When I recently published Nicki Dadic’s blog post on postnatal depression, I got a good response, but one of the most surprising came from Aiden Choles, a dad of one (and one in the making), who wanted to write about his experience with parental postnatal depression. It’s a lesser-known side of PND, and I thank Aiden for sharing.
“I was so excited to become a dad. At times I couldn’t explain the anticipation except to say that it felt like I was about to fulfill a purpose. Sam and I had heard how difficult it was being a parent, but in the exuberance of our excitement we felt immune to such realities.
Daniel was then born.
I remember that first night in the hospital. There was a crash of reality as we put him down in his cot. This is real. This is permanent. This is a feeling I didn’t anticipate.
One piece of advice we had been given was that parenting a newborn became easier, for some reason, as they hit the 12 week old mark. And so we were eagerly awaiting that time. Sure enough, Daniel seemed to get used to being alive and was easier to handle at 12 weeks. We breathed a sigh of relief. My sigh was short-lived though. While Daniel had definitely settled down I didn’t find it any easier to be a parent, husband, friend or business owner.
I was tired, so damn tired. All the time.
I put it down to our disrupted sleep. All I wanted to do was sleep or be as far away from society as possible. My ability to cope with work pressures was severely diminished. I became a little bit of a recluse. Social gatherings were even more draining despite my intense love of my friends and family. Responding to emails was just … too … much … effort! All the while this was counter-balanced with an intense pride and satisfaction at being a dad. I felt unexplainable love for my boy, but shit man, life was tough!
It was then that I began to wonder about depression.
Depression had been an acquaintance of mine before, a few years back, when my life had gone through a mini-turmoil. Having studied Psychology I felt a little more open to admitting that I was depressed than the usual manly man would. It was that, or the plain impossibility of getting out of bed in the mornings that convinced me to visit my doc and get some pills.
This time was different though. So I did what any self-respecting young person would do when faced with an uncertainty – I googled. Lo and behold I got search results for Paternal Post-Natal Depression. Huh? I knew that new moms got PND, but fathers? How?
The light of realization began to dawn on me. My symptoms were different to my first bout of depression, but it was certainly depression. I visited my doc and she confirmed the PPND diagnosis and prescribed an anti-depressant.
Knowing that they often take a few weeks to kick in, I could not wait for the weight of life to be lifted. I remember the moment clearly. Sam and I were driving home after church one Sunday when we received an invitation to meet some friends for breakfast. That’s a great idea, I thought. I also thought how strange it was that I was looking forward to it. I then knew – the depression was lifting.
Depression is a strange thing, let a lone a depression that is linked to being a dad. I’m convinced that the main reason men, and fathers more especially, don’t recognize or admit they are depressed is because the onset of depression is often slow and progressive. You don’t feel abnormally sad, but what does happen is akin to that analogy of a frog in the boiling water. Throw a frog into hot water and it will jump out. Put it into cold water though and turn up the temperature and it will boil to death.
The same is true with depression. What makes it more complicated with Paternal PND is the guilt associated with a dad at the same time. Society tells you that you should be over the moon at being a dad, when in fact life feels like it is caving in. My encouragement to you would be to push through those emotions and go and get yourself check-out if you think you may be suffering from PNPD. Your symptoms may be different, but if what you’re experiencing is out of character and persistent, visit your doc. Really. Do it. Your spouse or loved one will be relieved.
On that note, I need to say something about co-parenting when you’re suffering from depression. Sam was amazing. Although I didn’t have the words to describe what I was going through at the time (she was also suffering from the severe adjustment to her body and sleep depravation), she supported me in the journey to recovery. My experience is a reminder to keep talking to your partner about where you are at. Don’t assume that you’re both experiencing the same thing.
Sam and I are now expecting our next little depression-inducing, sleep-disrupting bundle of joy. Yep, we’ve done it again, although much more aware now of how parenting affects you. You see, the joys outweigh the downs of being a dad who is prone to depression. Not for one second would I change my status as a doting, loving and proud father. My boy brings out the best (and worst at times) in me. I’m just glad that I didn’t let a neurological glitch get in the way of fulfilling my purpose.
Don’t let it get in the way of yours.”