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* Special issue of The Psychologist on Men's Mental Health published by the BPS and the collective product of work from the Male Psychology Network
Suicide - What happened in the 80's?
Men's Minds Matter
Father's Day Special
by Sarah Jane Griffiths and Luke Sullivan
We asked four men to share their experiences of becoming new fathers - from conception to pregnancy, helplessness to mastery, bonding and back to work. We hope their stories provide some insight and helpful advice for prospective fathers as well as triggering some memories for those ,who have also been blessed with children of their own. Happy Father's Day to all those special dads in the world.
Mark (37), East Sussex, Builder, Twin boys (11 months)
How are you finding being a dad?
It’s harder than I ever imagined. You can't believe how much it changes things. When my mates started having kids years ago they'd turn up late to the pub, or just for an hour, and I'd be like 'how hard can it be to put your kids to bed?!' Now I don't even make it down for that one hour! One moment you can just nip out and do whatever you want and then all of a sudden, you have no time whatsoever. There’s no nipping out. You couldn’t even think about doing anything but looking after the boys. But it's getting easier now.
Has a particular time been more difficult than others?
The first couple of months. You're up all night and then going to work the next day. But you still feel that you've got it easier going to work than having to look after the boys, doing about 20 nappies a day.
Was there a time you thought you might not get through those two months?
Yeah, I had a little meltdown! Big time. I think it was mainly lack of sleep - in the first week we stayed in hospital for five days, [I had] maybe one hour’s sleep in four nights. It all just builds up in your head. Did you cry? I did yeah.
How long did you stay at home before you went back to work?
I think I had two whole weeks at home - to have got home and then gone to work the next day would have been a bit harsh. I would have liked to have had longer. I think it's important those first couple of months to spend time with them. I felt a bit guilty about leaving. My partner sent lots of photos, which was nice. Coming home is good, that's a highlight. They get excited in tandem.
Any embarrassing moments so far?
Oh loads. The time before I was going out and one of the boys decided to piss up in the air and it just went all in his face and in his eye and over me. Things like that when you're out in public.
How long were you trying for?
A few weeks I think. We didn't expect it to happen that quickly.
Do you remember how you felt when you found out it was twins?
Just shock. Pure shock. I don't think my partner knew to begin with – I knew instantly, I just saw two people and I was speechless.
Were you scared?
Without a doubt. Multiple births - it's not something you ever plan for and obviously the whole thing is a bit more complicated, because they're identical twins so the chances of something bad happening… the chance is a lot more. I tried not to think about it too much. My partner had a C-section - which was odd because you never have that mad dash to the hospital. I was dead nervous. There was one bed space [on the ward] with two little baby cots and we were like, 'I’m guessing that’s us!' We waited for hours and then once it all started it was so quick, they were just passing babies to me.
Did you talk to your partner about feeling scared?
I don't think I did in the build up to it, because she was scared enough. I didn’t talk to her much about it at all until afterwards.
Has the experience changed your relationship?
It’s definitely made us closer. I think the day of the actual birth, that was quite overwhelming. Going in there just the two of us and coming out as a four piece was quite weird.
Has it changed you?
Definitely. I'm a lot more careful in a lot of ways. I don't take as many chances in life, bit more sensible. A lot more emotional, like a big girl now! It's made me work a lot harder. God, I've never worked so much in my life.
Has it changed your relationship with your family?
It's made us closer in that our family want to see the boys. It's definitely made me closer to my partner’s family - her mum and dad are fantastic. I don't want to go on about having two but if we didn't have [family] all so close I think it would have made it impossible. I think it's important to have people there.
Any tips for prospective fathers?
Enjoy it! It's an amazing thing and it goes quick and you feel like you're on a hamster wheel, but just stop and realise how lucky you are. Don't panic over everything - babies are pretty resilient. And definitely don't listen to other parents about their kid’s development - don't put pressure on yourselves to develop some kind of machine super baby. They're your baby so that makes them the most special and amazing person in the world.
Any plans for the big day on Sunday?
Sunday? What’s happening Sunday?
Gibson (32), London, Project Manager, Boy (3 months)
How are you finding being a dad?
It's amazing. High highs and low lows. It’s like everything was in black and white and now everything's in colour. It’s been really tiring, which was incredibly stressful. I've adjusted now, but it does feel like I've done a week's worth of transatlantic flights, all the time. You realise that that isn't really going to go away, at least not for a really long time.
Has it been what you expected so far?
I really hoped it would be as joyful as it is. It’s incredible. I love this little guy. Nothing really prepares you for it.
You expect that you're going to be in love with your little child but it's really overwhelming. It's very, very different to any relationship I've had. Similarly my relationship with my wife as well is totally different. All the emotions have got bigger and there's a stronger bond. And I'm much more emotional about stuff.
