As some of you will know, amongst other things, I am quite a twitter addict. Recently I have been dealing with questions from some new dads that have surprised me. Especially when they have come from dads that had attended traditional antenatal classes.
End of the world as you knew it! No really life as you knew it has changed forever, but what an amazing change has taken place. For many of us it is a total (cliché alert) rollercoaster of emotions, forgive my use of that term but at this moment in time I can think of nothing that describes it more accurately.
Come on guys, admit it… You found out you going to be a dad and since you have had all sorts of thoughts and fears going round in your brain! Don’t worry, it’s totally normal and what’s more, I doubt you have any that are unique to you.
Fear release, is a very important part of we do at DaddyNatal. No, blokes don’t all have to tell me their deepest darkest fears, but I do explain the common ones and where they stem from. We do then discuss some they may be having if they feel like sharing, and of course, all done in true male style complete with humour! And this is the essence of why it is crucial that DaddyNatal is entirely men only – let’s be honest, do you really think men will feel comfortable to discuss their personal fears in front of their partners or other women? Of course not!
Why is it so important we deal with fear?
The why is simple, and something I discuss in my piece on “Men at Birth” but in a nutshell, fears that are not released can be picked up during labour by the laboring woman. This can lead to prolonged or even stalled labour through the production of adrenalin. Worse is, if some fears are not dealt with, they can linger post birth causing friction, resentment and delayed bonding with their newborn child.
So what are common male fears?
Guys, listen up, these are some common ones, but in no way all of them. If yours isn’t on here feel free to email me and I will talk to you about it.
First for the bomb shell, research has shown up to 6 out of 10 expectant fathers at some point in the pregnancy will suffer doubts and fears regarding the paternity of the unborn baby. Definitely on each course I teach, at least a couple of blokes, have been, or are dealing with this. It is so common, yet of course, often not spoken about. This is an important fear to deal with because it can affect the expectant fathers’ behavior during pregnancy, attitude at birth and relationship with the baby.
Ok guys, if you are dealing with this fear, I want you to now listen to the likely reason for having it, accept it and get rid of the thought! The reason for it in 99.9% of cases has absolutely nothing to do with the fidelity of your partner. It stems from perfectly normal fears and anxiety you are having and manifests as this thought. It can be because you have doubts about your own ability to have achieved the miracle of creating a new life. Maybe you are in denial because you’re not ready to be a dad. Maybe you have had concerns about you own fertility. The list goes on but the pattern is clear, it is solely linked to our self-doubt and not our partner.
Fortunately most men have this thought and instantly or within few days are able to move on. For some though it sticks, they obsess and it is extremely destructive. This is why you need to acknowledge it is about you, not your partner, deal with it and move on.
What else? Well we men also worry about how we will support our family. Or worry about handling a baby and not knowing what to do. Again, both purely natural. I am convinced that if we all waited until we were in right financial position to have children, man would be in danger of extinction! There is never a right time, whatever your situation you will find a way to support your family. If you are worried about knowing what to do, well take control and prepare yourself, attend classes like DaddyNatal, talk to friends, research and maybe spend some time with friends or family that have children. One thing though, you will learn what to do and if you put a little effort in you will do just fine.
Men also have the worry of their relationship changing with their partner. Nope, sorry not going to tell you ‘don’t worry it won’t hardly change’, and anyone that does is talking ****. Yes, it is going to change and probably, quite dramatically. If this is your first baby, then you are no longer a couple, you are now a family. In the early days and weeks, there is the possibility of feeling like spare part, unless you have put some work in preparing for what you can do. Read my blog on “When Does a Man become a Dad” for some tips.
Some of us are petrified at the thought of the birth and some will even feel sick at the thought. Again, this is not as unusual as you may think, and through preparation and understanding this fear can be eliminated. For some though, the fear might remain no matter how much effort they put into preparation. If this is the case, then you have to question if you should be there or at the very least, be the main birth partner. You do have a choice, you could see if there is a close family member or friend you both would feel comfortable with who would support you at the birth, or see if you can find and afford a doula you both like.
