Four am, I poured myself a cup of day-old coffee with ice. I sat on the couch with our midwife as she told me it was going to be a while until my daughter was earthbound. The mother of my child sat upstairs with her mother and talked as her contractions got closer and closer. Not fully in labor yet she was still able to speak clearly and engage.
As a man there is nowhere on the planet that can feel more acutely lonely than a room full of women observing a birth. There is a level of carnal and instinctive connection that links women together when one of them is going into labor. It’s not something tangible. Like the eerie magic of synchronized menstruation, something electric in the air fuses them together and links their thoughts and feelings with the sole job of protecting mother and child, and I could feel it. I know some men don’t feel this separation, but I know there are hundreds that do. Hundreds of us that feel truly like the “odd man out.” Too scared to address the elephant in the room that this time simply isn’t about you and voicing any doubts you have is unbearably selfish and tone deaf.
My daughter’s mother and I had been watching Emily in Paris together and laughing at the fact we were about to bring a child into the world. Just us two, giggling away with joy and trepidation. A sort of unknowing feeling that makes your insides jump around. Also, how insane are some of the outfits in that show? Then her water broke and in hindsight that was truly the last time we were ever properly together.
Then the labor started…
I watched as the woman I loved transform into someone I did not recognize. Grinding and fighting herself. Hidden pain that only she could endure. I saw the blood and the poop and immediately knew there was nothing I could do for her. Nothing to do but sit and wait as she screamed out in pain. In movies and society, men are taught to sit in the metaphorical waiting room during this process. But here I was on the floor of my bathroom holding her hand and praying that everything would be ok. Completely unprepared for labor and delivery as I had skipped reading any books or watching any videos. Always the punk rocker I figured my natural instinct would do me justice. But I was wrong. And it was too late to go back and ask for the help that I needed.
I had now spent hours staring into the eyes of the midwife, angry that she wasn’t giving me the reassurance that my daughter was ok. Her constant prodding and checking on Mama. What about me? I thought. Knowing that I was being selfish in all of this made everything worse. It was no one’s job to make sure my anxiety was in check. Now guilty and afraid I knew there was no turning back. Six foot two and I lost control of my body and mind. It was six fourteen am and she came screaming into the world. I recall seeing the full moon settling into the sunrise as she entered my life. Knowing in my soul that this was the last moment I would ever have of not being a dad. ‘What have I done?’ I thought to myself. I couldn’t know it at the time but I was experiencing what so many men before me have felt before.
A sudden jolt of disillusion that confuses you to think you regret your own child. I spent ten months anticipating this child. I spent almost a year convincing myself and everyone around me that I was ready for this. So now it’s here. Now she’s here and I’m not ready at all. What happened to laughing at Emily in Paris huh?
One in ten men suffer from postpartum depression. I recently asked my community about postpartum in men and I only received two messages reaffirming this statistic. Why is it so taboo to speak on this?
If only eight to ten percent of us Fathers suffer, why shouldn’t we speak on it? Postpartum is defined as, “ depression suffered by a mother following childbirth, typically arising from the combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustment to motherhood, and fatigue.”
So by definition the men are not involved. We aren’t seen. Society teaches us that we are meant to be strong and supportive during the birthing process. Teaching us also that we are supposed to have it figured out but all from a safe distance. Men still casually ask each other, “are you going to watch?” Dispelling the joy and miracle of childbirth and narrowing it down to a disgusting act which, if observed, will render our partners unattractive. I mean hell, it’s not our bodies pushing out a baby, why should we be the ones suffering?
So I sat there, staring at my child. Unsure of how to hold her. Beating myself up for not being able to jump into the position of Father. Watching as her mother put her on her breast. So easily assuming the maternal role. Quietly suffering I feared I was becoming my own Father who had not been involved in my life. My inability to connect resulted in anxious energy. My phone was going off. Texts from my mother, “Is she here? Should I come over?” It was peak covid and everyone had decided they didn’t care and would descend upon my home the morning of the birth. This also triggered my OCD.
My mom came in crying. Her normal state whenever she’s happy or sad. The tears made me more anxious. Just reinstating my feelings of why the fuck did I have a kid. How unready I was. She looked at me and said softly, “You’re a dad” – I immediately welled up with tears. An uncontrollable sadness, a giant wound opened that wouldn’t close up for the next few months. Was this all the trauma from my life bubbling to the surface? Or was I just unworthy of my new found role as Dad?
I descended the stairs and asked my mom to sit on the couch with me. I laid my head on her lap gently and just began to cry. Unable to communicate at all. I had so many thoughts and words that just never came out. I sat there suffering from PPND – paternal postnatal depression. It would take me three days to speak again. It would take me weeks to even want to hold my child. Paternal postnatal depression is so unquantifiable and poorly supported because of the profound silence men can sink into when dealing honestly with their emotions.
I urge us as Fathers to be honest about how we are feeling. Admonishing the guilt and shame of feeling lesser to your partner, just because you didn’t physically give birth. Read as many books as you want, watch as many births as you can stomach but truly nothing will ever train you for the moment you really become a dad. That moment is also yours and I urge you to prepare so you can own the surreality of it all.