There was more happening here than some immature anxiety over a move, or even a bout of baby-blues
Rabbi Yossel Isaacson ran a program in Jerusalem training avreichim to be community leaders in chutz l’Aretz.
It was known for attracting young men with a combination of a solid learning background and a go-getter personality.
Rabbi Isaacson not only focused the learning on practical topics like Shabbos, kashrus, and rabbinic functions such as marriages and funerals. He also brought in a variety of speakers such as an accountant to lecture about balancing a communal budget, fundraisers who spoke about how to keep their organization afloat, and a psychiatrist to discuss mental health matters — that was me.
And that’s how I came to meet Aryeh Froilich and his wife, a young couple who were set to embark on a five-year stint in a Southwestern kehillah.
After my third talk in the series, Rabbi Isaacson approached me to let me know that his student, Aryeh Froilich, would be in touch about his wife. Apparently, at least from what Reb Aryeh told his rebbi, the young Mrs. Froilich — who was always so supportive of their mutual mission — was having anxiety issues over their plans, to the extent that it was affecting her daily moods and functioning. Could I help them navigate this? I told Rabbi Isaacson that I’m not a marriage counselor, I’m a psychiatrist, but it was bashert that we talked, and maybe I’d be able to steer them in the right direction.
At Rabbi Isaacson’s prodding, Aryeh Froilich booked an appointment for the two of them to see me — but before he hung up, he made sure to tell me how he hoped I’d be able to help get his wife back on track, how he’d already interviewed for the position and was even negotiating a contract, yet how his wife basically freaked out whenever he brought up details of their projected move — and even when he didn’t.
They arrived to my office with an infant girl in a baby carriage, and from the get-go, I sensed a certain helplessness from Reb Aryeh… and an overcompensating chattiness from his wife. To his credit though, he gave her the first opportunity to talk, not wanting to come off as a critical, ungrateful husband — at least not in front of me.
“You know, we’re both from Flatbush,” Chevi told me, smiling nervously, “and our fathers actually serve together on several organizational chesed boards…” She continued to tell me how they met, how their cousins were chavrusas, a time they saw each other at a neighborhood simchah from afar, and their third date at the Bronx Zoo.
I didn’t want to waste their entire hour and decided to steer back the conversation. “So let’s take a moment to discuss what—”
“Oops, it’s time for the baby’s bottle,” Chevy said as she scooped up her little girl and ran out of the room with her infant, ostensibly fill up a bottle at the least convenient time in our appointment — or maybe the most convenient, as she obviously didn’t want to talk about her anxiety issues.
I raised an eyebrow curiously as I looked at Aryeh, who shrugged his shoulders, a little less confident than he’d been on the phone.
“Let’s wait for my wife if that’s okay, Dr. Freedman?” he suggested.
Chevy came back in a full ten minutes later, having deliberately made a bottle and fed the baby outside in the waiting area to avoid coming in to speak with me.
When she finally returned, we had about half of their scheduled time to talk.
“Baby comes first,” she said as she smiled nervously.
I was about to open up the discussion when Chevy again cut me off. “So Dr. Freedman,” she said almost too casually, “did Aryeh tell you we might be going to either Dallas or Phoenix?”
She could’ve continued on, but I didn’t feel it was honest or professional to facilitate the charade of pleasant chatter any longer.
I stood up and walked through the door into the waiting room where I poured myself a glass of cold water. After a minute, Aryeh came out and said, “Umm, Dr. Freedman, can you come back in and talk to us?”
I unceremoniously took out my wallet and tossed them a wad of cash. “I know you made a bank transfer but it’s easier just to hand you the money back than to give my secretary any more paperwork. Take it, it’s yours.”
They were quiet for at least 90 seconds before Aryeh broke the silence. “But Rabbi Isaacson said you’d help us.”
“I can try, if you want me to.”
“Of course we do,” he said. “Right, Chevy?”
“Absolutely, why do you think we came?” she added a bit too cheerfully.
“Okay, let’s try this again. Reb Aryeh,” I said as we reseated ourselves, “maybe you tell me why the two of you are here today?”
He looked a little flustered, glanced at his wife, and then turned back to me. “Okay, so it’s like this, Dr. Freedman. Uh, we have plans… or maybe I should say ‘had.’ But now, every time I mention the position, she starts to cry and scream, like some petulant child. We talked about this, it was our dream together, and now she’s totally chickening out… Chevy,” he suddenly turned to her, “Why can’t you just be happy like we talked about? What’s happening with you? Why isn’t this parenting thing making you ecstatic, like we expected? Why are you so angry and down, looking at me like I’m some kind of enemy? Why can’t you just get normal so that we can proceed as planned!?”
Chevy turned white. And then this chatty young woman practically crumbled before my eyes. And suddenly, I suspected that there was more happening here than some immature anxiety over a move, or even a bout of baby-blues.
“Mrs. Froilich,” I asked gently, “I want you to answer honestly. Are you having difficulty sleeping yet feel overwhelming fatigue?”
“Feeling depressed and antisocial? Worthless and inadequate? Afraid and lost? Unable to bond with your baby and fear that you’ll hurt her?”
This time, she didn’t nod — she started to cry.
Our society makes it difficult for a woman to acknowledge that she may be dealing with postpartum depression, when she keeps hearing about the joys and bliss of motherhood. Her need to be seen as a normal and good mother is so strong that she’ll mask her symptoms with incredible effort, even from her spouse, as she convinces the world that she’s doing fine, when in reality she’s falling apart on the inside. In fact, many women facing the challenges of PPD — which affects about ten percent of new mothers — are in such strong denial that unless a close family member realizes what’s happening, they may never get the treatment they need. But in fact, denial is actually the enemy of recovery.
“Dr. Freedman, my husband keeps telling me that I should be happy because we have such a beautiful baby! He gets to go to yeshivah, see friends, make plans… Why is he pressuring me so much? Why does he keep giving me that look that makes me feel like such a failure?”
“Mrs. Froilich, postpartum depression is a serious mood disorder, a chemical imbalance, and absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. But there’s a way out, and as overwhelming as it all feels right now, it’s okay to take it one step at a time. And soon you’ll both find yourselves on solid ground as your healing unfolds.”
Aryeh looked like a ghost. Postpartum depression? Chevy? Nah, impossible. But then, looking over at his wife, for the first time he saw more than an interview and a position and a woman who suddenly no longer shared his dreams.
“Chevy… I’m… sorry… Dr. Freedman, can you help us through this together?”
Identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients, their families, and all other parties.
Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Israel. His new children’s book — Me and Uncle Baruch — is available through Menucha Publishers. Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website www.drjacoblfreedman.com.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 908)
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