How did you find the birth?
Going through childbirth together was an amazingly traumatic thing, but incredibly powerful at the same time. Nothing prepares you for that either. They always say it can be really traumatic to see your partner in pain and really not be able to do anything about it. My role was just to respond to whatever it was that she needed me to do, even if that was just to clear out of the way. I didn't expect it to be such a feat of endurance. To see this person that I'm in love with go through this insane thing. Guys could never do it, full stop! Like seriously no way.
How did you find the pregnancy?
We went through IVF so it was actually quite a long road for us. We had quite a dark time at the start, we were really depressed that things hadn't worked out as we hoped. IVF is a tough thing to go through but what it did do is strengthen our resolve. It gave us a long time to think 'this is really what we want to do' and so actually when my wife got pregnant, it was just fantastic news and by that point we were completely on board with it.
Has being a parent changed your relationship with your own family?
Definitely with my dad. Once you hit 13 or 14 you and your dad go through that patch where you're both fighting for dominance and by the time you move out, it all changes and you become more like two men. I realise in 14 years time I’m going to go through the same thing and in the back of my mind I’ll be going ‘do you know what mate, I cleaned your dick and balls on a daily basis for years.’ it's definitely humbling.
If you were giving a friend one piece of advice what would it be?
Just expect the first two months to be insane. Just write them off and if you treat them like anything can possibly happen, it avoids you getting too pissed off when things don't go to plan.
I had statutory paternity leave which is two weeks - it just wasn't enough, not by a long chalk. If there was any way I could have afforded it [I would have taken] two or three months off. I was really depressed [going back to work], because I was really tired and shellshocked. And also this amazing thing has just appeared in your life, this amazing human being that you just want to be around all the time. My office is about a 30 minute cycle ride from home and I nearly came home today, just to hang out with them for fifteen minutes and then cycle back again.
What do you think about the amount of professional advice and support the man gets during the pregnancy, birth and the early days?
I'm guessing compared to when my dad had me we are light years ahead, but also there is a complete black hole to be honest. I read a really great book a friend gave me specifically for new dads, it was the first book I read that wasn't just horribly patronising. It was written by a man for men and it really helped because it spoke a language that I understood. You kind of just have to take it on the chin that pregnancy is something that happens to someone else's body. You have to accept that the focus is on the mother but also that's quite difficult to deal with.
Alex (36), Surrey, AML Analyst, Boy (2 weeks)
So how you finding being a dad so far?
I was probably more nervous anticipating it because there's such a long build up. There are different markers to find out everything's ok, like the 12 week scan, and every time you go in you’re kind of on tenterhooks. Even before that, the whole trying is a bit of a nightmare. For him to be here is amazing, I'm relieved and happy. The actual birth, without being over the top, is pretty mind blowing. You're just given this human that you don't know at all.
What was the birth like?
It was 48 hours really from the start. We went to the hospital and they said 'just go home and wait until the contractions get stronger and more frequent'. We were already pretty tired and anxious. When my wife's waters went that was a game changer - she was nearly on the floor in tears really hurting and it was like 'ok this is definitely happening'. It's more like ‘what the fuck?’, rather than ‘this is magical’. It's stressful but you just deal with it. Everyone says it, but you do feel helpless as a man, you're kind of watching her in pain. I felt sorry for her because she just looked knackered. But in the end, everything's amazing! I think the first 24 hours was a bit of blur. I remember bringing him home - that was cool - then you're so busy worrying about how you change a nappy, it just all goes by quite quickly.
What was it like when he first came out?
I was really buzzing, like 'this is amazing!', and just walking around the room taking to him, talking rubbish. I showed him to my wife. I instantly felt amazed at the whole experience and I knew, no matter what, I'll be taking care of that person for the rest of my life.
But there wasn't like an instant bond, it was more like 'who is this thing?' He looked nothing like us, and he looked like a little rugby player. You are quite overwhelmed. Now we’re getting to know him. For me that's how bonding really takes place and that's what we're doing now - changing his nappy every ten minutes.
Do you feel like you’ve changed as a person?
If anything I just want to be better basically. I just want to be better at everything for his sake. I want to make sure that I actually am doing something fulfilling, that I don't waste my life - because I want to make sure that he lives in that way as well. But I don't feel different - I feel like it's me but I've just got a kid now.
Has it changed your relationship with your own family?
Yeah definitely. You respect your parents more. This has just added more to that sentiment that I'm starting to really appreciate, not just what they did but how they must have felt.
Did you feel more protective of your partner when she was pregnant?
She would say 'stop being such a worry wort!'. She said she's going to buy me a High Vis vest, a hard hat and a clipboard because I'm 'Mr Health and Safety'. I’m just worrying about what could go wrong and just looking out for them.
