My wife and I decided that it would be wonderful to have a baby. When she told me that she thought she that was pregnant, I couldn’t contain my excitement. A handful of pregnancy tests later, I was an expectant father and was secretly thinking to myself, “Oh yeah, who’s the Man, who’s the Man then?”
We were going to be great parents-to-be: photographing, documenting and enjoying all the stages of this amazing journey.
The initial excitement and joy seemed to get confused somehow, and I noticed that my wife was not the happy, joyous, wonderful person that she had been. This normally effective, proactive, loving woman was slipping into a malaise: unable to do almost anything, feeling sick, any noise, and especially smells would bring on an agitation that I would describe as a silent inner aggression, a tension that has no obvious or logical outlet, eventually expressing itself with uncontrollable sobbing. I put this down to morning sickness. After all I was the man, I knew of morning sickness, and it would pass after a few weeks. This was at about 6 weeks into the pregnancy, and morning sickness clears after the first trimester!
Looking back I suppose that in a way I was patronising at first, not intentionally or knowingly, but I didn’t think beyond what I thought was obvious.
At about 13 weeks the situation started to improve and things were back on track. Wonderful times and I even started writing ‘Letters to My Unborn Child’, to explain how excited we were. We were asked if we wanted the routine ultrasound at this stage in the pregnancy, and agreed, excited to see the little thing developing in the womb. It is a strange detraction to mention, but what distracted me was that in spite of exceptional developments in science and technology in the 21st Century the fuzzy images looked worse than the first moon landing walk images a few decades ago. Still, it was great to see the little person moving about.
Like a downpour on a beautiful firework display, we were informed that something seemed not quite right. I cut into sharp concentration, blurring everything but the important words that I heard and focussed on. High levels of HCG, nuchal folds are too thick, a 1-in-50 chance of a chromosomal disorder, CVS scan all clubbed at my consciousness as I struggled hard to understand what all this meant. A blood test happened and we would be told the results.
I would like to believe that I am to some extent a man of the world and have seen a lot of things that have given me the fortitude to cope with almost anything. But the CVS procedure was a step above all I had experienced. I asked pertinent questions, supported and reassured my wife and looked at the process on the screen while all the time the trauma of the event was trying to eat into my mental collectedness.
I did an incredible amount of reading and internet research into all the words and processes to get some sort of handle on what was going on, and then felt partly prepared for eventualities and any decisions that may have to be made.
The call came that our baby was indeed absolutely fine, it was going to be a girl, and I was thankful to whatever god, creator, deity or being that I could think of, but especially to my wife and daughter for being OK, in spite of the initial scares.
I appreciate that sometimes situations are not so fortunate, but I told myself that I knew that it would be fine all along whilst privately feeling relieved, we were back on track, or so I thought.
In life situations and comments take place that we can ride naturally, but I found it increasingly and progressively difficult to understand why my wife was feeling down, upset and verbally aggressive much of the time. We had both been traumatised by previous events and things should now be good, but they weren’t. I found the comments were becoming more pointed and surreal. This was a serious depression that was becoming out of hand. I was at one point blamed for the whole thing happening, and I thought my wife was likening the situation to something out of ‘The Invasion of The Body Snatchers’. I was left wondering what I had done to warrant the focus of this tirade of abuse and frustrations. I began to realise that there doesn’t have to be a reason. In truth, I was hurt, stung and affected by the comments and outbursts and wanted to feel hurt by them, but I couldn’t. The woman I love and who is carrying our daughter was hurting more with all the connected disconnected thoughts, fears, phobias, and guilt.
Prenatal Depression is a really awful place for a mother to be. There is no exact science or reasoning for it. An innocuous remark, a sudden thought, a reflection, a comment- any of these could set off the spiral into a dark place that seems difficult to climb out of. Post Natal Depression is better understood, Prenatal Depression is less well documented. I wanted to understand, to help, to reassure and I did all I could. I could see that it helped in a limited way. It is like telling your wife or partner that she is beautiful, or looks good in a particular dress. She needs and wants to hear that, and wants the reassurance from you and know that is what you think and although good and satisfying to hear, prefers and needs at times to hear it from a friend, work colleague or relation who is less closely connected. It is also important that your wife or partner hears that she is doing well in the pregnancy from other people. Our reassurance, although valuable and valid and must be maintained, is at times insufficient, and the assurance of others, especially other expectant mothers, people in the same boat, is essential.
We as men, protectors of the cave entrance and all the other testosterone fuelled actions that we possess, must not feel diminished or passed by by this. The reality is that our manhood is not questioned; it should be questioned more if we were to fight to be in command. My wife had the advantage of talking to, and being supported by an incredible midwifery team. She joined pregnancy groups and developed a circle of similarly placed women who could experientially help, advise and reassure, whereas I could only offer empathy, as valuable as that was. She began to focus, become reassured and was able to positively plan and visualise the process of giving birth. I supported and encouraged all these positives and her road to self belief, self assuredness and single-mindedness was rapid.
I was privileged to attend and support a wonderful, natural, intervention-free water birth, supported by an incredible midwife. I am proud of my wife who took positive charge of the whole birth and delivered our healthy daughter, who I took from the water, welcomed her with a kiss and handed her to my wife.
Not any of the earlier traumas seem to have affected either wife or daughter. My wife loves, and has taken naturally and incredibly well to motherhood, and our daughter is a beautiful, happy and seemingly contented little individual with an engaging smile.
I would like to say to fellow fathers-to-be, without being patronising, that our involvement does not end with conception. Pregnancy is our journey too, and whilst many are smooth, happy and joyous events, many others can be traumatic, difficult and emotionally and psychologically painful. It is probably obvious to suggest, but I believe our role, as well as being supportive, should also be as unconditionally understanding as possible. With Prenatal Depression, the woman you love, who loves you is not just offloading deep felt resentments, but is genuinely struggling to cope. Help her to see it through. Read any and all information available if possible, encourage her to join support groups and talk to others about fears, phobias, difficulties and fragilities. This is not a reflection on your effectiveness or ability to support, that is accepted and understood. Most of all you are helping to empower your wife or partner to deal with and positively process the journey that she has to take that you both decided at the start to embark on. Roll with the fragile and not so good days- which will improve. Remember you are helping her to process and positively visualise in any way that works for her, the events that will inevitably take place.
Our own egos are comparatively unimportant, what is important is that the woman you love will be empowered with your support, for the all important task ahead.
In my experience it is all worth it.
Read about my wife's story of overcoming Prenatal Depression.