When I found out my wife was pregnant, I cried tears of absolute joy. There was nothing I wanted more in that moment than to become a dad. The thought of having my own little family was all I ever wanted. But sometimes our dreams don’t turn into what we expect them to be. Sometimes we go down a path we never expect. And for me, that one was one of postnatal depression.
Sewing the Seeds of Postnatal Depression
When Rachel, my wife, was in labour, we were rushed down to theatre in a state of panic. We were being rushed down due to something known as cord prolapse. I could see the panic on the theatre staff as we entered the room, and that panic quickly transferred to me. They didn’t have time to let the anaesthetic take effect before giving my wife an episiotomy and delivering our daughter via suction cup.
As bad as this is to admit, I didn’t want to be in that room. I knew I had to be there, of course. But as I stood there, holding Rachel’s hand, the thought of losing both her and Isabelle took me right back to one of the worst nights of my life – a night where a friend of mine lost his life.
We’d been out drinking, and I made the choice to walk home despite the fact that he was visibly very drunk – I was too in fact. As we walked, he jumped in front of a car, which eventually resulted in his death. I blame myself for what happened that night. Ever since that night I’ve held an awful amount of guilt. From that moment on, any time I found myself in a traumatic situation, I’m instantly taken back to that night. So, when my daughter was being born, there I was, living what’s supposed to be one of life’s best moments, mentally reliving one of my worst.
I was in the midst of this whirlwind of emotions when our little girl, Isabelle, was suddenly out and placed on my wife’s chest. They were both going to be OK.
An hour later, we were back in the maternity ward. One of the midwives came to stitch my wife up from the episiotomy – something that was far more painful than either of us were expecting – and she handed Isabelle to me for the first time. I looked at this feeble, swollen baby and didn’t know what to do – I didn’t even want to hold her. I was nervous of dropping her, or accidentally managing to hurt her in some way. When they did place her in my arms I didn’t feel a thing.
A rush of emotions being replaced with a feeling of nothingness
I was expecting this huge rush of emotions that you hear so much about from new parents or in the media. But none of them came. Perhaps I thought the sleep depravation and chaos of having a newborn had something to do with it at first. But when I still felt nothing a few days later, I knew something wasn’t right.
Slowly, the numbness turned into resentment and dislike. Isabelle would cry more frequently with me and always wanted to be with my wife to feed. I took her apparent dislike for me personally. Those negative feelings I had slowly turned to jealousy as Isabelle took up all of my wife’s time. As selfish and stupid as this will sound, that was time that used to be spent with me. And I didn’t like the fact that my wife’s attention had shifted from me to the baby. I know that’s a stupid way of thinking, but I can’t help that feeling from being present.
I even had an unbearable feeling of regret that Isabelle had even been born. All of that built up to this mental cesspool that slowly brought guilt into the mix – and that just made everything even worse.
As hard as it was, I told my wife about all of these feelings. I felt like I hated my own daughter. And I honestly thought that my life was far worse that she was in it.
In those early day moments, I wanted to leave Rachel and Isabelle. Not for selfish reasons, I just genuinely felt that they’d be better off without me. I even wrote my wife a letter about all of this for our first anniversary – hardly the most romantic thing I’ve ever done. It was painful for my wife to watch me not want to be a father to the daughter I had always wanted, and it was agonising for me to feel that way. I often wondered to myself, “What sort of father doesn’t even love his own daughter?”
Trying to get out of the grasps of postnatal depression
There was a part of me that knew everything I was thinking wasn’t me. It was depression. I had read a lot of parenting books before becoming a father, and I knew that women could have postnatal depression after the birth of a baby. But I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that men could suffer from it.
I had a vast history of depression, and I knew that I had to seek help quickly. My doctor put me on medication straight away and I took a leave of absence from work. I was offered therapy, but it hadn’t worked for me in the past so I declined – but I would suggest that others try it. Instead, I focused on trying to form a better bond with my daughter.
I had tried right from the very beginning to be close with my daughter, but the postnatal depression only got worse. The medication gave me enough of an immediate lift to help prevent me from slipping further. Although I didn’t stay on them very long, it did enable me to try my best to form that bond I was desperate to feel. I bathed her, dressed her, played with her every morning, and I even bought a baby carrier so I could carry her around on me. I didn’t always want to be there doing those things, but I didn’t hide away and I knew that I had to keep going if things were going to get better.
It took eight weeks after the birth to actually feel something close to love towards my own daughter.
We were in a hotel on the seaside at Weston-Super-Mare. It was the day that kick started my recovery form postnatal depression. Isabelle was propped up on the bed in a nursing pillow and caught sight of me dancing. I looked at her and she smiled at me – she was probably thinking “look at this dick!” Suddenly, I felt like she actually cared about me. Perhaps she liked me. In that moment, I even liked her too. It was the turning point that I was hoping would eventually come.
Heading Down the road of recovery from postnatal depression
It took another four months before I felt like I actually loved Isabelle. Only recently, now that she’s just over one years old, would I say that I love her in that way that most parents describe loving their children. I have so much appreciation for just being able to enjoy watching her grow. It’s incredible how fast a baby changes. How much they grow and establish their own personality. These days it’s a true joy just to be a part of this journey.
I know now that I didn’t hate my daughter – I hated myself. The way that Isabelle arrived brought back the night that my friend had died. In that moment I knew that he would never get to have a family like this. Yet there I was, with everything I ever wanted, and I felt like I didn’t deserve any of it. Something inside me didn’t want me to love my own daughter. It took me an entire year to finally realize this.
These days, what I have with Isabelle is everything I could ever want. She challenges me to be a better person, and she’s constantly changing and becoming her own little person. Don’t get me wrong, she still has her moments where you want to sit her in the corner and run for the hills. But that’s parenting.
Even now I still have my bad days, but I’ve learned so much over the first year of her life. I know that I have to continue to be open and honest about how I’m feeling, and I implore others to do the same. This blog was started purely to talk about postnatal depression. I don’t want someone to be lost in the feelings that come with this illness. I want people to know that there is hope. Things can and eventually will get better.
Find someone you can open up to, seek help when you feel low, and just know that this feeling isn’t permanent. I really do believe that I’ve grown from a world of hate to a world of love.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story of suffering with postnatal depression. I know it’s a long post, but if you’ve gotten to this point then thank you for seeing something in this that’s worth reading. This was the reason I started a blog. Since first talking about this I’ve come a long way, but it’s an important part of my parenting journey. I’ve even written a letter to eventually give to Isabelle talking about all of this. Fortunately, though, this blog is now about far more than postnatal depression. I hope this blog can be an example to others that you can be in a bad place and come out the other side.
I’ve also sat down and talked about this on YouTube, which you can watch below: