Calling all dads!

I jumped onto #PNDHour on Twitter tonight (hosted by the fabulous Rosey @PNDandMe) and it got me thinking about how little I know about Pre / Post Natal Depression (PND), and how unprepared I am to be able to support people going through it (www.nhs.uk estimates that about 1 in 7 women experience some level of depression in the first three months after a baby is born)

It also got me thinking about how I could use social media to help raise awareness on PND. 

With the rubbish, gloomy weather outside it felt like an appropriate time of year to be talking about this issue, and particularly now with the excellent initiative #Timetotalk day approaching fast on February 6th (check out the lovely www.mamababybliss.com for more information on #timetotalk)

So as a result,  I am thinking of running a series of posts on PND.

And the angle I want to take is to try and collect a series of articles from dads whose partners have / are suffering from PND. 

I am both looking for dads who can write from the heart with empathy and understanding, and dads who can write from the head to provide insights, tips and ideas on how to provide support to loved ones affected by PND.

If this is you, and you want to get involved, please get in touch; The_Secret_Father@hotmail.com or Twitter; @Secret_Father.

Let’s get talking.

 

PS if you want to write something anonymously then that is fine too

#PND

#PNDHour

#Timetotalk

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The forty eight hours of me

Peace. Quiet. Alone

Peace. Quiet. Alone

It’s Friday night, I am 41 years old, I am home alone, and I have temporarily forgotten who I am.

Just a few minutes earlier the front door had closed shut. The muffled sound of small, crackly and excited voices faded. I heard the car door shut. The engine was started up, the car pulled out of the drive

And now here I am, left standing in silence, like a forgotten old sock on a radiator.

Complete silence.

My wife has taken the children away for the weekend and I don’t quite know how I feel, or who I am.

I turn and walk away from the door, a familiar paradox forming in my emotions – those uneasy bedfellows of joy and sadness jostle for primacy in my heart.

As soon as the family are out of the door I breathe a sigh of relief. But it is a sigh tinged too with the vestiges of regret. Regret that I am not going with them. Regret that I will miss all those little moments that have become so important.

That moment after dinner when we have a disco which always ends up with everyone collapsed on the floor in a panting pile of giggles.

That moment when my son puts his arm around his sister as she talks him through a book.

That moments when my daughter will whisper that she loves me in my ear.

That moments when my son fixes me with his gaze, stares into my eyes and somehow connects with my very being.

Moments when all the drudgery of the routine has been completed and we can glow in the precious embers of the day, nestled under the duvet sheets and cuddling close as the much loved and familiar bed time stories are told once again.

Moments when my wife and I look at each other and with one weary but happy expression, count our blessings that we have got them safely through yet another day.

They have been gone for a few seconds and I am already missing all of this and more. The house seems quiet. Too quiet. The toys are strewn across the floor, a multi-coloured legacy of what just was.

Children enter our lives in a whirlwind of noise, energy and emotion and from that moment on, there is no let up. As a father this is like a drug.

But it is moments like this, when the drug is taken away, that I miss it, need it, crave it back again. My personality has become so intrinsically linked to my children that it feels like my identity and character are collapsing without them. Again, I am home alone. I am 41 years old. And I have temporarily forgotten who I am.

But it doesn’t take long before I remember. The sadness begins to make way as a positive realisation dawns on me. I am home alone. I am home alone.

I walk over to the toys and start putting them away, one by one. And as I do so, a wave of nervous excitement passes over me. I start to think who of my friends I can call.

I can go for a pint. In a pub.

I can have dinner. In a restaurant.

I start to recall all the films I want to watch and make a mental note to check the listings of the nearby cinemas. I make a mental note to check the timings of the live football on TV. I start to think about the work that needs to be done in the garden and all the other things I find hard to do with children swarming around my ankles, pulling at my trousers and demanding attention.

I start to excitedly break the next two days down into units of time. Some units are about getting jobs done, but some units – in fact most units – are hedonistically and selfishly dedicated to me.

