Recently Ben shared something very personal. It was his birth story, his trauma, his feelings, his reactions, his thoughts on being a Dad.
Since speaking to my friends about this post I have heard so many more stories of how Dad’s have suffered in silence, how they have struggled to get help and not been treated as an equal parent!
I too remember when Mini Mumbler got his first injection, Mr Mumbler was holding him and there was a pretty strong reaction from the HCPs that I should be holding OUR baby!! And this is just one occasion! There have been many others!
Things needs to change!! Paternal mental health and Dad’s being treated as equals in parenting is just as important as Mum’s!!
Ben’s story is published below with permission from Ben and his wife, Kate xx
It’s 1 o clock in the morning of Wednesday the 29th of May. My location – Harrogate Hospital, maternity section. More specifically, room 9, on a micro camp bed, squished in the corner of the room next to the bed where my wife lays sleeping.
I am not alone. I have the BIG bundle of cuteness that is my newborn son, Kit, laying on my chest and gently nuzzling me as he sleeps. Laying here, my son in my arms, my wife just nearby, both healthy and sleeping peacefully, I should be happier than I could ever imagine.
But there’s something not right about today and the little niggling signs have been bothering me since we first arrived.
Before I get into this, I have to first say that the care that we have received since attending at Harrogate Hospital on Monday morning has been absolutely phenomenal. It has been exactly that word – care. There has been nothing they wouldn’t do for us and their levels of professionalism have only been matched by their levels of personal involvement. It has been a pleasure to witness and a huge testament to how the NHS can and so often still does, provide a world class service to the public.
The issue isn’t with the staff. It isn’t with the facilities and it isn’t with the standard of care.
The issue that concerns me yet again as a new parent is the issue of fathers.
Few people know that 1 in 10 fathers suffer from paternal post natal depression. Some studies suggest a more accurate level is 1 in 5, yet it is massively under reported and often goes un or mis diagnosed!
One in FIVE! Think of that. Think of your friendship groups… the likelihood is, you will know someone who has suffered from this in silence, may well still be suffering.
Post natal depression in mothers? So well known, so rightly in the spotlight… yet a similar rate of occurrence.
So why the disparity? And why does this happen at all?
The answer is all around us, everyday, in every area of the life of a parent from when they start with pregnancy, to the delivery suite and the maternity ward and all the way through to day to day life with your kids.
Parenting is the last bastion of socially acceptable sexism.
Now, before I go any further down this line, I will make it very clear… this is not an attack on mothers, far from it. I think mothers are incredible. What you go through in pregnancy, what you tolerate in childbirth and the sacrifices you make for your children are simply awe inspiring. Watching my wife birth our 11lb 8 baby boy is simply the most incredulous act of effort and will I have ever witnessed and I shall never forget it – nor shall I ever adequately express to her how proud of her I was in that moment.
But I think that’s where the problem starts.
The mother has so many obstacles to overcome. The changes in their bodies, the cocktail of hormones to contend with, the tiredness and discomforts from later stages of pregnancy then the trial and often terrors of labour and birthing… they are exhausted, emotional, hormonal and depleted of nutrition and hydration.
So always the well known declaration. “Mother and baby both well”
But what of the father?
Let me tell you about my last few days.
Kate has been overdue for 2 weeks. She has been tired, she has been uncomfortable, she hasn’t been sleeping well and would admit she has been somewhat grumpy.
I have been flying round trying to get the business sorted, look after Kate without doing too much as to annoy her, look after the kids, get things sorted before the baby arrives and, you know, occasionally eat something and sleep etc.
We arrived at Harrogate at 10am Monday morning. I had been up since 7 having worked the previous 7 days without a break. We were taken to a cubicle where Kate was given the bed…. me an uncomfortable chair.
We stayed there all day until eventually being moved to a delivery suite. Kate was given a bed, me an uncomfortable chair. Kate had an ensuite bathroom… I had to leave the ward to use a toilet. Kate was brought food and drink .. I had to leave and walk to the other side of the hospital to get a meal.
I spent about 7 hours in uncomfortable positions continuously rubbing Kate’s back and listening to my wife in pain. When she fell asleep on the bed, I snatched a broken hour or two on a thin mat on the floor. When I awoke, it was action stations.
Kate was ready and we went into the delivery. She was amazing and I got to watch my son’s head crown. He was out, just a turn and the shoulders next. I couldn’t wait to hold my boy and hand him proudly to his mummy to feed.
Then all hell broke loose.
We went from 2 midwives to about 15 people rushing into our little room, lots of blood, people frantically injecting Kate and readying areas to treat my son when he came out but no explanation as to what was happening. I was pushed to one side and had to stand and watch as people administered to my wife and child.
I have never in my life felt so terrified or helpless as I did in that moment and for the longest 10 minutes ever, I genuinely thought my wife and child’s lives were in danger.
Fortunately, all was well. Kit was so big he got his shoulder stuck behind the pelvic bone and needed help and it was all precautionary in case either or both were harmed in the delivery. Neither were… but I know I’ll wake up drenched in sweat many a night from now with the memory of that horrible moment.
