The moment I found out my wife, Rachel, was pregnant, I cried tears of joy. There was nothing I wanted more than to become a dad. The thought of having my own little family was all I ever wanted. But it didn’t happen quite how I expected.
When Rachel was in labour, we were rushed down to the operating room in a state of panic. The umbilical cord had come down first, something known as cord prolapse. I could tell from the looks on the faces of the doctors and nurses that it was an emergency. They didn’t have time to let the anaesthetic take effect before giving my wife an episiotomy and delivering my daughter via suction.
I wanted to be anywhere but in that room. But I knew I had to be there, of course. And I stood there, holding Rachel’s hand, but as I did, the thought of losing both her and my daughter took me right back to the most terrible night of my life—a night when a friend of mine lost his life. We’d been out drinking, and I decided that we’d walk home, despite the fact that he was visibly very drunk. As we walked, he jumped in front of a car, killing himself. I blame myself for what happened that night and have felt a tremendous amount of guilt for it ever since. From then on, any time I find myself in a traumatic situation, I’m taken back to that night. So, the night of my daughter’s birth, there I was, living what’s supposed to be one of life’s best moments while I was reliving one of my worst.
I was in the midst of this whirlwind of emotions when our little girl, Isabelle, was suddenly out and placed on my wife’s chest. They were both going to be OK.
An hour later, we were back in the maternity ward. The midwife came to stitch my wife up from the episiotomy and handed Isabelle to me for the first time. I looked at this fragile, swollen baby and didn’t know what to do—I didn’t want to hold her, and I was scared that I’d drop her or accidentally hurt her in some way. When they placed her in my arms, she was fine—but I didn’t feel a thing.
I was expecting a huge rush of emotions, the type that you hear so much about from new parents. But none of them came. When I still felt nothing a few days later, I put a lot of it down to sleep deprivation and the chaos of having a new baby, but I knew something wasn’t right. Slowly, the numbness turned into resentment and dislike. When she cried a lot with me and always wanted to be with my wife to feed, I took it personally. Those feelings turned to jealousy as she took up all of my wife’s time, time that used to be spent with me. I even had an unbearable feeling of regret that she had even been born. This mental cesspool led to guilt, which made everything worse.
As hard as it was, I told Rachel about all of these feelings. I felt like I hated my daughter. I honestly thought that my life was far worse with her in it. More than anything, I wanted to leave Rachel and Isabelle. I genuinely felt that they’d be better off without me, though I felt guilty for thinking it. It was painful for my wife to watch me not want to be a father to the daughter I had always wanted, and it was agonizing for me to feel that way. I wondered, What sort of father couldn’t even love his own daughter?
But there was a part of me that knew everything I was thinking wasn’t me. It was depression. I had read that women could have postpartum depression after the birth of a baby, but I didn’t know it could happen to men.
The CDC reports that while about 11 percent of women will experience postpartum depression, about four percent of men will experience depression in the first year of their child’s life, and men with a history of depression, as well as men who are struggling financially, are more at risk.
I had a history of depression, and I knew that I had to seek help. My doctor put me on medication and I took a leave of absence from work. I was offered talk therapy, but it hadn’t worked for me in the past. Instead, I focused on trying to bond with my daughter.
I had tried right from the very beginning to be close with my daughter, but the depression had only gotten worse. The medication gave me enough of an immediate lift to help keep myself from slipping any further as I tried again to form that much-needed connection. I bathed her, played with her every morning, dressed her, and I even bought a baby carrier so I could carry her around on me. I didn’t always want to be there doing those things, but I knew that I had to keep going to form a relationship with her.
It took eight weeks after the birth to actually feel something toward Isabelle. It came in a hotel on the seaside. She was propped up on the bed in a nursing pillow and caught sight of me dancing. I looked at her and she smiled at me. Suddenly, I felt like she actually cared about me. And in that moment, I liked her too. It was the turning point that I was praying would eventually come.
It took another four months, with countless hours of bonding, before I felt that I actually loved her. And only recently, now that she’s just over one year old, would I say that I love her in that way that most parents describe loving their children. I love simply being able to watch her grow. It’s incredible how fast Isabelle changes, and how much she challenges me to grow with her. It’s a true joy to be a part of this journey.
I know now I didn’t hate my daughter—I hated myself. Isabelle’s arrival brought back the night that my friend had died. He would never have a family. Yet there I was, with everything I ever wanted, and I didn’t deserve any of it. I didn’t want to allow myself to love my own daughter. It took me a year to finally realize this. I went off the medication after two months, but it took a lot longer to fully recover.
These days, what I have with Isabelle is amazing. Every single day we find things to laugh at together. She’s constantly challenging me to find some new strange way to make her laugh.
I still have my bad days, but I’ve learned so much over the first year of her life. I know that I have to continue to be open about how I’m feeling, and I implore others to do the same. Find someone you can open up to, seek help when you feel low, and just know that this feeling isn’t permanent. I really do believe that I’ve grown from a world of hate to a world of love.
Follow Ross Hunt’s journey with fatherhood and mental health struggles on his blog, Isablog.
This article was originally published online in June 2018.