health

'I told my wife she’d be better off without me. Our son was six weeks old.'

Trigger warning: This article deals with depression and suicidal thoughts.

When Jonathan Miles’ son was six weeks old, he felt the lowest he’d ever felt in his life. He believed he was a burden to his family.

“I actually said to my wife that she’d be better off without me, that I was holding her and our boy back,” he remembers. “It’s probably the closest I’ve been to suicide.”

Like a staggering one in 10 first-time fathers, Miles was suffering post-natal depression. He’d had depression before, in his early twenties, but had dealt with it by eating well, exercising regularly, staying socially active and taking antidepressants.

“I’d had a good clear run prior to the birth,” Miles explains to Mamamia. “I handled the pregnancy quite well. All was running smoothly before the birth, and I spiralled after that.”

The Perth dad says he started on the “downhill slope” about two or three weeks after his wife Melissah gave birth to their son Callum, three years ago.

“You’re over the honeymoon period, and reality sets in,” he explains. “Money’s tight. Both of you are exhausted and you find yourself getting grumpy with one another over little things. Emotionally, you’re worn out from the birth and all the people coming round to visit you all the time.”

Jonathan Miles with his family. Image supplied.

Miles had assumed he’d be a “natural” as a dad, but it didn’t turn out that way.

“I’m sure virtually every dad goes through the same learning curve. But it came as a little bit of a shock to me at the time that I was going to have to work at it. It was going to take some patience, which isn’t one of my strong suits.”

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He realises he had unrealistic expectations.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll be relaxed, and because I’ll be relaxed, the baby will be relaxed, and everything will be nice and calm.’ The reality is that no, the baby will wake up in three o’clock in the morning and he will scream, even though you won’t want him to, and he will wee and poo on you, even though you’re trying your best to cover yourself up.”

Miles says he started to drink too much.

“One of my triggers with my depression has always been how much I drink. I’d taken eight weeks off work, and because I didn’t have to get up for work the next day, I started drinking more, which is obviously not helpful when you’re already tired physically and emotionally.

“I started to just lounge around the house and not be particularly helpful.”

Miles was feeling low. But he didn’t want to open up to his wife about it, because of their newborn baby.

“I’d been though depression so many times before – I knew the way back." Image via iStock.

“You can’t help the old Neanderthal man. You must be the strong one of the family. You don’t want to be placing an extra burden on your wife unnecessarily.”

Then one day, when he was feeling worse than he’d ever felt in any of his other periods of depression, he told his wife how he was feeling: that he thought he was a burden, and that she’d be better off without him.

Fortunately, she said exactly the right thing.

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“God bless my wife, she just turns around and goes, ‘Don’t you bloody dare! Don’t you dare leave me now!’

“That was a fairly clear indication that I needed to be around, and actually, by not being there, I’d probably make things worse.”

Miles sat down and started to look at what was happening. He stopped drinking, and went to see his GP, to change the level of medication he was on. He asked his parents and his wife’s parents if they could give them some extra help.

“It was just so that my wife and I could have a bit more rest, just give ourselves a break, basically.”

Once he took those steps, he gradually started feeling better.

“I’d been though depression so many times before – I knew the way back. It’s just recognising that you’re ill in the first place.”

Should the media change how it talks about mental health and suicide? Post continues after audio. 

Miles, who now has a second son, Oliver, thinks a lot of men go through what he went through when they first become fathers.

“You’re meant to be the tough role model that looks after the family. It’s meant to be a time of need when you’re meant to stand up. In reality, it’s an incredibly stressful and daunting time for the dad as well as the mum.

“Just reach out. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Help is available even before the baby is born, through an innovative Australian program, SMS4dads, aimed at improving the mental health of new fathers via their phones. Adam Warren is one of the dads who has already tried it out.

Warren, from Wagga Wagga in NSW, found out he and his wife, Catherine Harvie, were expecting a baby last year. The news came as he was grieving the death of his grandparents, who he had been very close to. At the same time, Harvie’s mother had serious health issues.

“It was a very joyous occasion, but there were the mixed emotions,” he says.

Warren’s aunt heard about SMS4dads, created by beyondblue, the University of Newcastle and the Movember Foundation. It sends regular messages to men when they have a baby on the way and after the birth.

“My aunt encouraged me to sign up for it because she recognised that I would at times be struggling because of the grief I was experiencing with the loss of my grandparents.”

Warren with his family. Image supplied.
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The messages offer information, advice and encouragement.

“They often talked about how Catherine might be feeling, and how our baby was developing within the womb.”

The messages, which Warren kept receiving after the birth of his daughter Mahalah, invited him to regularly record how he was feeling, using a system of sad or smiley faces.

“If you find that your face is quite sad and you’re not doing so well, they will recommend you to contact your doctor or beyondblue, or get in contact with someone to have a more in-depth chat about things.”

Warren says he thinks phone messages work well for new dads.

“It’s quite private and confidential. Some of the time you don’t want to worry your wife, or you don’t want to worry other people, so getting a message on your phone that asks you how you’re feeling and what you’re doing is quite useful.

“Having had the grief that I had beforehand, it was helpful getting those messages that prompted me to think about whether I needed to talk to somebody and whether I was coping okay.”

Miles, meanwhile, says he wishes he could have used the service for the birth of his son Callum.

“I would have loved that to be around when I became a dad for the first time.”

SMS4dads can be found here

If you or someone you know needs help you can call Lifeline on 131 114, the Black Dog Institute on 9382 2991, or Beyondblue 1300 224 636.

Tags: health , mental-health , no-bump , parenting-2
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