It’s not just women who get the baby blues, men can get them too. A canadian study found that 10% of expectant fathers or men that have recently become fathers, experience post-natal depression and that as many as 40% of new fathers feel depressed during the three to six months phase after the birth of their child.
Nick Duerden author of The Reluctant Fathers’ Club gives us his own experience.
It was a little before eight o’clock on Christmas Eve night, 2005, when my daughter finally saw fit to enter into the world, a good 24 hours after she had first shown signs of doing so. In the course of that never-ending day, she had already thoroughly tested the patience of a succession of midwives, as well as the resolve of her admittedly scared-witless parents. After worrying talk of forceps and perhaps even Caesarean, she suddenly appeared, slick and bloody, and more real than I had somehow anticipated.
As happens in films, a pair of scissors found their way into my hand and I was encouraged to make some kind of ceremonial cut to an umbilical cord that had already been chopped by an impatient doctor. I was then taken to the corner of the delivery room where I watched this baby, mine, get cleaned down and have each of its fingers and toes counted. Afterwards, it was swaddled and placed in my arms, and I was encouraged to walk back to my wife and present it to her as if it were a gift. “Happy?” asked one of the midwives.
While I struggled to find the appropriate answer, from the corridor came noise: my Spanish mother-in-law, who had spent all afternoon waiting outside and who now wanted in. She burst through the door and filled the delivery room with a frankly rabid enthusiasm, a grandmother at last who wanted everybody to know about it.
To the assembled midwives and doctors – and there were several, my wife’s delivery having been upgraded to complicated just moments before – her joy was infectious. To me, it was almost embarrassing. While she fussed over her daughter and granddaughter, I slunk silently outside, where I burst briefly into tears and then staggered down the corridor she had so recently vacated, numb to everything except one overriding sensation: that I was entirely unprepared for this, and that I had no idea what would happen next.
In my defence, I hadn’t really wanted children as much as I’d wanted to want them. Never having extended my interest in psychiatry further than the episodes of Frasier, I cannot say for sure that my reluctance to become a father myself had anything to do with the failure of my own family unit, but it does sound like a plausible reason. For me, family was all about strife, strain, long-term depression (my mother’s), and divorce. Can I be blamed, then, for not wanting to start one myself?
Traditionally, it seems, men have never owned up to such feelings, and certainly not publicly. Publicly, we cope, and we do so because we are men. But this appears at last to be changing. Alongside my own recently published book, The Reluctant Fathers’ Club, new fathers are finally finding their true voice and breaking what has been dubbed the “conspiracy of silence” over just how terrifying we can find those first few months of parenthood. Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhoodby Michael Lewis, published this week, is just the latest taboo-breaking book revealing the detachment, or indeed depression, that often strikes new dads, while writers Ben George and Steve Doocy ring in with their own tales of what is surely life’s steepest learning curve with The Book of Dads and Tales From the Dad Side: Misadventures in Fatherhoodrespectively.
About time too, many say. Back when my girlfriend was pregnant, I scoured the bookshops for titles that would tell me just what to expect. I wanted memoirs that were as frank about fatherhood as, say, Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work was about motherhood, but to no avail. All I found were “How To…” guides often filled with jokes about beer and breast milk. During my book research, I spoke to a doctor who suggested that paternal postnatal depression was actually on the rise, but that no research had yet been undertaken for the simple reason that anything to do with the after-effects of childbirth were still mainly focused on the mother.
“Fathers are seen to have it so much easier than mothers,” the doctor said. “A nonsense, of course, and something we really must address.”
According to Parentline Plus, men find it much harder to admit the need for help than women. Of 25,000 calls to their helpline over an eight-month period last year, just 16 per cent came from fathers, their conclusion that men don’t seek help, but rather attempt to deal with any problems that surface themselves, often inexpertly. The government-sponsored charity is now actively aiming to establish workshops and support group specifically for such fathers.
In his new book, Michael Lewis goes so far as to say that for the first six weeks of his daughter’s life, his feelings veered from detached amusement to hatred. “The reason we must be so appalled by parents who murder their infants is that it is so easy and even natural to do,” he writes. “Maternal love may be instinctive, but paternal love is learned behaviour.”
I had never fully known bewilderment before our daughter, Amaya, came along, but I all too quickly became rudely conversant in it immediately afterwards. The first few months of her life turned ours comprehensively upside down. Everything was new; there was much to learn. Nights became battlegrounds, unbroken sleep a thing of the past. My girlfriend became so necessarily devoted to the hourly ministrations of our child that I became an underemployed presence in my own house, hanging around on the off-chance she needed something warming up, or cooling down. We barely talked.
A friend of mine reacted to the birth of his son by throwing himself into work to such an extent that he very rarely went home, preferring to talk about his new family over successive pints rather than being at home. The inevitable eventually happened, and his wife left him. He has a new partner now, and another son. He stopped drinking several months ago, and his was one of many cautionary tales I endeavoured to take to heart.
It is man’s inalienable right to retain full hold of his immaturity, and I certainly did mine. My initial response to being demoted was to sulk. But as I began to understand that everything had changed irrevocably, I felt a low-level depression creeping in, a conviction that I had overstretched myself, and wouldn’t cope.
Though I never felt any resentment towards my daughter – if anyone was the innocent party here, it was her – I felt little in the way of parental love. But how could I? She was a stranger to me, and a fairly rude one at that. She disrupted my sleep, she cried when I tried to hold her. Her nappies terrified me, and she’d killed my sex and social life stone dead. I was going to have to get to know her first, and this would take some considerable time.
In fact, it would take months, many months before I got a kind of toehold on it at all. The more recognisably human she became, the more she was able to look up at me and, better still, smile, the more I felt drawn towards her, some kind of unexpected awakening taking place inside me. And by the occasion of her first birthday, magic of a sort had occurred. I had fallen in love with her, by stealth. And I could say now, with conviction, that all the upheaval had been worth it.