Did you feel that, as a father, there was as much support available to you as there was available to Maddy?
Honestly, no. It’s awful, but a lot of people don’t expect the dad to hang around when it’s a young mum, and people who didn’t know us were often surprised to find out that I was the dad – they thought that I was just a new boyfriend. They tend not to see the dad as needing support, because they’ve made that assumption that he’s not on the scene anyway.
Did you find yourself having to support Maddy? If so, in what way?
I wouldn’t say I ‘had to’, I wanted to. Maddy was looking after the baby and recovering from the birth, so I wanted to take on the bulk of the housework, and do the driving and to be there for her emotionally. We supported each other emotionally. It was all worth it, even the times I had to put my feelings aside to make sure Maddy was okay. That’s what you do for the person you love. She’d just given birth, so it was the least I could do.
When it came to Maddy’s dissertation, what support did you give with that?
Just as much as I could. I tried to look after SB as much as possible, to give her the time to write – and I did the very important job of keeping her supplied with tea and chocolate! I also acted in the performance she wrote, because it made rehearsals easier – it meant that we could rehearse after SB had gone to bed.
How did you feel when Maddy received her grades?
Prouder than I’ve ever been in my life. I knew she’d do great, but seeing her face when she saw her grades was worth the work. There was no pride in myself, though – I was just doing what was right.
How about emotional support – did you feel that you had to be there for her?
Again, I didn’t feel like I ‘had to’. Maddy did need support emotionally, and I wanted to be there for her as her partner. Sometimes, it was a bit overwhelming, but I knew that out of the two of us, I was the one who was the most ‘together’, so I just got on with it.
Did you feel that you had enough support emotionally?
I’ve never been able to ask for emotional support, because I bottle things up. Parents and family and friends offered help, but I never felt able to ask for it. Work got on top of me a lot, but because of pride, I kept it all in. It really affected me, and eventually it all bubbled over and I had what I can only describe as a breakdown.
What should health professionals be doing to support fathers more?
Just information would be appreciated. Doctors surgeries have leaflets about pregnancy and postnatal depression, but there’s not much about how the dad is coping, and it makes us feel like we’re not able to ask for help, because there’s “no reason” for us to need it.
Why do you think there is disparity in the support mums receive, compared to the support dads receive?
I think both are suffering from major upheaval, but I do understand why there is more support for women – it’s because of the hormones they’re dealing with, and the after-effects of pregnancy and the birth. I think people forget that men are there, and they have to help their partners through, and then often have to return to work straight away despite all the change and upheaval, and that causes a lot of guilt because you just want to be there for your partner and your baby. I think there is a lot of new fathers with depression, but I don’t know if ‘postnatal depression’ is the right term for it – I think if we start to change the definition of ‘postnatal depression’, it would risk women not getting the support they need, because it would just be seen as ‘baby blues’.
Do you have any tips for dads out there supporting their partners?
Like I said in the ‘birth’ advice, take everything with a pinch of salt. It’s an emotional time, and you both may say some things that you’ll later regret, so try not to react or retaliate and be understanding. Be alert and aware of the symptoms of postnatal depression. We didn’t realise Maddy had it until it was severe.
And what about tips for making sure that new dads stay happy, healthy and supported?
You need sleep too! You’ll blink and the newborn stage will be over, so try to enjoy it – even the tough bits. There’s no shame in seeking help if you are struggling – I wish I had, as I may have avoided my breakdown. Be aware that you will probably feel judged, because there’s this stereotype that dads are lazy and do nothing for their babies, just sitting around while the mum does all the work, but ignore that – you are just as much a parent as your partner, so you have to put the work in too.