"There were times when I hated you, I regretted having you, and thought that my life had been ruined by you being born."
These are the powerful words one new father has shared in an emotional blog post addressed to his baby, Isabelle. His raw and candid story is shining a light on an important issue: postnatal depression in dads.
"This is going to be a hard letter to write, but probably a harder one to read," writes South Wales father Ross Hunt in a letter to his 11-month-old daughter. "But don't worry. I'm going to be with you as you read it. I'm not going to let you find any of this out on your own; I want to be there with you as you read what I'm about to say."
Mr Hunt, who writes about the ups and downs of new parenthood at Isablog, explains that he struggled with the first three months of fatherhood.
"The first 12 or so weeks after you were born, I didn't like you very much," he writes, adding that while it's hard for him to be so honest, he believes it's important to tell the truth.
"You see, when you were born I had something called postnatal depression."
For the new father, parenthood was a shock and "didn't come easily". But despite admitting that he struggled with feelings of hatred towards his baby girl, Mr Hunt notes, "You have to know this: those feelings are never me."
The father-of-one describes, "there's something inside daddy called depression," and that he's battled it for some time. "But I never thought it would try to tell me that I didn't like you. You see, depression can cause a person to think horrible things without their control, and make a person feel unhappy, angry, or even worse, make a person feel nothing at all.
"And that's what it often did to me," he says.
Mr Hunt is quick to reassure his baby that none of it was her fault.
"I don't want you to feel any blame in any of this," he writes, describing his little one as an "amazing baby". And yet, that simply didn't matter - because his depression didn't care. Instead, it told the new dad, not to love Isabelle, "and to get away."
"But luckily, I didn't listen," Mr Hunt writes, adding that his life would be very different now if he did.
"Deep down, underneath all the dislike, fear and depression, lay a love that I knew was there, but one I just struggled to see. That love, along with the support from mummy (mam, mum, mammy, there are too many versions) kept me going."
Addressing his daughter's "future self", Mr Hunt notes, "Whatever is happening in your life now, and wherever it goes, just know this: no matter how bad I felt back then, I will always you love you very much."
Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE) Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Nicole Highet, explains that having a baby can bring huge changes to many aspects of your life, "your priorities, responsibilities, relationships, identity - just to name a few."
This transition, she says, and the circumstances around it, can place some men at greater risk of mental health problems, making awareness of both antenatal depression and postnatal depression so important.
"Whilst emotional and mental health conditions in new fathers has not been well studied, the emerging evidence suggests that the individual and social costs of perinatal (that's pre and postnatal) depression and anxiety are significant and should not be underestimated," Dr Highet says, explaining that it is estimated that one in 10 dads will experience depression between the first trimester (in pregnancy) and the first year following the birth of their baby.
"Anxiety rates are even higher," she adds, "with up to one in six dads-to-be experiencing anxiety and one in five dads in the first year following birth."
As such, Dr Highet stresses the importance of not only mums, but also dads being aware of the signs and symptoms of depression, what to look for in themselves (and their partner) and where to go for help.
Symptoms of postnatal depression can include:
- Feeling sad or down, or sometimes feeling numb and nothing at all
- Loss of interest or pleasure in life, your baby, or activities that you used to enjoy
- Feeling angry, frustrated and/or irritable
- Lacking energy and motivation, feeling tired all the time
- Feeling disconnected from others
- Loss of libido
- Difficulties thinking clearly or concentrating which may be also affected by lack of sleep
- Increased use of drugs and/or alcohol
- Changes in appetite and weight (may increase or decrease).
For more information for dads about preparing and adjusting to parenthood and identifying conditions like depression and anxiety together with helpful tips and strategies for getting help for yourself or your partner if they are struggling, visit the COPE website at www.cope.org.au
If you need help urgently, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
You can also contact the PANDA Helpline on 1300 726 306, (Monday to Friday 9am - 7:30pm).