One and a half units will be spent on getting my hair cut. Two units I am budgeting for a lazy Saturday morning breakfast in our local Cafe and a read of the papers. Another two units will go on televised sport. I start to calculate how many units are left.

The weekend is shaping up. I am home alone. And already I am starting to feel like a man again. I am no longer a husband or a father. I am a man, it is just me, and it is starting to feel really good.

I catch myself and I feel guilty, but not so guilty to rein in the flights of fancy that are now coming in thick and fast. I could get the train to London and take in a show. Why not Liverpool? I’ve always fancied a night at the Cavern Club. Hell, why not get a last minute flight and check out Amsterdam…….?

I decide against these things. I am home alone. I have the weekend to myself and my primary goal is to wake up in my own bed, at my own pace, and to do those things that I don’t normally get a chance to do. This is “me” time with a capital ME. This is my one weekend where I can be selfish and hedonistic.

And I know that come Sunday evening the car will pull up the drive, I will hear the car doors open and the muffled sound of scratchy, excited little voices will get louder. My daughter will reach up and press the doorbell and run off screaming with excitement, my son will be jumping up and down on the spot, shouting unformed words, fingers coming in through the letter box.

Before I open the door and get bowled off my feet by a tidal wave of sticky hugs, noise and unbounded enthusiasm, I will breathe in the silence one last time.

And in that moment I know that there will be a tinge of disappointment. Disappointment that I didn’t get to do everything that I wanted to do during the 48 hours of me. Disappointment that my peace and quiet will be broken. Disappointment that Time will once again no longer be mine.

But there will also be joy as the old, selfish me makes way for the new improved me; the father, the husband, the carer, the anchor, the port in a storm.

I will be euphoric that they are back. I will acknowledge that being just me is great, but that actually my life has far greater meaning when my wife and children are around. They define me in ways that I never could on my own.

I will reflect and acknowledge that the only reason I can properly enjoy time alone, is by knowing that they are coming back. It is that, and ONLY that, which will make the next two days – the 48 hours of me – so precious.

I’m travelling abroad for work, without my children – is it OK to be feeling this happy?

New parents are often subject to extremely powerful and often contradictory new emotions. The surge in hormones, the all conquering nurturing instinct, buckets of adrenalin and potent endorphins all combine to create a heady soup of emotional upheaval. Perhaps the biggest struggle I have faced as a new parent is dealing with the overwhelming urge to love, protect and die for my little crazies at the same time as trying to reconcile the daily, often hourly, desire to get as far away from the little buggers as possible. This blog is dedicated to that struggle.

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I have been away with work a couple of times since my daughter was born in 2010. Each time I found it really difficult. I took photos and videos of her on my trip and tried a few Skype link ups each time I was away. I found it hard though, particularly the Skype link ups. I found I just wanted to be there with her, bury my face in her soft curls, smell the sweet, earthy fragrance of her skin, give her a big bear hug and watch her face light up with those gorgeous little dimples.

And it is often late at night when it is the hardest, when I am sitting on my own in some desperate hotel room. It is at these times that I often find myself wondering what on earth I am doing. Becoming a parent has bought it into stark relief for me that the most important job in the world is not negotiating a new contract; it is not convincing your manager that a particular idea is worth investing in; it is not presenting data and statistics on company and staff performance; it’s not budgeting and it’s certainly not reporting. It’s none of this.

The most important job in the world for me is being there for my babies, to nurture, steer and guide; to be a stable and reassuring presence in a turbulent world; to be that person to calm the tantrums; to be that person to cuddle and reassure; to be one of only a few people in the whole world, that they can trust and rely on, and who they know will love them back, unconditionally. My company can get rid of me tomorrow, and I will likely be forgotten in a couple of years. But my family will know me to my grave and will remember me perhaps even beyond. I am working, whether consciously or not, towards creating a lasting legacy and footprint way beyond my brief physical time on this planet. This is a sobering thought and one which helps to put parenting, and its importance, into perspective.

