It was a lovely calm evening at home. Michelle and I were relaxing on the sofa watching some easy TV, probably Drive To Survive or something (we love it ;)), I with a wee whisky in hand and Mich nursing a cup of tea. All was quiet and calm and we plodded upstairs to bed. We were still five days before the EDD (Expected Due Date), so I drifted off into a deep sleep probably dreaming of F1.
The next thing I knew was Mich prodding me in the arm and saying 'I think it's happening'. And like that, you're catapulted into your new role before you even feel ready for it. My initial thoughts were: "oh man, it's like 2:30am...", but we started counting the time between contractions and pretty soon we realised that this was more than just Braxton-Hicks (false contractions).
People often asked me during the pregnancy: "you must be so excited!" or "I bet you can't wait to meet your baby!". And yes of course part of you feels like that. But these questions can also prompt a modicum of guilty thoughts such as: "why aren't I feeling the way they're asking me?" or "yeah I guess I'm excited but I'm also flipping anxious and scared and have no idea what I need to do!".
But fear not dads, you're not alone. The unfortunate situation you're in is that there is in reality very little external / community support and acknowledgment of the mental well-being of dads. And it's not about who has it worse between you and your partner, more what you experience is just different and the ability to listen, acknowledge and empathise between you is the most important support you can give to each other especially in the early months during your lives' transition.
Once our daughter was with us at home and we were getting used to our new lives, I remember Mich and I starting to feel ourselves taking a bit of a turn for the worse. A lot of mums suffer from postnatal depression, but many suffer from postnatal anxiety (something I'd never heard of). It also affects dads as well with 10% suffering from it. However, staggeringly this figure rises to up to 50% if the mum has it as well. What we experienced respectively in terms of our feelings and transition are for another post, but in short, the thing we found most important was that we were a team and we listened to each other and helped each other when emotional wobbles happened. Believe me there were many, but it only resulted in us becoming tighter and closer. Mich also started to make great and strong friendships with other new mums from her WhatsApp mums group and would often be messaging them in the middle of the night trying to figure out breastfeeding / wind / sleep / swaddling problems! The support that the mums gave to each other was just wonderful and I think had a massive impact on how they all coped, particularly when the other partner returns to work. However I remember wondering why there was not anything similar for dads? At many points I remember feeling (despite the amazing support from Mich) quite isolated and not able to express how I felt to anyone other than her. This feeling is then compounded by also not wanting to over-burden as well. So as a result you often end up internalising and putting on a facade of being okay.
Cutting forward two years... since Mich and I have taken over The Family Zone, I am now determined to build a community for dads where they don't feel isolated and not able to share anything with others. I'm trialing this on the 22nd September with one of my chums (dad of three) at Musubi Hiro in Central. The objective being to have a cosy gathering for dads-to-be to meet dads-that-are in a completely BS and judgement free environment where literally any question can be asked and sharing of feelings encouraged so that dad's-to-be feel more empowered about what's coming and about themselves.
My point is this: there is no should or shouldn't when it comes to how you feel
about anything. Honouring, sharing and acknowledging what you're feeling and
working as a team is the most important thing you can together. The danger of dismissing emotions and feelings is that it denies that person the right to feel what they're feeling and as a result compounds this by adding on the layer of 'what's wrong with me? why am I feeling this when I shouldn't be?!'. And when well-meaning friends and family advise us "don't worry!" or "stop being silly/emotional!" or "come on cheer up!" OR the insidious phrase "come on man up", they might as well be telling us "what's the matter with you? Just speak Japanese!"
Director - The Family Zone
Dad of one
Husband to Michelle
Nappy changing expert & Prince of wet wipes