I did what a husband and father should do. I stayed calm, I appeared strong, I kissed Kate’s head and told her it was all ok… I cuddled my son and gave him skin to skin until Kate was able to feed him. I assisted with the feed and ensured they were settled. Then when it was over and she dozed off I went out into the hallway and cried my eyes out.
Afterwards, I looked after Kit in my chair whilst Kate was showered and fed and wheeled to a private room on the maternity ward where she was laid on a bed to rest. I sorted Kit’s pooey nappy… from my chair. 1 am and I’m still in this room. I have a camp bed which we brought ourselves for this very situation. It is 6’4 long. So am I. It is the exact same width as my shoulders. 5 star comfort it is not. I can’t help but think… I’m paying £90 a night for this room and I don’t even get a bed.
The fact Kate went through that ordeal and was undeniably more scared and helpless than I, doesn’t detract from how it affected me. The fact she was utterly exhausted and emotionally drained doesn’t remove my own tiredness and my own emotions.
Yet this is what happens.
The father doesn’t say they are tired .. because we aren’t AS tired as the mother.
The father doesn’t say he’s emotional… because he isn’t as emotional as the mother.
The father doesn’t say he’s struggling. That his back hurts. That he’s terrified… because what are his concerns when compared to the mother’s?
But therein layeth the problem.
Why is it a comparison? Why is it some competition? A competition in which the father can only ever come second…
My wife just went through 20 hours of epic levels of pain and effort the likes of which I have never experienced and hope I never have to. I would never begrudge her rest, her bed or her being looked after. She utterly, utterly deserves and needs it. .. but does her being utterly exhausted make me any less tired? Of course not.
I’m going to do an experiment… over the next few days, I’m going to count the amount of times people ask how I am. I’m going to guess it’s very few. How often do you really ask the Dad that question?
But at every stage, from the toilet arrangements and the naming of the ward to the public sentiments and the sleeping arrangements, the father is treated as a bit part – an after thought – and a minor one at that.
And it doesn’t stop there.
From poor beginnings, the role of the father nosedives even further once you leave hospital. Shopping at Mothercare, going to a Mum2Mum market, or taking a class like musical mamas…
No change table in male toilets, the “where is mummy” songs at baby groups. The lady I had known 10 minutes who offered to take my crying child off me because his mummy wasn’t around… I recently read a Man v Baby post about him being berated for pulling up in a parent and baby parking spot, because they assumed that as a solo male he wouldn’t have a child with him. The whole culture in this country is counter-productive to including fathers as an equal parent.
So is it any wonder that many fathers play a lesser role in parenting? As a father who considers parenting my primary role in life, the suggestion I’m not as important in that role due purely down to my gender seriously p#sses me off… but to be honest, if I were a woman, the suggestion that my place was at home with the baby whilst hubby went back to work would p*ss me off a whole lot more! Yet isn’t that EXACTLY what our maternity vs paternity leave policies suggest? My wife is an extremely successful woman… far more so than myself and she has earned everything that she has and the position she has obtained at such a young age. I am immensely proud of her and she is easily the “breadwinner” in our family. But our society and culture suggests she should be the one off work with the kids whilst I get a week, two at best, before I’m back off to work… how is that fair on either party?
Now I’m not levelling the fault in this disparity at women. On the contrary, historically the role of parent has been thrust upon women by men. But in recent times, we are all equally guilty of perpetuating the myth that the primary parental role should be undertaken by the mother. And myth it is. Birthing and Breastfeeding aside, there is nothing that separates men from women in their innate abilities to parent.
In fact, I would say that being a new parent is the one true leveller. Male or female, young or old, rich or poor, we all start off at the exact same level as a parent.
We all know that wonderful feeling when we look down at our first child, fragile and beautiful, the most precious thing in our world and think “what the f*ck do I do now!”
The simple fact is, fathers being more involved benefits everyone. The mother who gets more rest, more independence and for whom parenting becomes less of a chore and more of a pleasure. For the child who has a more balanced upbringing and more inputs into their character and personalities, and for the father himself, who creates a stronger bond that will payback all the hardwork a million times over.
The benefits go beyond that though, to stronger relationships through shared experiences and lessened resentments. It’s entirely impossible to understand the strain of being a stay at home parent with a poorly, clingy, screaming child for days on end unless you have experienced it yourself. Yet that lack of understanding between one parent and the other is the basis of HUGE resentment and issues within relationships.
Being a parent who got to spend as much time as I did with my kids… feeding them expressed milk – via syringe then bottle – doing the night feeds, settling them when they cried, changing the poonami nappies… it all set me up with a bond the likes of which many fathers never get to fully experience, and I think that is a tragedy for all concerned.
Being a parent is hard… no question, but it can also be the best thing in life. There is no question in my mind that fathers being more valued – right from the off – can only make it even better.
So take a look around in future, and take a look at your own behaviours. We have all contributed to this disparity. We will all need to contribute to change it.
Right, it’s now 3am and I need to wake mummy so this dude can feed.
Go team Robinson 😊🤱 (Had to use the “mummy & baby” emoji… there wasn’t a daddy & baby one!)