It was a little before eight o’clock on Christmas Eve night, 2005, when my daughter finally saw fit to enter into the world, a good 24 hours after she had first shown signs of doing so. In the course of that never-ending day, she had already thoroughly tested the patience of a succession of midwives, as well as the resolve of her admittedly scared-witless parents. After worrying talk of forceps and perhaps even Caesarean, she suddenly appeared, slick and bloody, and more real than I had somehow anticipated.
As happens in films, a pair of scissors found their way into my hand and I was encouraged to make some kind of ceremonial cut to an umbilical cord that had already been chopped by an impatient doctor. I was then taken to the corner of the delivery room where I watched this baby, mine, get cleaned down and have each of its fingers and toes counted. Afterwards, it was swaddled and placed in my arms, and I was encouraged to walk back to my wife and present it to her as if it were a gift. “Happy?” asked one of the midwives.
While I struggled to find the appropriate answer, from the corridor came noise: my Spanish mother-in-law, who had spent all afternoon waiting outside and who now wanted in. She burst through the door and filled the delivery room with a frankly rabid enthusiasm, a grandmother at last who wanted everybody to know about it.
To the assembled midwives and doctors – and there were several, my wife’s delivery having been upgraded to complicated just moments before – her joy was infectious. To me, it was almost embarrassing. While she fussed over her daughter and granddaughter, I slunk silently outside, where I burst briefly into tears and then staggered down the corridor she had so recently vacated, numb to everything except one overriding sensation: that I was entirely unprepared for this, and that I had no idea what would happen next.
In my defense, I hadn’t really wanted children as much as I’d wanted to want them. Never having extended my interest in psychiatry further than the episodes of Frasier, I cannot say for sure that my reluctance to become a father myself had anything to do with the failure of my own family unit, but it does sound like a plausible reason. For me, family was all about strife, strain, long-term depression (my mother’s), and divorce. Can I be blamed, then, for not wanting to start one myself?
Above is an extract from Nick Duerden’s 2009 book, The Reluctant Father’s Club in 2009. When Nick’s girlfriend fell pregnant he had never felt more unprepared for anything in his life. Nick was 36. He had a full social life, lived with his girlfriend in a highly fortified flat in one of London’s not so safe neighbourhoods. Like many men who feel the same, Nick buried himself in research looking for answers. There are plenty of books about pregnancy and the journey of motherhood but nothing that truly catered for the anxieties men felt. Even now, books available to men ridicule their abilities and their role as capable parents.
“The books reduced men to 2-dimensional caricatures and make repeated jokes about beer and breast milk. Fathers, especially reluctant ones, don’t want to be talked down too. They want it told just as it is.”
Nick’s book offers a no fluff approach to life’s biggest curve ball. For some, having a child is the greatest gift and for others the pressure and lifestyle change is overwhelming. It is not uncommon for men to feel anxious, unprepared and detached from their newborn children. The joy felt from a newborn can easily be over shadowed by the relentless screaming through all hours of the night and absent sex life between partners. As a result fathers are likely to withdraw from their home life and immerse themselves in work or go out drinking. A friend of Nick coped with the birth of his child by throwing himself into work and a beer instead of spending time at home. Eventually his wife left him. This was a cautionary tale Nick would listen too.
Nick explains his relationship to his daughter during the first year as follows:
“As I began to understand that everything had changed irrevocably, I felt a low-level depression creeping in, a conviction that I had overstretched myself, and wouldn’t cope… She was a stranger to me, and a fairly rude one at that. She disrupted my sleep, she cried when I tried to hold her. Her nappies terrified me, and she’d killed my sex and social life stone dead. I was going to have to get to know her first, and this would take some considerable time. In fact, it would take months, many months before I got a kind of toehold on it at all. The more recognisably human she became, the more she was able to look up at me and, better still, smile, the more I felt drawn towards her, some kind of unexpected awakening taking place inside me. And by the occasion of her first birthday, magic of a sort had occurred. I had fallen in love with her, by stealth. And I could say now, with conviction that all the upheaval had been worth it. “
Having a child is hard work and no one expects you to nail it, especially not the first time, not even the second or third. For the parents who say it was a breeze they were either lying or it was pure luck. If you feel yourself becoming unbearably anxious to withdrawn from your home reach out and ask someone for help. Join a support network. You would be surprised how many dads are in the same boat.
Check in for next week’s blog post that will offer you tips and tricks for coping with life postnatal (don’t worry there won’t be any breast milk and beer jokes!).