And so there it is, those late night pangs of guilt. Yes, I know that by going on this trip I am providing an income for the family, and yes I know I am securing a roof over their heads and yes I also know I am helping to invest in their futures. But the one inescapable truth is that I am not there for them AT THAT VERY MOMENT. And for babies and toddlers it is all about the here and NOW. And when they are young they are changing all the time, and a week in their world is equivalent to 3 months in ours. One of the worst emails I ever received was during one of these trips when my daughter first became mobile. The email was from my wife. It simply said

Emily has just started ROLLING! I put her down in the bathroom, and before I knew it she had rolled all the way down the hallway! She was grinning all the way! Thought you would like to know that xx”

Now this may seem a stupid thing to get emotional over (it’s not even walking!), but reading that, in my lonely hotel room, made the tears flow. Here I was, stuck in some stupid meeting about company performance, and I had missed the moment my daughter had become mobile, my own beautiful little rolling pin! And I could imagine her little curls and dimples, tumbling over and over, gleeful at discovering this new found trick, her very first experiment with personal freedom. And I was not there to pick her up, give her a hug and tell her how brilliant she was.

And this is all true. And I love my daughter (and now son too) beyond words, both when I am away from them, but also (more so) when I am with them.

But here is the thing. There are also days when I would happily sell my children on eBay to the highest bidder. This is because they are EXTREMELY HARD WORK. Children mean the relinquishing of your own life and needs, they mean endless nappy changes, petty squabbles, change mat fights, noise, clutter, sickness, trips to the hospital, chaotic dinner times, stressful bed times and mess. And that’s not to mention the tantrums, the sleep deprivation, the teething, the colic, the screaming, the horror, THE HORROR!

In all of my adult life – a life that has at times seen me negotiating with warlords, armed rebel groups and government staff in different countries, working in disaster affected communities in some of the poorest places in the world, managing mass redundancies, disciplinary processes and fraud cases – I have never walked out of a room because a conversation is proving too difficult. Since having children however I have had to walk out of the room twice because I could feel the anger and stress surge up like a fountain. Children are programmed to be parasitic, selfish and utterly self absorbed. They have to be, otherwise they would not survive. But boy this is a drain, particularly if you have two (or more) of the little horrors and you, yourself are also having a bad day.

So in this context, trips away can take on a new, happy meaning for me. A break from the chaos, SLEEP, the return of my own personal space, MORE SLEEP, running to my own rhythm, adult conversations, the ability to just pop out somewhere, go for breakfast / lunch / dinner without having to apologise for re-painting the walls a shade of bolognaise red, EVEN MORE SLEEP and the ability to move between places without having assorted children hanging off my trouser legs – heck I could even go for a pint and READ A NEWSPAPER!

And even writing this above paragraph is starting to make me excited. In a few weeks, I will get all of this. I will be on a plane to a foreign country. Just me. No one else. And by the time the plane takes off, I will be half way through a newspaper, headphones on. The return of my personal freedom, the return of choice, the return of good old selfish me. And this is where the irreconcilable contradiction begins.

I know that during those late night work sessions, stuck in my lonely hotel room, I will be eaten up by that burden of guilt, knowing that my real job is thousands of miles away. I know that I will feel that lump in my throat as I look at photos of my children. But I also know that I will feel euphoric as I wake up after 8 solid hours of uninterrupted sleep. I will shed tears as I play THAT video of my son waddling like a fat duck, pushing his buggy, cackling like a demon as he discovers his own personal freedom. But I will flourish in the luxury of a bar meal and adult company and conversation. And I will feel pain that I can’t be with my children for the 7pm post dinner evening disco that we all love. But I will relish in leisurely breakfasts, which someone else has cooked and will have to wash up. And I will miss the morning cuddles, giggles and rough housing in bed with my kids that set the day up so perfectly. But I will embrace the silence, the space and the mindfulness as I walk on my own around unfamiliar neighbourhoods. 