What's been your favourite thing so far then?
This week really. Even just within a week, you're more used to the fact that they're tiny and you get more confident in handling him - you're over worrying about breaking them. This morning my wife was asleep and I gave him a little bath and he liked that. He's always crying when you change him but instantly as soon as you put the hairdryer on him, just on like half warm, he loves it - he shuts up immediately. So I give his hair a little hair dry.
How much time did you take off?
Well I got two weeks, which doesn't feel like enough, and I'm dreading going back to work. I go back on Monday which will be 16 or 17 days. I'll just be getting home in time to hopefully give him a bath and put him to bed, and that'll be my only interaction with him, which is quite sad really. Over the summer I've booked lots of Mondays off so we have long weekends. In the long term I actually don't know how it's going to work yet.
Have you picked up any top tips?
Stay calm and relaxed and just enjoy stuff. I let my nerves sometimes get in the way. It was only once I started to relax that I enjoyed the whole trying - when things weren’t happening I was always thinking 'oh it must be me, there must be something wrong with me'. Just try your best to enjoy it.
Craig (40), Northamptonshire, Plasterer, Boy (3 months)
How are you finding being a dad?
It's very, very exciting but it's also very, very demanding. I come home from work and take over from my wife so I don't get to relax until maybe 9 O'clock at night after bath time and feeding. At the weekends, that's more of a special time. I get to know him a lot better then.
My wife had planned to breast feed but it didn't work out, which upset her quite a bit. Once we realised the alternative of expressing milk it eased that pain.
But it's given me an opportunity to take over half of the feeding so I can be fully hands on [otherwise] it would make me a bit redundant, almost like a nappy changer. [The feeding’s] like the bonding.
Has it been what you expected?
People would say to me 'it's the hardest thing ever'. I do a hard physical job but no one could explain to you how hard it actually is. The first six weeks, I look back and think 'how on earth did we cope?', getting up every three hours and going to work. Some of it is a bit of a blur, but it's amazing. When I sit there at night after a feed and he falls asleep in my arms, you just think 'I created that person' and it’s a great feeling.
The first day we came home was a scary, scary moment. Going for the first walk even was really exiting, just silly stuff like going round to the shops was a new experience.
Has it changed you as a person?
I've become more of a patient person, a bit more understanding of my wife’s needs. When you go to antenatal classes they teach you about understanding your partners needs.
Has it changed your relationship?
We're getting back to the same old stuff that we used to do. Saturday's I have him [as my wife goes to work] and then Sunday we get to spend some quality time together as a family. I get up and give him his morning feed on a Sunday and give my wife a lie in because she doesn’t get much of a break. Looking after him is a full time job.
Has it changed your relationships with your mum and dad?
You almost feel under pressure, like if you don't go and see your mum and dad and show him off a bit then they'll be annoyed with you. I've always been my mum’s sunshine for 39 years and now the boy’s come along I go round and I don't even get a look in really! But I'm ok with that.
What was the birth like for you?
The hospital was brilliant. We saw off one set of midwives and got another set in the morning - both teams were good as gold for us. They said they'd have to C-section because [he wasn't] coming and literally within half an hour we had the baby out - we'd waited 24 hours and then it happened in half an hour.
I had to be the first one to hold him and that was a nervous moment, because I'd never been shown how to hold a baby, [but] when someone gives you your baby you feel connected and comfortable.
How long were you trying for?
I had testicular cancer 14 years ago and had my sperm frozen. They were due to stop freezing it in the December of the year we conceived. We'd already started talking about looking at IVF. In the back of your mind there’s always that thought of like, 'I've only got one testicle, am I going to be any good?' That's what made it a real exiting moment when my wife said ‘I'm pregnant’.
Did you find the help you got was sensitive to you as a man?
The antenatal classes we went to were really beneficial. They sit you down and say '[your partner] might call you every name under the sun but they don't really mean it'. Towards the end of the pregnancy, maybe about 8 months in, we had a little bit of a to-do and we didn't talk for three days. I was in the spare room. That just goes to show you how her mood had changed. I could have approached that situation a lot better.
How long did you have off work?
I was only planning on having a week off but being in hospital the first week, I wanted to have the next week off.
I would have loved to have more time off. Because of the C-section those two weeks were really good for me because I was the one doing all the nappy changing and things - I was up to speed on everything.
What advice would you give to any prospective dads?
Bottle feeding is a way for the bloke to get really involved in the early stages. I'd probably say get your rest while you can, because you'll need it. The little bits of advice that people give you are worth taking in - even if half of it doesn't work, if a quarter of it does it's worth it.
What’s the best thing about being a dad?
Watching him smile and putting him to bed every night. Knowing he's my boy, that's probably the best thing.