This is a guest blog from lovely Kate Sower, one of our Mother for Life mums.
With Father’s Day and International Fathers’ Mental Health Day looming, I thought this would be a great topic for my next blog.
A father’s role has dramatically changed over the past few decades. Today’s dads compared to previous generations, are much more hands on – both practically and emotionally.
Adjusting to parenthood can be overwhelming, especially if it is your first child. There can be a whirlwind of emotions going on all at the same time – from sheer joy to terror. It’s one of the biggest moments in a man’s life. You’re now suddenly responsible for a little human being!!
Whilst the health of mother and baby are the forethought, fathers go through a lifestyle shift and hormonal changes too, but are quite often left to cope in the background.
We often hear about postnatal depression and associate this with women, but men can also be affected. And why not, they’re only human too!! Around 10% struggle with their mental health during the first year. In reality this figure will be much higher, as this is only taking into account those who are willing and able to speak about it.
The chances of experiencing postnatal depression also increase if the other parent is or has experienced PND too.
It is common practice as part of the mum’s health check 6-8 weeks after the birth, to be asked questions regarding her mental health and wellbeing. There is no such appointment for the father, who, if maybe actually asked about their wellbeing, would open up about it.
International Fathers’ Mental Health Day was started back in 2016 in a bid to help raise awareness and increase support for fathers. How often do we hear ‘big boys don’t cry’ and ‘man up’? This attitude causes so much damage. For those who feel like they can’t speak out, any negative feelings can multiply, as they are made to feel that their thoughts are invalid.
It has been particularly hard during the past year and a half due to covid conditions. Fathers-to-be have missed antenatal scans and appointments and even the birth due to different regulations and guidance. They have lost their involvement in the pregnancy, and it can almost feel like it’s not ‘real’.
We’ve also not been able to connect with our support network as we might once of done. Increased isolation and families living on top of each other is an added stress. Or separated parents might have been reduced contact with children.
Whilst we might have had more family time with people working from home, this might not have been quality time, as we try to juggle both work and play all in the same surroundings. This makes it hard to switch and concentration from one to the other.
I discovered the awesome Letters of Light Project, where letters of support and kindness are sent from mothers who have come out from the other side to those who are struggling. They are now working on a project for this to involve fathers too. This could be for fathers who are struggling themselves, or for those who are trying to support a struggling mother.
Becoming a parent, you quickly learn that you need to take each day as it comes. Things happen when you least expect them (poonami….enough said!!) that you can’t prepare for. Whilst it can be extremely stressful, bottling up feelings, worries and concerns isn’t going to help. By talk openly and honestly we can discover that this is completely normal to have struggle with the new role and feelings towards it.
It’s common to crave the ‘old you’, which is why it’s vital to have a bit of time to yourself. This could be doing something you enjoy, or simply having quiet time to gather your thoughts.
By surrounding ourselves with other parents, we can support others who in return can support you. Swopping stories, experiences and asking questions is a great way to normalise talking about feelings – whether they’re positive or negative. You’ll quickly discover that others feel similarly.
At the same time, you don’t want to start comparing yourself/your child with others. All this will do is potentially increase your anxieties further. All babies, and fathers for that matter, develop and achieve milestones at their own pace.
I think All on the Board sums it up perfectly in the image attached to this post.
Our feelings don’t have to define or control us. By recognising that negative thoughts aren’t helpful or true, we can put steps into place to focus on positive thoughts and helping them grow.