On Monday 8 March 2021 at 8:01pm a figure loomed large above my head screaming in indignation as the sheet was drawn back. “Congratulations, this is your son” said the nurse before bringing him closer to me for inspection. It felt like I was in a dream as Sidney wriggled in her arms.
But amongst the joy and elation there was a real sense of fear. Fear of how I would cope with this change and new responsibility. Fear that at some point I would let him down. Fear that I wouldn’t cut it as a father. Now, I know these thoughts will be common to most new fathers particularly when it’s your first child. But this was enhanced by the fact I had suffered a relapse of depression and OCD in June 2018 and hadn’t recovered much in two and a half years.
Sidney was born at Kingston Hospital in London which thankfully allowed partners to be present during labour and at birth. I know this hasn’t always been the case during the pandemic, depending on which hospital you used and the state of Covid-19 in the UK at the time of birth. For example, my brother was not allowed to be by his wife’s side during the first half of her labour last year which really took a toll on her mental health. For Sidney, my wife and I, up until recently, Covid-19 has meant we couldn’t get out and meet new parents and babies to build new relationships and get peer support which has been frustrating. Fortunately, I have been able to work from home remotely during the pandemic so I’m always around to help if my wife needs me but for many fathers this hasn’t been the case.
Fast forward three months and it has been a real journey even in this short space of time. The first few weeks were really tough, as my wife and I scrambled to learn on the job. I really struggled with my depression and OCD at times, which was compounded by a lack of sleep and the enormity of being responsible for this new human being. I have found getting up in the morning really hard, as my depression makes me feel empty and exhausted, leaving me with little drive and energy to interact. Meanwhile, my OCD has focused on Sidney, producing upsetting intrusive thoughts. Luckily, my parents have been staying with us a lot which has helped massively. Just having those extra pairs of hands makes a real difference. As time has gone by things have got a bit easier as you get to know your baby better, you get into a routine and your baby starts to sleep longer.
There are a few things I’ve found that have helped me get through this stressful period. Firstly, clear and honest communication between you and your partner. The first few months are very stressful so it is key to be honest and open with them and not let any frustration or resentment build up that could affect your relationship and mental health. Secondly, try and get sleep when you can get it, don’t look at your phone and scroll the internet, you have to accept your life has now changed and your baby has become the focal point, but be kind to yourself at the same time – this adjustment can take time to come to terms with. If you don’t want to sleep maybe enjoy your alone time by trying some relaxation exercises or mindfulness. But remember to make time for any exercises you’ve been given by your therapist such as exposure therapy in the case of OCD. Lastly, try and do some exercise daily. Even if it’s just a short walk, the change of scenery can really help.
In the end, despite all the stress, it’s all worth it when your baby gives you that first cheeky smile.
This blog references depression and OCD. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with either condition, you may be looking for more information. Visit our mental health conditions information pages to learn more about symptoms and treatments for depression, OCD and other conditions clearly and simply.
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