The only way I can begin to try and reconcile all of this is to accept that it is perfectly natural to be excited about a few days away. And that I should be proud that I will be really sad to be away from my kids, because it means that I am an involved father, and that in turn means that when I am with them, I am 100% all guns blazing with them. 

And the thing I am going to revel in, the moment those doors close and the aeroplane is cleared for take-off, is that I can be me again. Just me. And that makes me happy. But the thing I can look forward to the most is getting home again, walking up the drive and turning the key in the lock. From there I will hear a squeal of delight and the pad-pad of running feet. It will be my daughter, she is older and quicker, and she will round the corner, out of control of her legs, a morass of smiles, curls and dimples, and she will crash into me, like a wave breaking over rocks. She will give me one of her lovely knee-high sticky hugs and will hold on for dear life.

And then, crawling as fast as his little body will allow, will come my little man, head down, hands slapping on the floor with each move, determined not to be left out, big gummy grin, arms outstretched imploring to be picked up for a cuddle. There will be screeches of excitement and a cacophony of noise as each child competes for the air space to report back, in their own unique way, on EVERYTHING they have done and seen and heard since I was away. And my wife will be stood behind this human tide, arms folded, content to patiently wait her turn. And I know she will be thinking that now there are two pairs of hands and her mood will lift and a weary smile will break upon her beautiful face. And imagining that scene, and that moment of utter perfection, brings me a happiness beyond words.

Five things you should avoid saying to a New Parent

Five things you should avoid saying to a New Parent

There is something about big life moments that renders some people incapable of connecting their brains with their mouths. Generally, in these situations people fall into three categories; those who say the right thing, those who say little at all, and those who get it spectacularly wrong. I have heard some hilarious comments directed to my heirs in my close to three years as a father. Most of the time I can laugh them off, and assume that the statement, words or questions come from a well meaning place, however misguided they are. But sometimes there are times when only a double take and jaw on the floor will do. These are five such examples of some of these gems I have heard over the months

1. “Oh wow look at the size of his head! It’s massive.”
Now some babies do look like a beach ball balanced on a cylindrical croissant, but to their parents they are perfect, and any sleight against the physical appearance of their perfect baby will not go down well. Resist the temptation to search behind the ears of the baby for the valve to release the pressure on the giant head, and say something nice about his eyes or personality instead

2. “If you fancy a change of scenery, just pop over for a cup of tea.”
For New Parents in those first few days after birth, leaving the house is the equivalent of trekking through the jungles of Congo. With a giant octopus. In a shopping trolley. This is why New Parents don’t “pop” anywhere. Any exit from the home requires at least an hours preparation, military precision logistics and enough supplies to keep a small army marching for days. Why not instead offer to come over to the new parents house. And offer to bring food with you. It is likely the New Parents will not have had a chance to do much cooking and will appreciate this gesture of thoughtful kindness

3. “Do you fancy coming out for a drink tonight, we can celebrate?”
Although a perfectly harmless and well meaning question, this can be devastating. Not only will it be a painful reminder of the carefree days of socialising that the New Parents have given up on, now their little basket of noise has arrived on the scene, but it will also be utterly incomprehensible to people who will by now be probably hallucinating with tiredness and unable to sit upright or string a sentence together in the company of normal people.

4. “Well, if you want my opinion….
If there is one thing that New Parents are not short of, it is opinions. From the moment the new parents reveal their good news they are subject to a bombardment of strong and frequently contradictory opinions. Most of these opinions are offered from a place of well meaning, and some can even be helpful. Some are not and can be really damaging and undermining to New Parents trying to find their feet in this weird and confusing new post-partum reality. If you do feel compelled to offer a New Parent an opinion, preface it with “in my experience” and finish it with “but of course all babies are different, I am sure you will find what is right for yours”

5. “You look tired
An unhelpful thing to say to anyone, let alone a New Parent living in the present on a lethal and toxic tide of hormones, adrenalin and caffeine. There are some things that are just a given. Bears do defecate in the woods. The Pope is Catholic. And if you touch the sun you will get burnt because it is hot. New Parents know they look tired. They don’t live in caves (despite what you might think the lank hair and messy clothes indicates), and they do have mirrors; but frankly, looking tired is the least of a New Parent’s worries. Resist the urge to utter these dreadfully unhelpful words and instead try saying something vaguely positive like “You are walking, talking and still alive. Wow! You are doing REALLY well!”

