I am a lucky man. I have known that for years now. I married a wonderful woman, we have a comfortable home, good jobs and were fortunate enough to have had our family plan in place long before we started trying for our little girl. Once we were expecting, we went to parenting classes, bought piles of books, and I (sometimes reluctantly) watched the TV shows on childbirth my wife seemed to enjoy so much. I wanted to gather as much knowledge as I could – I wanted to be a good Dad. Still, none of it prepared me for the effect my daughter’s arrival would have on me.
In my experience, the majority of easily available information on becoming a parent seems to be aimed at mum-to-be, often relegating the father to a mere supporting role throughout. I would like to add that I do not resent this fact whatsoever, it is after all the mother who puts the majority of the effort into pregnancy; though, I’d like to think my wife would say that I supported her in every way I could. (This often meant going to McDonald’s at 2AM.) At each stage of my wife’s pregnancy I did as was expected – attended every appointment, scan, and meeting; bringing our daughter into the world was a joint decision and we would see it through together. We were prepared. Well, she was. As it turned out, I had no idea.
On the evening our daughter was due, my wife began to get the telltale signs of early labour. 18 hours later our little girl was born. It was at the moment when my wife took her into her arms and whispered, “I love her…” I realised that I had no right being a father.
I have never been the type to get overly excited, nor am I inclined to get emotional easily – but this was different. I felt nothing when I expected to be elated; that was terrifying. The child I was looking at, my child, didn’t feel like mine at all. It was like I was holding someone else’s baby, smiling and saying all the things I was expected to say but without the overwhelming surge of emotion that I had spent the last nine months being told I would feel. In my mind I didn’t deserve to be a father; what kind of man doesn’t love his own child?
Over the following days and weeks, I found myself in an increasingly dark place. Doubt overshadowed everything I did and I became distant. I was still careful to care for my little girl. I nurtured and protected her in every way I knew how because it was the right thing to do – though, by this point, my wife knew something was wrong. It took me some time to confide in her. Eventually I told her everything: my fears, doubts, and worries, all the time expecting her to see who I really was and walk away. But her reaction surprised me, she didn’t understand. She said she always knew that I loved our little girl. She could see it in the way I held her, cared for, and played with her. She told me she loved to see us together and would not, rather, could not see us apart.
Love is a strange thing. Do I love my daughter? God yes. She’s intelligent, funny, caring, absolutely beautiful, and I’m immensely proud of her. If you’d asked me that three years ago, I expect I’d still have said “yes” but because I felt like I should. And that’s important because looking back, I realise that I always did, but what I felt was a type of love I’d never experienced before. I managed to think myself into a deep depression because I had unrealistic expectations of myself and had my wife not been the strong woman that she is, it could have cost us our relationship. We have both had our ups and downs in becoming parents and in each case, we have supported one another to make it through.
If I could give some advice to anybody who is expecting a new baby it would be this:
Don’t expect too much of yourself. Maybe it won’t be what you expect but that’s OK, chances are you’re doing great. Most importantly though, there is no shame in asking for help. Just speak to someone…anyone who’ll listen because everyone has something to teach you. For me, opening up was a turning point. It took my wife to show me that for all my self-doubt, it was obvious to everybody else that I loved our daughter and the only thing she wanted to change was my opinion of myself.
Like I said, I am a lucky man.