Dave Edwards’ idyllic notions of fatherhood dimmed almost immediately. After a smooth pregnancy, his partner, Kath, had to have an emergency C-section after a 10-hour labour.
It was a rushed, surgical birth that brought a baby, who he says screamed almost constantly.
The brand-new dad developed what he now understands were symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression, conditions usually acknowledged in new mothers but rarely considered for men.
I guess I had expectations we’d have a natural birth and everything would feel really wonderful by the time the baby came, [but] that just wasn’t the experience, he said.
My poor wife went through an emergency C-section and I remember being shunted to one side.
I didn’t really feel involved . . . and then the birth came and I felt like I was expected to know how to deal with a screaming baby. It was an experience I just wasn’t expecting.
Baby Toby, who had reflux, cried for hours on end and could only be settled by feeding.
We would get advice from the midwives saying, ‘try this, try that’, which only added to the guilt, because we felt like nothing we were trying was working, Edwards said.
The HR employee said that, at his lowest point, I screamed my head off at my son: I was so angry, anything could have happened.
To coincide with International Fathers’ Mental Health Day this week, the Gidget Foundation – for whom Edwards is an advocate – will release research showing that, although one in 10 new fathers experiences mental ill-health, more than half (56 per cent) do not seek help.
One in five said parenting was a balancing act they didn’t think they were doing well and 11 per cent said the biggest challenge about new parenthood was struggling with mental health.
The research with 1004 people found more than a third (36 per cent) still believed their main responsibility was to provide for and protect their family.
The foundation’s senior clinical psychologist, Chris Barnes, said despite more openness about mental health, men who were struggling with perinatal illness might still feel too ashamed or embarrassed to ask for support.
So many things stop men talking about their mental health, social norms, society’s views that men are meant to be stoic and strong, and stigma that talking about mental ill health is a sign of weakness, she said.
There is a lot of judgment and shame about speaking up.
A lot of men don’t even know they can get perinatal anxiety and depression.
Symptoms of perinatal anxiety and depression may be different in men, and include physical signs such as upset stomach and headaches.
Contributing factors include lack of sleep, routine change, financial instability, unrealistic expectations, adjusting to a new identity and fathers feeling they have let down or disappointed loved ones. A sense of failure may contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression.
Though it is little known, men also get a hormonal shift after the birth of their baby, Barnes said. This is in the form of reduced testosterone and an increase in the bonding hormone, oxytocin, though the link between this and their mental health is unclear.
Julie Borninkhof, chief executive of the Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia, said until recently most support systems were focused on mothers with dads very much left in the background.
Many dads feel that they need to be the rock of their family and this can be a barrier to reach out for support. Stigma, fear and not really understanding what you are feeling, are all common barriers.
In the past year, there has been a 20 per cent increase in fathers phoning , equating to more than 50 calls a week from fathers seeking help and advice.
Fathers often feel overlooked or disregarded by medical support teams, Borninkhof said.
Dads can feel powerless, unheard, invalidated, and disregarded during their partner’s pregnancy and after birth, she added.
Both organisations urged new fathers to use support on platforms including and .
Dave Edwards confirmed that getting help – including from others in a peer support group he started for fathers of babies with reflux – meant he came out of his experience stronger.
It kind of reinforced for me that I wasn’t alone . . . and there were other guys that wanted a voice too but were too afraid to share their experience, he said.
My message for fathers is about them knowing they’re enough, and giving themselves permission to seek support when they’re struggling.
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