for better mental health

How to be a new dad in the pandemic

Thursday, 18 June 2020 Andy

Andy, who delivered his baby in the passenger seat of his car, offers tips for new dads on managing their mental health.

I’m the kind of person who has always needed time to myself to maintain good mental health, so my initial reaction to the surprising news we were expecting a second child was not the best. I will carry that regret with me for the rest of my life.

Beyond my own selfishness, I had the usual worries I imagine most dads have when expecting: will the baby be healthy, will my wife be healthy? Covid-19 and Lockdown, however, brought many more new worries: will I be allowed to be there at the birth? If I’m not, how will my wife be feeling? How will she cope? What about my three-year-old son, Theo? If I can be there at the birth, who will look after him? Will we get COVID-19 and what will that mean? And a worry I never thought I’d ever have suddenly popped up on the way to the hospital... how do I deliver my own child?

Yes, I’m that guy that delivered his own son as his wife gave birth in the passenger seat of our car in a Sainsbury’s Local car park, a few minutes’ drive from the hospital. This was an incredible privilege and has transformed my outlook on having a second child. This is the type of event that makes you realise how meant to be your relationship is, your growing family is, and how amazing your partner is. Hannah, my wife, has achieved the ultimate heroine status in my eyes, forever more.

I am not sure how I would be feeling now if my wife had given birth alone in our car

During the pregnancy, reality hit when I had to cancel a virtual meeting (working from home in lockdown) as my wife was overwhelmed trying to manage toddler meltdowns whilst being eight months pregnant and trying to work from home herself as a primary school teacher. We were so stressed, snapping at each other, so worried about what this meant for us, and we felt there was no clear information to help us. We had to take control and make decisions for our family.

We asked my wife’s parents to also self-isolate  so they could be there to look after Theo when my wife went into labour, and so I could be with her. The worries went on and on, but making a decision that we committed to really helped us. And what a decision it turned out to be. I am not sure how I would be feeling now if my wife had given birth alone in our car.

Despite all the worry lockdown has brought, there have been so many positives. Spending more time at home and with my eldest son, Theo, is one of those. We are building dens in the garden, playing guitar together, and collecting sticks from the woods to ensure the tomatoes we planted from seed have support to grow.

I feel both a terrible husband and a terrible employee a lot of the time

I’ve just finished paternity leave and started working from home again. I feel very lucky to have an understanding boss and colleagues. Working whilst continuing to self-isolate means I am taking some of my support away from my wife. I feel both a terrible husband and a terrible employee a lot of the time! And I am constantly worrying about the risk to Wilf’s health seeing grandparents in person for support, versus the risk to my wife’s wellbeing (surely the chance of post-natal depression is higher in lockdown?) not getting that support. We continue to follow Government guidance around lockdown, as hard as it is for us to manage by ourselves each day and night – especially with a colicky baby that doesn’t let us sleep.

With Theo, I had my two weeks paternity leave – often spent socialising Theo with family and friends - and then it was back to work. This time, I’m getting so much more time to bond with Wilf and to support my wife. Many of the things I often get anxious about because I’m out from 6:30am to 8pm for work, have all been eased under lockdown – although that doesn’t mean I don’t miss the commute or the office from time to time!

Finding new projects is one of the best ways to ensure you can both have time for yourselves

Here are my top five tips for expectant and new dads.

Find a new project for you and your partner. This may sound daunting given all you have just taken on (!), but I’ve learnt this is one of the best ways to ensure you can both have time for yourselves and remind yourselves you are more than just parents. Theo and I built a greenhouse and planted some seeds, and I am enjoying spending some time to myself in there, nurturing and growing food for my family.

My wife has been blogging about what has happened to us, and has been working with charities such as the National Childbirth Trust, to offer advice to expectant and new mums. She has always wanted to be a published writer and it’s been a wonderful bonus to see her achieving a dream.

Virtual activities are also helpful. Still finding a way to have a beer with my friends has been priceless. As a Dad, don’t forget that you need your own support network as well – it has been invaluable to openly talk through my various worries with trusted friends. Relatives babysitting virtually has also been a positive – Wilf was just two days old when my sister-in-law video called Theo to read him a story. Theo absolutely loved it - as did my wife and I – and it was the first time since the birth that we stopped, sat together and enjoyed a quiet moment.

Remember back to when you were a kid! I ordered a kite, which Theo loves flying; we’ve built a zip wire with string and sticks that his teddies fly down, we’ve made space rockets out of cardboard, and we’ve started playing football together with jumpers for goalposts. Now is definitely the time to release your inner child!

Get yourself a baby carrier. I can now participate in meetings and work from my desk whilst Wilf sleeps happily strapped to my chest, giving my wife some calmer time with Theo. It brings peace to the house, and it brings us happy, caring, fun Theo back.

And finally don’t put pressure on yourself. It is impossible to achieve everything you want to, so just accept it. I am someone, professionally, that preaches ruthless prioritisation and expectation management, and once I accepted I needed to take this mantra into my personal life, things started to get better.

When I first held Wilf, I sung him a song that just popped into my head, Bruce Springsteen’s My Love Will Not Let You Down. It was halfway through a first rendition of this that I realised I had gone from someone who was scared, worried and unwelcoming of a second child, to someone who has never been happier. Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring out the best in you and make you realise how strong you really are. Life truly has taken me from one surprise to another.

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