Depression as a new dad
The mental health struggles of new fathers is something Ross doesn't feel is spoken about enough. He's blogged for us about his own experience.
I cried the day that I found out my wife was pregnant. They were tears of absolute joy. It was something that I had wanted for a very long time. But little did I know, that less than a year on from that moment, I'd be crying once again. Although this time, it was for very different reasons.
Shortly after Isabelle was born I began suffering with depression. I've suffered with depression on and off for quite some time in my life, so I knew what it felt like. But I had been clear of it for quite a while before Isabelle was born, and never did I expect those feelings would return once she born.
Isabelle was born in theatre. My wife had cord prolapse and we were rushed down in sheer panic. As it happened, my mind raced to what might happen. All I could think about was the feeling that I was going to lose everything. And I was taken back to one of the worst moments in my life. A night where my friend jumped in front of a car and died. I have always held a lot of guilt over that night, and the moment Isabelle was born, that's all I could think about.
"It doesn't help when people very rarely talk about mens mental health in relation to becoming a parent."
I guess everyone is different in how they experience depression. For some, it can bring about a lack of energy, enthusiasm for life, trouble sleeping, and a whole host of other emotions. But for me, this time, a lot of how I felt was a direct result of feeling like I had no bond with our daughter.
I really didn't like her. In the past, I even described my feelings as hate. And yes, I did feel that way. But looking back now it wasn't my daughter that I actually hated. It was myself. I hated the fact that I had everything that I ever wanted. All I could think about during those early days was how my friend had died and could never have what I now had. I blamed myself a lot for his death, and felt that I was partly responsible for taking someone away from their family. Yet here I was with mine.
Despite the fact that I had a prior history of depression, we really didn't think that having a baby would cause it to come back. Maybe it was naivety on our part. But it doesn't help when people very rarely talk about mens mental health in relation to becoming a parent. It's something that really does need to change. I consider myself very fortunate in a sense that I already knew a lot about depression. So I wasn't really caught off guard like someone else might be.
"Two weeks worth of paternity leave is in no way enough time to help fathers form a bond with their new babies."
I made an appointment with the doctor very quickly. I was barely even past a week into my journey as a father and I was already on medication and signed off work. At the same time I was offered talking therapies but I had never had that much luck with them in the past so passed them over. I dare say there would have been support groups out there had I looked, but it was the time off that I felt like I needed most.
Much in the same way that everyone experiences the symptoms of depression differently, they also have different means of recovery. For me, since a lot of my feelings came due to a lack of bond with Isabelle, I had to do all that I could to help form that bond. Having that extra time with her was crucial. Two weeks worth of paternity leave is in no way enough time to help fathers form a bond with their new babies. It also doesn't help the mother who is adjusting to this chaotic new life and is something that I really think needs to change.
"It took me around 8 weeks to feel like I had some sort of connection with her."
This time off meant I could spend as much time with Isabelle as possible. I didn't always want to be there, and at times I thought they'd be better off without me. But I showed up, and I kept going. I bathed her, played with her, dressed her, even got into baby-wearing so I could carry her around on me. I've even started a toolkit of all the ways I can think of that might help someone who finds themselves in the same situation as me.
It took me around eight weeks to feel like I had some sort of connection with her. A further four months before I actually felt like I loved her. After that I was up and down for quite some time, but most of it was good days. When my wife finished maternity leave a lot of those old feelings came back. But now that my daughter is just over a year old, I feel like I have that bond that everyone tells you about. I love her unconditionally. She's one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Somehow, I've gone from a world of hate, to a world of love. And that's all that I ever wanted.
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