“My GP confirmed that I was most likely experiencing a form of PND that 10% or so of new fathers can suffer from”
Our supporter “Sean” talks about his experiences of PND and recognition of the condition in men
My wife Simran, or Simmy, as she is known, had a profound experience of PND four months after our first child was born in 2016. Eventually, we managed to get Simmy admitted to a mother and baby unit at a well-known psychiatric hospital. As a doctor herself she felt indescribably lost and humiliated by this, and despite all our reassurances she felt she had failed both professionally and as a mother. Ultimately she realised she needed help so she agreed to recover at the unit with our daughter.
Eventually she was given the right medication and psychiatric support to quell her anxiety. She was there for three months and I visited every evening after work to spend time with her, and help bathe and play with my beautiful daughter. Having to leave there at 8pm each night seemed to break my heart again and again.
On many occasions I sat in the car outside the security gates and wept. I hated feeling like this, so helpless and alone. She was eventually discharged before that Christmas and we were able to start being normal parents at last.
Lack of sleep as new parents is something you get used to, but it can take a big toll physically and mentally. My memory, which had always been good before, was now slipping. I would grasp for the right words in conversations, lose all concentration in meetings, and forget to take care of everyday things. PND was very insidious, the cycle of life gradually slipping in to a robotic pattern: work – home – take care of Simmy and baby – repeat. Without knowing it I had discontinued previous activities that would help lift my mood and alleviate stress.
The things that would make me laugh or took my mind off worries just wouldn’t work anymore. I felt I was struggling, but that I should hide any sign of stress from Simmy and our daughter. Lethargy was difficult to shake off. I wouldn’t call or contact my family or friends, until slowly I became a stranger to myself.
It was now over a year after our daughter was born and I knew that I was in trouble. I had experienced reactive depression before in my late-teens when my estranged, alcoholic father was sent to prison and I had struggled with this loss. On the surface I had so much to live for in my beautiful wife and our incredible daughter, so why couldn’t I be happy about this? I went to see my GP who confirmed that I was most likely experiencing a form of PND that 10% or so of new fathers can suffer from.
In talking to the GP for the first time I felt I could communicate how I was feeling to someone else and the burden felt a bit lighter. I had given up pretending that everything was alright, momentarily. As well as being prescribed medication to treat the depression, I was pointed in the direction of psychologists and services who could help. I am immensely grateful that I was able to find the support when I needed it and learn much more about PND in men.
My lack of knowledge and understanding of male PND has been changed through the PANDAS network. However, every PND dad seems to have had a common experience: no one – from the time we were there in the maternity wards, in healthcare visits, or in our workplaces – had ever asked us how we were coping as new dads.
The reality is that fathers in many cases will be there with their partners during the birth, commonly for two weeks of statutory paternity leave, and then back to work where they are expected to perform at the same high level prior to becoming new dads. A typical day can include: getting up several times throughout the night with baby; assisting partners with baby before leaving for work; performing consistently at work for the next 8+ hours as the main breadwinner whilst partners are on maternity leave; maintaining the home and looking after baby whilst their partners catch up on vital sleep, and then repeat the whole process again. Yet the mental and emotional wellbeing of fathers is not addressed anywhere near adequately enough in the crucial months following birth. No father and partner wants to feel they can’t cope, so we often mask it, refusing to communicate about it almost as if it would be an admission of failure. This is where organisations like PANDAS perform vital work and need much more highlighting for all new parents, especially those who lack a robust support network. It’s time we talked a lot more about PND – both for women and men – and that there is a way out of it with the right support.
(Names of people have been changed to protect their identity)