Post-natal depression – for guys? One man explains how the birth of a child can be every bit as earth-shifting for dads as mums.
Oh yes, I was so excited about becoming a father.
I felt well prepared and couldn’t wait for the baby to be here. We had a lovely birth and during my paternity leave (well, I must admit after the initial panic subsided!) I felt like walking over pink clouds.
When I returned to work I did my best to support my wife. Often what I found at home was my exhausted wife, a crying baby and general chaos.
However, I always tried to finish work in time, I rushed home and normally I would either be with our baby or start the washing up, in order to have at least two clean plates in the house. Still, I struggled with getting comments or gazes from my wife. Whatever I did wasn’t good enough or right. My initial high turned into feeling low and the bitter taste of rejection lingered inside. Does she still love me? Am I a good enough father?
The truth is no-one had prepared me for these emotions and having my life turned upside down, while in the outside world I was expected to just return to normal, leaving me no time or space to reflect or simply breathe and find my feet. It left me and many other men struggling.
While women find this time equally hard, support is easier to access. Before and after the birth everyone seemed so supportive towards my partner: the midwife, the health visitor, family and friends. While my wife was able to share her new experience with other mums at various baby groups, getting nurtured and heard, I shut down emotionally and sometimes even physically (by becoming unwell).
I didn't know what was happening to me and had no idea that many fathers, apparently around 10%, experience similar emotions and for some it turns into Post Natal Depression.
There is very little research or general knowledge about it as men don't do the post birth check-ups with professionals, where maternal PND is often recognised.
The signs and symptoms (which can begin straight after or several weeks or months after your baby's birth) of postnatal depression in men have been described as:
- Tiredness, headaches and pain
- Irritability, anxiety and anger
- Loss of libido
- Changes in appetite
- Feelings of being overwhelmed, out of control and unable to cope
- Engaging in risk taking behaviour
- Feelings of isolation and disconnection from partner, friends or family
- Withdrawal from intimate relationships and from family, friends and community life
- Increased hours of work as a part of the withdrawal from family etc
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol instead of seeking treatment for depression
Generally, it is believed that when their partner suffers from PND, men are more affected, while this is certainly a contributing factor, this isn't always the case.
What can you do about it? Three good ideas:
- The opposing demands of work and family can feel stressful, as there isn't enough time for either and you end up being tired and exhausted. It is important for you as a father to take some time to recharge too. Once your child is in bed, can you go out, once a week, do something you love? Don't feel guilty doing it, your partner needs you fully recharged.
- Spend as much time as you can with the baby and don't be offended by your partner when she suggests you do things differently (she might be totally right, and then you'll find out for yourself anyway or you invent "your" way, that she has not tried yet, that's fine and could work equally well - just give it a try!). The more you do it, the more confident you get!
- Don't ever underestimate the importance of you being around, especially in the early days it can seem like you are not "needed". You are, every time you interact with your baby you are building a bond. Every time you support your partner, you are strengthening the family bond and therefore building your child's safe "nest".
Every transition happens over a stretch of time, it requires a lot of patience, communicating positively, adapting to new roles and especially loving kindness and forgiveness towards yourself (you will make mistakes, and yes, that's ok!) and towards your partner.
It's important to open up, get help, connect with other new fathers, find local support services, talk to your GP, start a Dad's group or hop over to our community at www.parentaslovers.net for some great inspiration. Use every opportunity to bond with your child (they need you!), re-connect to your partner (every day!), be authentic and honest.
Did you partner struggle with fatherhood at first? Is there enough support out there for men?