Being a father to a chaotic, danger-seeking toddler is one of the most rewarding yet draining experiences I’ve ever had. Seeing her face fill with excitement when I come home from work is exactly what I pictured when I first envisioned becoming a parent. But when I think about the idea of my wife getting pregnant again, I’m terrified.
When my wife was pregnant with our daughter, I cried because I was so happy. Becoming a father was everything that I ever wanted to be, and deep down I know I want to be one again. But shortly after the birth of our daughter, I started to suffer from postpartum depression (yes, dads suffer too).
I had struggled with depression in the past and now, after wanting a baby for so long, I suddenly hated the fact that I had become a father. Despite my every effort, I couldn’t bond with my own daughter. I was jealous of the time she took from my wife, I regretted her birth and I effectively felt like my life had been ruined by the unbearable weight of responsibility. The depression continued to worsen and eventually I felt guilty over everything I felt, and I thought that my family would be better off without me. As terrible as it is to admit, there was a part of me that just wanted to run away and leave everything behind.
Of course, I didn’t run away—I realized that what I was feeling was depression, and you can’t run away from depression. So I kept working at bonding with my daughter and, with the unwavering support of my wife, I got better. It was a long struggle to get from where I was then to where I am now.
Today, I’m in the best place I have ever been with my mental health. After suffering with depression on and off for the past nine years, that’s an amazing thing to be able to say. Now, being a father means the world to me. Every single day my daughter gives me a reason to live. Looking back on how I felt towards her during those early months is like looking at someone else. But having had depression makes you constantly fearful that it’s lurking in the shadows, waiting for a chance to pounce.
I think: What if having another baby causes me to waiver just enough to get caught again? Having another baby could bring just enough stress into my life to give depression a chance to get hold of me. And if I struggled with one child, how will I cope with two?
It took a year of writing and talking about my experiences with depression to finally realize why I had postpartum depression: I was so scared to lose my daughter that my mind panicked and told me not to love her. It gave me postpartum depression as a form of protection. If I refused to love her, then I wouldn’t get hurt if the worst happened.
I’m not afraid of sleepless nights, excessive crying and changing a nappy at 2 a.m. I’m scared of opening myself up and allowing myself to love yet another person. I’m scared of depression returning and refusing to let myself become even more vulnerable than I already am. Truth be told, I cried when I wrote those previous sentences.
But maybe I don’t need to be afraid. This time, I won’t be caught off guard—I’ll know that my mind is trying to protect me from getting hurt. And that should make it far easier to allow myself to love this next baby.
When our daughter was first born, I refused to let my heart go for fear of it breaking. But I learned to let go and it was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I might be scared, but underneath that fear is a love for being a father unlike anything I’ve ever known.