From the moment Mark found out his wife was pregnant, he longed to cradle his newborn child in his arms. But, when a midwife gently handed over his baby boy, Ethan, in the operating room, Mark was surprised to feel absolutely nothing.
‘It was like a stranger had come into my life,’ the former salesman from Bridgend, Wales tells ELLE UK. ‘I didn’t get that overwhelming feeling of love for my son that everyone speaks of –I felt cheated. I just wanted to cut the umbilical cord and get out of that labour ward as quickly as possible.’
Little did Mark know that his son’s birth would be the start of a six-year-old long battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and male postnatal depression (PND), suffered in complete and utter silence.
What is male postnatal depression?
Postnatal or postpartum depression is a mental health disorder that affects one in five women, either during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth.
Commonly resulting from previous mental health conditions, the depression is often triggered by childbirth, with symptoms that can range from feeling very low, lethargic and a sense of inadequacy, to having disturbing thoughts about suicide, self-harming or harm to family members, including the baby.
Basically, everything a new parent doesn’t want to feel.
However, very few people know of male postnatal depression, which is just as debilitating and life-threatening as the disorder is for women.
‘There isn’t a clear-cut definition of male postnatal depression but the symptoms can be similar to those of new mothers experiencing mental health problems,’ says Sarah McMullen, head of knowledge for the UK’s largest charity for parents, NCT.
Earlier this year, the UK Medical Research Council and University College London found that a staggering 21 per cent of new fathers experience a depressive episode – with the highest risk being in the first year after birth – in comparison to 39 per cent of new mothers.
Meanwhile, the National Childbirth Trust estimates that 73 per cent of new fathers worry about their partner’s mental health while only 38 per cent have concerns about their own mental health.
‘The increased pressures of fatherhood, more financial responsibility, changes in relationships and lifestyle, combined with a lack of sleep and an increased workload at home, may all affect a father’s mental wellbeing,’ adds McMullen.
For Mark, it was his wife Michelle’s traumatic 22-hour labour that became the catalyst for his perinatal (which means either before or after birth) depression, PTSD and first panic attack.
Coping with a newborn
Until the birth of Mark’s son in 2004, the then 30-year-old – a self-described ‘happy-go-lucky guy who was always smiling’ – knew very little of mental health and the devastating effect depression, anxiety and suicide can have on family and friends.
‘I’m from a mining community where I was taught from a very young age to respect ‘hard’ men in the Valley. Whenever you tried to talk about your feelings with friends, the solution was a couple of pints in the pub or watching football,’ he explains.
But it’s exactly this refusal to address the problem that can lead to huge problems. As NCT’s Sarah McMullen explains: ‘Unfortunately, some people hold the opinion that dads should “man up” and keep a stiff upper lip when they’re depressed. This kind of out-dated attitude makes it more difficult for some men to be honest about their feelings.’
In the weeks following the birth of their son, Mark’s wife was diagnosed with severe postnatal depression, forcing the new father to give up work to care for the family at home.
This was originally published by Elle UK.