In October 2019 I was waiting to see my GP in the reception foyer and I noticed a TV running some local advertising, medical news, and a few health-related topics. It was because of this “ice breaker” that I reached out to Gidget Foundation Australia. The topic of postnatal depression was covered very well and was extremely informative BUT the target audience seemed to be mums. What about the dads? Can postnatal depression take its toll on dads as well as mums? The short answer is YES and here is my story.
If we rewind to early 2000 life was great. Sydney was hosting the Summer Olympic Games, my career was progressing ahead of expectations, I met a girl whom I believed was “the one” and life’s grand plan appeared to be playing out before me. It seemed at the time that life’s upward trajectory was mine to destroy.
2003 – I married the girl of my dreams and we had recently upgraded our unit to a house, something far better and easier for us to raise children. Towards the end of 2003, we welcomed our first child, John, into this world and everything could not have felt better. I was up for the early AM feeds just to get a glimpse of John and dared not spend an additional 60 seconds at work as I could think of nothing better to do than spend time with him.
2005 – The excitement of another child to add to our amazing family was the most incredible feeling ever and before long we introduced our 2nd son, Jack, to the world. Everything felt the same as the emotions I had with John until ….. I saw him. This period of my life is still hard to think about, never mind actually telling people I trust. A select few know that during the first few years of Jacks’s life I was in the clutches of postnatal depression.
The 24-month emotional rollercoaster that followed the birth of Jack was by far the major challenge I have ever faced. For reasons I still cannot fully explain to this day, it felt like Jack was replacing my first son like my John was “in the way”, now second-hand goods, irrelevant and this new baby was his replacement. I know this sounds crazy, crazy enough for some to say how silly of me to think that way but I did and for someone who is what I would call pretty steely, if it can happen to me then it could happen to anyone.
At the time, my then wife would deliberately make sure Jack was fed, had fresh clothes on, and had a clean nappy then she would make up an excuse to be busy with something then ask me to hold him. It was pretty clear that she knew something wasn’t firing correctly here but we never discussed it, men were bulletproof and just marched on regardless. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If Jack had a dirty nappy I’d find a way to not be the one to change it, if he was in my arms and started stirring I was the master at the quick offload, if he was crying on his floor mat I was always the last one to try and help settle him. Looking back on those years now I can see a very unhealthy dad dealing with something he didn’t understand in a system that couldn’t recognise him. I only wish that back in those very dark days I may have seen a similar advert somewhere saying something along the lines of “dads, we hear you, postnatal depression can hit mum or dad without agenda” or something similar.
Fast forward to 2020 and I have 3 healthy amazing children. Jack is doing fine in high school, along with his siblings and I can proudly say the bond between Jack and myself, father and son, has never been stronger. Jack has been living with me fulltime now for nearly 4 years! Its mind-boggling that in 2005 a healthy yet defenseless little baby came into the world and I struggled to allow skin to skin contact or anything that resembled a father’s love and now I think we rely on each other every day of the week more than we let on!
This is my story, my survival of postnatal depression. I can only hope that maybe one day another dad will see my story and have an avenue to reach out and get the help he needs. I think that if I knew there was an easy and available service for men at the time of my own struggles, then maybe I would have spoken to someone, and the positive outcome for me might have come sooner.