These are just some of the more common ones, there are plenty more. What is important is you acknowledge your fear, there is no place for macho behavior here. Failure to acknowledge you have a fear and deal with it can have a big impact on YOUR family. I will help anyone that contacts me so please do if you wish to discuss a personal fear. Talk to your midwife, she is happy to work with both of you and is not just there for your partner. Maybe you have maternity helpline which is also there to help and support expectant partners. Do something!! Don’t let fear spoil the best day of your lives.
Postnatal depression in men is a subject close to my heart. From working with expectant fathers and talking to new dads (especially first time dads) I’m aware that this is a real issue.
The medical profession now accepts that postnatal depression in men exists. Really? Tell us something that those of us who work with dads didn’t know! A recent survey by the Medical Research Council of 86,957 families found that 3% of men will suffer postnatal depression in the first year of their baby’s life rising to over 10% by the time baby is 4. This percentage is believed by many to be on the low side, as many men don’t seek help with depression and therefore numbers affected can’t be accurately recorded.
So why is postnatal depression in men on the increase and what causes it?
Is it coincidence that the increase in postnatal depression in men has coincided with the change in the man’s role surrounding pregnancy, birth and fatherhood?
Society has moved towards men being more involved, and taking a fair share of the parenting role, but what we haven’t done is change anything about how we prepare men for this new role! In any other walk of life would we put somebody into a role where they can potentially hurt themselves or others without the correct training? Of course not, but we are perfectly happy to say to a man ‘here you go, you’re going to be a dad, now get on with it!’
Research has shown that one of the most common reasons a man suffers postnatal depression is because his partner is also suffering from it. Women tend to mask their depression very well, and their partner doesn’t recognise it or has no idea what symptoms to even look for. Recent research from the Medical Council suggests that 13% of women are likely to suffer depression in the first year of their baby’s life. Men don’t understand what their partner is going through, which can then be misinterpreted as a lack of care, and we end up in a vicious cycle.
Other reasons for postnatal depression can be guilt, guilt about the birth, trauma from the birth, guilt about not feeling bonded or love for their newborn child, lack of communication between mum and dad, guilt when dad has feelings of resentment for his baby. It can also be from suddenly feeling like an outsider or excluded from his own family, as mum puts baby’s needs first, or simply from the pure tiredness and stress of being a new father, & juggling work and family.
Prevention rather than cure
Prevention has got be better than cure, as this problem will remain hidden in the majority of cases and only come to light in extreme circumstances. So how do we become pro-active in preventing it develop? ‘New Men’ are here to stay so we owe it to them to support them in their new role!
The answer is actually quite simple.
Let’s prepare men for becoming a father, let’s train them on becoming a dad. Once baby is here, let’s support them by providing dads groups at times that are accessible for them. There are some, but we need more, and ideally run by men to allow that open male bonding and support that can occur in a male only environment. Ask a new mum and many will tell you her support network is not her family but a group of new mums she has met through various baby classes. This support is invaluable to mums.
Let’s educate men about symptoms and causes of postnatal depression in their partners. This will help their partner get the help they need quickly, and prevent the transference to them. Men will understand why the mood swings etc are occurring in their partner and not take it personally.
Let’s support men to bond antenatally with their baby, therefore helping to prevent dad’s feelings of guilt about not feeling love for his child when they are born.
Let’s help men to understand and learn practical skills for their role as a birth partner, let them & their partner decide how involved in the birth dad wants to be, and whether they wish for additional support.
Let’s explain to men the changes their partner’s are going through, & how the possible changes will affect them as a family.
Let’s get men to fully appreciate what becoming a dad is all about and prepare for the changes that are going to happen.
Let’s reassure men that a lot of what they will feel and go through is perfectly normal, & it’s ok to talk about their feelings and experiences. Let’s help them to release their fears and stop them manifesting.
So… Prevention or Cure?
The answer therefore is clear. Yes, postnatal depression in men is very real, but through correct education and support can be and should be, prevented. The benefits for society and the family are huge. These are all things I care deeply about and are intrinsic as to why DaddyNatal came to be. We need traditional antenatal education to change and reflect the way society has changed. Dads need specifically tailored help and support, & if we empower them, they in turn will be better able to support their families.
Just think for a minute about how tackling this could have an absolutely massive effect:
Reduced family break up.
Mentally healthier parents = mentally healthier children
Cost savings for our health service.
The list goes on…………..