone else’s, we didn’t have 9-to-5 jobs, it was a very demanding life that we had that we were used to, and it changed. And I don't know if that was part of it, but anyone I know that I see who has it, there's no same scenario, like it has to be this and that's why it happens, but that doesn't happen, it can happen to anybody at any given time. There's no rhyme or reason to it.
Of course, you try to rationalize with yourself and say, well this is why it happens because we have crazy lives and we're always so busy, but the reality is that everyone has it in their own way. We live in a very busy area and we feel like that's the reason, but it happens in Nebraska, it happens in Europe, it happens in the cafes in Paris, it happens everywhere. So I think that's kind of the feel of every day, that was when she started to feel closer, and we started to have a few days together, and then it starts feeling like the confidence, the wholeness of what you feel. It's hard to explain, because so many people ask me, how long does it take? I don’t know, it could happen in a month, in a year, in two years. It doesn’t have a path, and that’s the craziness to it. But I think in regards to Sylvia, she knew she wanted to be a mother. She fought it to a certain extent, and then it started to feel better to her.
I mean, is it overwhelming, no, because I think it still has a certain stigma still tied to it. I'm sure people have wanted to ask me about it and maybe didn't. But yes, because of Sylvia's outreach, I've had a couple of instances when people have called me. There was one actually when I was running a club, a private club, and I spotted her and I knew her, and I realized even before she had the baby, she told me that knowing that I went through it, she started confiding in me, I'm feeling depressed. And that was actually before, so it was a different issue, so I gave her materials to read. She's still getting help.
And then another person called me who I knew, a friend through a friend, and was diagnosed for postpartum, his sister had a daughter, and she actually started coming up to New Jersey for treatment and living with her parents just to get through it. And that was so far a quick success rate because she was able to get better rather quickly, I think it took her maybe two or three months as opposed to the other situation which was probably over a year.
Yes people do come, I’ve had some interviews with Sylvia, and it's something that I don't mind speaking out, because to help other men and women to cope with it and try and get through it. I don't think enough men come out and speak about so other men can relate to how to treat them, and how to be a husband while your whole family life is going crazy and how to deal with that. But yes, people do come to me and I try to help.
I think the best advice is that you would have to come face-to-face and basically have full disclosure with every virtue you have, as a person, man or woman, I think you really need to get in touch with that from love and compassion to humility and every virtue that you don't like showing, you have to come to grips with that to get better, for your wife to get better, to be from a state of psyche, your own psyche.
You'd have to understand that to bury it, because the more you bury it the more you feel trapped. And for any person, for any man or woman, or from the husband's side because I can probably relate more is that you really just have to embrace your wife and your child as much as possible. Appease your wife, there might be some demands that she might say, and understand that whatever she says she doesn't mean to a certain extent.
I remember there was a point where she didn't want to be married or she said I should move on and I couldn't imagine A, if I listened to her, or B, what her life would be or what my life would be or even what my daughter's life might be. That's really when you understand the true meaning of family life. When an illness hits the family, any illness, and someone's needed to deal with it before, you know that life changes to a certain extent and it's life-changing, you look at things differently. When you go outside, instead of that run and run and run, you tend to look at the trees and smell the roses and let me understand that. And to avoid collapse, you never want to look back and say I coulda, shoulda, woulda, and it's time to really tighten your belt and understand that your wife is very sick, and whatever you do, you have to rescue her, because the worst scenario is looking back and saying I could've done things differently.
We all have regrets and we all understand that there are things in life that we should've decided to do differently. This is one that you really just have to take hold of and embrace and tell her that you love her and that you're behind her and that whatever it takes to make her better that you’re going to do and that you’re there and that she has your support implicity, because she will never get better unless you give her the support.
It's a shame if just because of PPD that can break a relationship a family, it has ill effects, shocking waves throughout the family if it takes hold, but don't let it take hold of that. Don’t let that control you, you control it, and the way to control that is through love and compassion and patience. And every virtue that you need to take hold of and everything you can say, and sometimes you have to say things that you may not even truly believe in yourself, but remember supposedly you're the one that has total sanity at this point, and that chemical reaction that kicks in with PPD, women and mothers can't make rational decisions.
To go to the bathroom might be a huge decision to go or not, believe it or not, it sounds crazy, but should I take a shower today? Should I shave my legs? I mean, all these pieces are like huge decisions and you're just looking at it like get a grip, come on.
I think the mentality of men is, not to say that I wasn't one of them, is come on, people have been raising kids for thousands of years and what makes you so different. And it's just this mentality, and the public eye that doesn't look at PPD as an illness, and there are people still out there like that unfortunately. They look at it that way, and just because a mother was fortunate enough not to experience PPD, well God bless that person. But don't look down upon woman who have, because you don’t know. Some women told me they had a perfect pregnancy and I could wait, and I loved it so much and I'm just like, you know what, God blessed you. But don't down others who haven't had that ability to or the pleasure of, because we have to live with knowing that we missed some treasured years, or months, or moments.
And that is the key to understanding, don't judge others and I've never heard, I don't know of any illness out there that people have an opinion on, whether it's real or not, but I will tell you, it is real. When people don't know it's real, I think Brooke Shields said it the best, she said, well grow some ovaries and figure it out. It was a great quote, and I giggled when I heard it because you can't condemn, you shouldn'’t condemn yourself, you shouldn't condemn what's happening, just embrace it. In short, embrace it, try to understand it, and really just give the love and compassion that your family needs.
And don't worry about anything else because it'll all work itself out. Just get help, Google postpartum, there is help out there, we need a lot more, and I can't believe that with the trillion this country spending on the bailout that we can not afford ourselves for the Mothers Act Bill to pass it and get some much needed support and dollars to every state in the union that can help mothers who are out west and don't have what we have.
We’re in the Mecca of hospitals and help, what about that person or mother who's out in farmland and can't get help, and can't even speak about it because her neighbor lives five miles away? There are so many pieces of it, but I just think embrace, and that's the best piece of advice I can give.
Michael's Video | Michael's story | Sylvia's Story (Michael's wife) | Sylvia's Video | Sylvia's Video Transcript