Men Under Pressure: My story of post-birth depression

Research by the National Childbirth Trust has found that as many as 1 in 3 new dads also worry about their mental health. Credit: ITV News Central

I have never written about this before. I have talked. I have talked to professionals, to my wife, to my parents, brothers, friends and I sat on the This Morning sofa and announced to the watching world.

I write this with some fear of accusations that my experiences, my feelings are not authentic, that I don’t really experience episodes of depression and that everyone else who has ever been diagnosed as depressed has had a real experience while mine has not been real.

This is – I have come to see – probably a product of my depression.

So I attempt here to write as boldly and honestly as possible.

My story of post-birth depression

"Our daughter was born nearly ten years ago. A long, drawn-out, traumatic birth for my wife.

As I held this new life immediately following her birth, there was a moment when I thought I might be facing parenthood alone. Amazing feelings of joy and wonder at the new life hit up against feelings of fear, guilt and panic.

Becoming a parent was simultaneously incredible and a struggle.

I was not expecting it to be easy, and clearly the decision to have children was ours, so you just get on with it, don’t you. Our daughter didn’t sleep much or well (lots of babies don’t) and wouldn’t let me feed her (no matter how much I persevered with this). Many times, the early hours of the morning were spent with my wide awake daughter (in spite of my best efforts) in the living room so my wife could get some sleep.

I loved my daughter, even felt we had ‘bonded’, but also felt an enormous guilt that I could not contribute more, that I was failing as a dad because I couldn’t do the things that other dads made look easy (like getting their children to sleep) and I wasn’t the dad I wanted or had expected to be – calm, patient, capable.

The feeling of inadequacy fed into an already twisted view of myself and how others see me, and I often felt that perhaps everyone would be better off without me, that I was very much a spare part, more often than not just making things worse. The ‘other me’ – not a different voice, but one of the many ‘me’s’ we all have – told me “I should be good at this”, that “I was a failure”, that “this was just another part of life where I had proved to be of no value to anyone”, and that “there was no hope for me”.

Things got easier as our daughter passed 18 months and as she approached her second birthday my wife was pregnant again. My wife had a miscarriage. A big hit for both of us, but something that you just don’t talk about (although we did).

Fast forward six months, another miscarriage. Another kick. Support from friends, family, but you still aren’t really meant to talk about it and certainly not as a man.

Ridiculous. All the feelings of hopelessness and failure resurrected.A year later, child two – our first son –arrived in far less traumatic circumstances.

And that was the start of the real darkness, the thick curtain draped over all that once brought joy, gave meaning, brought hope. The crack that distanced me from everything and everyone.

The ‘me’ that tells me I am rubbish, that I have let everyone down, that I’m only making things worse, that I am being selfish by being depressed.

The guilt that eats away at anything positive – I don’t deserve to be happy.

Was it all bad? No. But depression doesn’t work like that. Our first son, child two, was and is a joy. So I should have been fine. I had a wonderful wife, a good job, two great kids. I should have been happy. I should have coped.

And the fact that I didn’t, just adds to the guilt. Add into the mix the feeling that maybe, just maybe I’m making all of this up, aided by the dismissive GP who essentially told me to ‘man up’, and ‘pull myself together’.

More guilt.

Matt Padley from Long Eaton suffered depression after the birth of his second child. Credit: ITV News Central

Getting help

I got help. My wife found me curled up in a ball in bed. For the first time, I told her how I felt. It is amazing what you can keep from the person who knows you best. I am fortunate to work somewhere that offers free counselling, talking therapy.

In spite of my scepticism, talking to someone who didn’t know me really helped. He reflected back to me a version of myself that I had lost sight of. He helped me restore my hope and belief in myself.

He gave me tools to make sense of how I feel about myself and the world around me. I was not fixed, but better equipped.

I have come to see that depression, for me at least, is about operating in two versions of reality simultaneously.

I ‘know’ that I was nowhere near as bad at everything as I felt I was; I ‘know’ that many of these feelings, thoughts are irrational, baseless; I ‘know’ that my kids are great and I haven’t ruined their childhoods.

But knowing this doesn’t necessarily mean that I can stop these thoughts, that I ‘feel’ what is ‘known’ or that I will never experience the world as if through a curtain again.

Depression for me is like a long war – it is made up of skirmishes and battles interspersed with extended periods of peace – and ‘knowing’ that there is a battle approaching, helps me prepare my response.

I have come to see that describing myself as someone who has mental health problems can be empowering. Acknowledging that I will always struggle with depression is not defeatist, but honest and enables me to pick up on thoughts and feelings in myself that are signals of the thick curtain being lowered again.

Describing myself in this way also makes it easier to talk to others about my experiences.

And my hope is that the more of us who talk about it, the more apparent the need for support and help for those with experiences like me becomes.

Matt Padley

If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this article then please click here for more help and information.