These are just five, there are many more. Let me know what you have heard as a New Parent that has made your jaw drop, or your blood boil!

The familiar stranger

It’s late on a cold, dark and windy April evening and there is a noise at the door.

I investigate.

A complete stranger is lying there.

Immediately I become nervous.

The Stranger is unusual looking, but vaguely familiar.

I can’t quite determine its gender, but The Stranger looks vulnerable and I feel a strange, novel instinct to help.

However, before I can ask any questions The Stranger holds me with a hypnotic gaze that goes right into my soul.

The gaze seems to say.

Hello. You don’t know me. But I know you are about to let me into your house. And I know that you will continue to host me for the next 18 years at least.

The big brown eyes don’t waver. The Stranger’s head tilts to one side and the voice, which seems to be in my mind, continues

I also know that over this time you will also feed me, provide me with clean clothes, and service my every need”.

Now at this point I’m standing in the doorway, unsure whether to close the door. I nervously glance up and down the road. Nope, no clues here. 

But I have worked out that it’s a girl though. It’s definitely a girl.

However, without missing a beat, The Stranger continues

While I am living with you I will deprive you of sleep, to the point where you may find yourself crying in desperation. I will regularly vomit, urinate and defecate in your house, and also on you”.

The Stranger writhes on the floor and settles as if to emphasise the point, and then carries on.

You will show me your most valuable possessions and I will ruin them. I will question and challenge everything you know, or think you know.

I blink, uncomprehending. The voice goes on.

I will frequently let you down in public, but it will be you that the public will blame. I will cause you to have arguments (some of them irreconcilable) with your wife, friends and family

My mouth is hanging open. I realise I have been holding my breathe. Still The Stranger continues

I will wipe my nose on you. You will go to work with my body fluids on your clothes. I will scream in your ear until you get tinnitus”

Recovering from the initial shock, I start to become emboldened. “Now just a minute….”

But still The Stranger doesnt miss a beat. There is something hypnotic about this person, strangely alluring. I’m hearing the words but they are not registering. She is actually quite beautiful. I am mesmerised.

“I will also sleep with your wife and command her body for the next 12 months at least. I will suck every last penny out of your wallet. I will force you to accept a status where your needs will be secondary to mine for the rest of your life. You will recognise my failures as yours”

I find myself smiling. Her words are like wind chimes, entrancing, soothing.

“And just so that we are REALLY clear, you will no longer have spare time. Because when you are not doing everything I have spoken of, I will occupy every waking thought that you have for the rest of your life. And if you are lucky to ever get any sleep again, probably your unconscious thoughts and dreams too”

But I am no longer hearing this voice, I hear the words, but the beauty of this girl has latched onto something deep and primal in my soul. I can feel a deep love radiating from within. Still the voice continues, its soothing tones washing over me like great chrome waves.

“And if you ever think to complain about me, my very being will frequently remind you that it was your decision to accept me into your life in the first place”

Now I’m looking directly into The Stranger’s eyes. I am feeling a profound connection, something I have never felt before. It is a feeling more ancient and more powerful than I can describe.

I have forgotten every word The Stranger has said. I am just looking into her gorgeous brown eyes.

Before I know it I have lifted her up and I am cradling her in my arms. I am running my finger down the bridge of her nose and smiling uncontrollably at her.

It is a smile I haven’t felt for many years. It breaks across my face, awakening old muscles, long abandoned and for a second I worry that it might break into my ears.

I carry her into the light and warmth of the house and close the door on the darkness with my leg, unable to break for a second from her gaze.

I find myself whispering something in her ear. I am whispering “Come in, come in. This is your home beautiful girl. We are home.”