Don’t Forget About Dads
Dads are important. Mums are important, of course we are, but we can't simply forget about dads. We (speaking as a mum) are the ones who go through a whole lot of stress to become pregnant if we are trying to have a baby. Or if the pregnancy was unplanned, then we are the ones facing a huge decision about continuing with the pregnancy or not. That's not to say the father doesn't have the experience or the feelings, but it is different in my eyes. It is our body, therefore the pressure tends to fall on us. Women are the ones who will endure/enjoy pregnancy, then experience childbirth in all its forms, positive or negative. We then have an onslaught of hormones and emotions. We have to come to terms with the fact that for the rest of our lives, we are MOTHERS. Mums aren't just Jenni, or Sarah, or Rebecca: we are literally 'So-and-so's mummy' and Mummy. It's amazing, beautiful, awe-inspiring. But it's also bloody huge. But within the Health Visiting system mums have an eye kept on them.
Do dads get the same level of care?
I’m struggling at the moment, I’ll be honest, seeing all the ‘perfect’ going on everywhere. Recently you've no doubt all seen the beautiful festive photos - happy mums and dads, happy children, happy friends, happy Christmas and New Year snaps. That isn’t the way things actually are for lots of us. Definitely not for me and my little family. My husband couldn't cope with Christmas Day, and needed to go to bed after a brief panic attack. It was scary, it was sad, and I was lonely. The children opened their presents without Daddy.
My Husband's Postnatal Depression
Postnatal Depression in men was not something we found much information about, to begin with. According to the NHS 1 in 10 women are affected by PND in the first year after having a baby. Some info says 'parents', not just 'mothers', which is much more inclusive of fathers too. There are sites set up for dads suffering with postnatal depression. You can find help if you look, but on the surface it seems to be a 'female issue.'
When my Health Visitor came round a few days after I'd given birth, she did the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression scale/test with me. The questions seemed far too black and white to accurately assess how I was feeling, but that's another issue. If nothing else it was nice to see a friendly, professional face after days of my husband's terrible moods while I tried to get to know my newborn. I explained that along with my own post-birth 'baby blues', and difficulty in breastfeeding, I was also struggling to connect with my husband. The HV left me a copy of the Edinburgh test, just as a starting point. We did the scale test, and it was an eye-opener for us both.
More than Just 'Moods'
My husband always had a tendency to experience drops in mood (who doesn’t from time to time?) He'd often be quiet and withdrawn, and has always been a hard person to read. He has quite an obsessive personality, and is very 'all or nothing', he sees things in black and white - there's no grey area, whereas I very much live in the grey area. He didn't have much of a social life before we had the kids. He gave his all to work. His mates are all younger then him, and when we had our babies he didn't know any other dads to open up to.
The mood swings, distance, coldness all became more frequent, more apparent and more serious shortly after the birth of our second child. It wasn't just me noticing it now though, other family members saw things, and his colleagues mentioned it too. We'd had an incredibly hard first year with our son, and so to some extent knew it would likely be hard again. But even that experience hadn't prepared us for what difficulties and stresses our daughter would bring. Everything that goes along with a colicy, refluxy baby (screaming, no sleep, endless, endless screaming, even less sleep, and did I mention the screaming?) is only just bearable when you are on the top of your game.
When you are running at maybe only 70-80% of your energy, it’s hard to deal with personal and professional life. We both moved under a thick foggy cloud of sleep deprivation. It's hard to go out to work 8-6, 5-6 days a week, keeping your business afloat, as well as be kept up all night by a baby's endless screams. Then when some selfish criminal decides to completely trash that business by robbing your premises, so any hope of profit to pay the bills vanishes... even bothering to get dressed seems a waste of time. When you have all that PLUS your own internal struggles - well, it is near enough impossible. There would be days on end of him being in bed, and me dealing with everything. Everything exhausted him. He felt numb, down, miserable - suicidal he later admitted.
So this year my husband’s mental health has suffered badly, to put it mildly. Our babies were the best things to ever happen to us, whilst simultaneously being the most difficult thing to ever happen to us.
What About Me, Mum?
In the background of all this I’m feeling angry, lonely, lost and frustrated. There was no chance for me to acknowledge my own ‘baby blues’ because if I had gone to that dark place, both of us would never have climbed out of our lows. His difficulties sort of distracted me from mine, which was good in a way. But in another way this left me feeling abandoned and frustrated. Where was my 'me time' after having pushed a tiny person into the world? Why was I treading on egg-shells around him? Shouldn't he be nurturing me? I don't think he understands how hard this past year has been for me; he's still coming to terms with his own experience of the time.
Mindfulness and Mental Health
Luckily something spoke to me. At the same time that my husband’s depression was getting worse, I began to study mindfulness. Shortly after this I decided to re-train as an antenatal teacher, specialising in mindfulness-inspired birth preparation classes. So I began to understand more about being mindful, and accepting things in my life, focusing on mindfully responding rather than impulsively reacting. I credit being mindful with saving my sanity, my life, and my marriage. Before we realised it was a mental health issue my husband was dealing with, I just thought he was being horrible, cold, uncaring, unfeeling. They were hard times to navigate, and if I had not have been practising mindful responses, we could have been in a very different place to where we are now.
And yet I still feel a guilt, that I should have recognised the signs sooner, as I’ve been there before in another lifetime. As a teenager I saw my dad’s decline into depression and then drinking, before he passed away. So while I watch anxiously as history seems to repeat itself, mindfulness helps me every day to try and understand my husband, and accept that the history I've seen before doesn’t have to be his story full stop.