Today, on Father’s Day, I am breaking the rule of new dads being dishonest about their experiences becoming a father.
I want to start by saying, I know this is not everyone’s experience. However, I also now know that this is the experience of many many new fathers. I also know that more new dads need to talk about their feelings. Since my daughter was born, I have made a point of being completely honest and terrifyingly open about my experience.
I did not want kids. Anyone and everyone who knew me for the first 5 years of our marriage knows how much I did not want kids. I was very open about my disdain for the idea of becoming a parent. Sometimes too open. I know there were times when I crossed the line in front of friends and family who may have been struggling with infertility, but my life was just the way I wanted it. Chelsea and I had two incomes, lots of extra money, few to no real responsibilities and the freedom to go anywhere and do anything at the drop of a hat.
I think my wife was fine to let this go while hoping my mind would someday change. As her longing to become a mom slowly grew, my hesitation, fear and desire to keep our lives the way they were stayed the same. I remember several tearful conversations in the 5th year of our marriage. Many of our friends were beginning to have their first kids or were seriously considering it. I remained unconvinced, and I remained very vocal about it. Chelsea finally asked me to at least stop talking about it and allow God to change my mind. Fine.
What actually finally made me give in was the idea that we would be left behind. I loved our DINK life, but it would be a lot less enjoyable if we had no friends without kids to enjoy it with. The straw that broke my back was when our best friends in the world took us to lunch and told us they were pregnant. I came home that afternoon and told my wife it was time I threw in the towel. We got pregnant a few weeks later.
The pregnancy was pretty much a blur. I busied myself with helping get our home, finances, and lives ready for this new life. Outwardly, I made myself excited. Inwardly, I remained just as fearful and just as unhappy about losing the life I thought was perfect.
Chelsea had a few relatively minor complications late in the pregnancy, and I was able to continue to distract myself with being the strong spouse she needed. Those complications led to Chelsea being induced a week early. Induction sucks. My rockstar of a wife was in labor for 58 hours. Ultimately, she had an emergency c-section and our daughter Everly was born in May of 2016.
For the first few days and even the first couple weeks, I was way too exhausted to feel… anything. I had to be Chelsea and Everly’s rock at the hospital, their nurse, their diaper and bandage changer. They relied completely on me for several weeks of recovery. If you’ve brought a newborn home, you understand what I’m talking about. If not, it is the fastest, most grueling, sleep-deprived weeks of your life. I had no time to feel depressed, I had to be Superman. Shortly after, the adrenaline-fueled superpowers faded.
About 3 weeks after Everly was born, I began to have real feelings of depression for the first time in my life. It started slowly, but over a few months built into something altogether outside of my control. I began to work late without necessity. I began to hope that Everly was asleep when I got home and wouldn’t wake up until I left in the morning. My relationships suffered with my family, my spouse and my friends. I felt trapped. I felt like my life was over. I knew I would never have a moment of freedom again. I described it to friends as having no more “off” switch. Before becoming a parent you can come home and just turn off. Now, I was never off. I fell asleep on and woke up on and I hated it.
Everly was not one of those babies who slept through the night after 6 weeks. In fact, more than a year later she is just starting to sleep through the night now. She was also extremely difficult to get to sleep. Around 4-5 months old, I remember every single night being a battle for our sanity. My wife and I would bring Everly to her nursery, and she would scream for hours. If she ever fell asleep, she would wake the moment we tried to put her down. My wife would be in her nursery for hours on end, during the only hours I had at home. I would sit downstairs and sometimes just cry, lamenting the permanent loss of my happiness.
I tried to hide most of this from Chelsea. She was so exhausted and at that point, I don’t think she really knew how deep my depression went. My best friend and accountability partner was probably the only person who knew what was really going on. The longer it went on, the more Chelsea began to recognize my depression. Then, I felt even worse as I recognized her efforts to do more and more without asking me for help.
My darkest moments came at about 5 months. I had a week-long business trip to Indianapolis that I had been looking forward to for weeks. Freedom! Real freedom just like it was before having a baby. I can remember having thoughts on the plane on my way to Indianapolis that scared me. I remember thinking “It’s not like I want to commit suicide, but if this plane crashes right now… it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.” That’s when God intervened.
My plane home from Indianapolis was canceled because of a storm in Philadelphia. As I scrambled through the Indianapolis airport trying to find a flight home, my phone began to die. Hours later, I finally found a flight at midnight to Newark, NJ. As I ran onto the plane, I texted my friend and accountability partner that I would be in Newark at 1:30 AM and asked if he would come to pick me up. Then I turned my phone off so I had battery when I landed. The person in the seat next to me bet me $10 that he wouldn’t come: “No one has a friend like that.” When we landed, I turned on my phone and had 1 text: “See you in Newark.” I got the $10, too.
Adam came to pick me up because he is a great friend, because he knew I would do it for him, and because he knew what I was going through and wanted 2 hours in the car to talk. We talked about everything. I told him in detail about what was going on. He told me he was concerned and he asked if I would start praying about it and talking more regularly.
I would say that night on the way home from Newark was the turning point. Talking with someone openly and beginning to give the struggle to God was key for me. But you know what else was key? Time. It just simply gets better. As Everly got older, she became more and more fun and enjoyable. Newborns just suck, all of them, no matter what. They are work and stress and anxiety manifested in flesh and wrapped in a diaper.
My last two paragraphs are addressed to new dads and to my daughter. First, New dads: take heart and know that you are not alone. I remember lying awake at night, sometimes to the chorus of screams from the nursery and googling “new dad, hates life.” You know what? There were not enough results. Dads and men just don’t talk about these feelings enough. You are not alone. Find someone to talk to about this. Be open, it’s what leads to healing. You don’t have to pretend like you’re loving every minute of it. Take the pressure off of yourself and just be honest with your experience. More than 20% of men suffer from major depression sometime after birth. That means if you know more than 5 dads, you know someone going through or has gone through what you are. And take heart, it DOES get better. It might take longer than my experience, or not as long, but it gets better… SO much better. Stay in the game, don’t do something you’ll regret and the payoff is huge. Read the next paragraph and know that you will feel this way about your kid soon.
Everly: I love you more than life. That means I’d gladly lay mine down for yours. A couple of months ago your mom and I looked at each other as you ran around the family room laughing and yelling with joy and said we would push pause if we could and freeze time here. This is the best life I have ever lived. You are the best thing I have ever done. Every day I learn something new about you that makes me smile and laugh and love. Your headstrong intelligence is going to make you a powerful force for truth and love in the world. I want to be your best friend as you grow up, I hope you feel the same way. I am so glad that I struggled to find my footing as a dad at the beginning of your life because the sheer joy that you bring me now is just so much the sweeter. Instead of staying at work late, I sneak out early to see you. “Dad” is the best thing I’ve ever been called.