The loss of a partner, mental health in dads
During my pregnancy, I had frequent worries about whether my unborn baby or I were going to be some kind of statistic. I had constant thoughts running through my mind like ‘Will my baby have a birth defect?’ ‘Will I miscarry?’, ‘Is she receiving enough nutrition?’, ‘Will she be stillborn?’, ‘Will I develop depression while I’m pregnant or when I become a mother?’ I was and still am at high risk of developing post-natal depression due to my past history. It’s probably an even greater risk now as you’ll understand once you continue reading. But I’m now a statistic that I never even considered, a statistic that would have to be the ugliest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life! It feels like a very lonely statistic. It’s a statistic that knocks me around every day. It’s a statistic that has turned my life upside down, inside out and will do forever. If you’d told me that I would be a single parent by the time my baby was three months old I would have been in total disbelief. If you continued to tell me that my hubby would take his own life then I would never speak to you again for saying such a hideous thing. You hear of stories like this but never in a million years do you think it would be your own reality, your own unthinkable, painful, vomit inducing reality. But this is my reality, one that I don’t think I’ll ever come to terms with. It’s a reality where for a very small moment each morning when I wake up I think Dave is just at work and then I’m kicked in the guts when I remember that I’ll never see him again. It’s the type of kick in your guts where you stop breathing momentarily and burst into tears from the pain. This is the statistic that I am part of.
There were no obvious signs, no build up that led to Dave’s decision. Looking back I can see some signs, but nothing obvious, nothing to say that he was contemplating suicide. I wouldn’t say my relationship with Dave was perfect, but it was far from terrible. Our relationship had really been tested since having our baby girl but no more than any other couple living through the sleep deprivation that goes with having a newborn. Pre-baby we would argue, but not much. We were a happy couple living our lives together as a family. It was a family that I wanted for what seemed a very long time. I knew in my twenties that I wanted to be a mother. I thought I’d have a husband, a couple of kids, a dog and own my own home by the time I was 32. At 32 I had a husband, a cat but no kids or mortgage. Now I am 35 and have a gorgeous baby and three cats (yes I said three. I’m halfway to being a crazy cat lady) but now no husband and still no home. Not only do I not own a home, I feel somewhat homeless as I couldn’t bear live in the rental property that I shared with Dave as it was where he spent his last moments on this earth while my baby and I stayed at my sister’s house for the night. Although I’m not literally homeless as I have the support of my family and friends, nothing will ever feel like a home again without him.
It took four years for Dave and I to welcome our daughter into our lives. We tried, had breaks and then tried again. We decided it was time to go down the IVF route and were blessed to fall pregnant after our first cycle. We only had one viable egg and that developed into our gorgeous daughter Evie. I’m not a religious person but I think that whatever higher power there is in this world, it blessed us with her arrival. As horrible as it is without Dave I feel like he is my guardian angel in the spirit world and Evie is my guardian angel in the physical world. I feel like she is meant to be. Somehow the universe knew that I would be without Dave so they sent me another angel to guide me through this dark path. She is a distraction from the frequent pain and a sweet reminder of Dave at the same time.
I’m not writing this story for sympathy. I am writing it as I’m hopeful that it allows my heart to heal just a bit. I’m writing it to honor his memory, to honor the fabulous man he was. Dave was the most upbeat, funny, outgoing and fun loving guy you would ever meet which makes it difficult to understand or believe. If you ask anyone that knows him they would tell you that he is the least likely person they would think of that would take their own life. Upon writing this I thought the story would be about my nearly three months as a single parent, but it turns out I also want to express that post-natal depression is not only limited to mothers. Although new dads don’t go through the hormonal changes us women do, although they’re a little less likely to be experiencing the same level of sleep deprivation, it is still real for men too. Having a baby is a major life adjustment. It’s tough and it doesn’t come with a manual. Dave told me that he wished he could settle our daughter like I could but that was pretty much the only feeling of hopelessness he communicated with me. In hindsight, I should have taken his concerns more seriously, but when you’re a mother with a newborn you can understand that there is very little time to do this. So my message to all new parents is to take time to listen to one another, support one another, tell your partner what a fabulous job they are doing, tell them that you love them and just ask them if they’re doing OK. Put aside the nonsense thought that men don’t talk about their feelings. This frame of thinking is dangerous and completely untrue. Men deserve the right to be down, to be depressed and to cry. It does not make them weak. It makes them strong and makes those around them strong too because now I feel weak without him by my side. Dave entered our relationship with some scar tissue and I think most people do, but I think it was the post-natal that was the last straw. Instead of reaching out to me and his nearest and dearest, he decided to leave the pain behind. I’ve been depressed myself and know what it’s like to feel completely worthless so I understand his decision but it doesn’t mean I’ve accepted it. I know what it feels like when nothing in this world makes you happy and it’s a struggle just to get through each second of each minute of each hour of each day. If you know anything about the seven stages of grief then I would say that I’m stuck between the first four stages, I’m nowhere near the acceptance stage. I feel sick every time I think about the pain in his heart. I feel even sicker knowing that he couldn’t express his pain. Dave was my savior when I was depressed. He listened and he made me smile which is something I could not return. This totally breaks my heart. I wish more than anything that I could rewind the clock and help guide him down a different path.
So how do I feel being a single parent? Mostly shit, but it’s the card I’ve been dealt. The single part of it is shit, but I’m totally in love with my daughter. Again it doesn’t mean I’ve accepted it but I must carry on for my daughter. I feel sad yet happy with the little milestones she has achieved so far. She’s got two little teeth that have popped through, she’s nearly sitting unsupported, she’s rolled over a couple of times and I’m slowly introducing her to foods. As I write this she is experiencing her first cold which is not fun. I think about Dave every step of the way and how much I’d love to be experiencing all of these moments with him. He was so excited about the thought of starting her on solids. The first little spoon of food I gave her was a bittersweet feeling. Her eyes were popping out of her head from excitement. She instinctively knew to open her mouth and use her tongue to push the food down her gob. Dave would have been equally excited and so proud of his little girl. I curse him when I’m struggling with her, like today with her cold. I thank him when she’s being a good girl. I talk to him when I’m missing him the most. I look at our baby girl and I am reminded of him so much. She’s a chatterbox like her daddy, she has his eyes, hair and is tall just like him. Her sleeping sucks just like his did. As much as I want her to be like him in every way, I wish her sleeping was like mine pre-baby.
I guess these types of challenges in life are meant to teach us something. What I’ve learned from this experience is to never, ever, ever take your loved ones for granted. Like your grandparents may have told you I have learned to never, ever, ever go to bed after an argument without telling your partner that you love them. I’ve learned how to ask for and accept help. I’ve learned that men are more susceptible to suicide than women. The rate is more than double that of women. I’ve learned that it really takes a village to raise a child. I’ve learned that there needs to be more support for new parents. It’s a pretty hardcore way to learn these things. Why couldn’t someone just have tapped me on the back and said ‘Hey, you need to learn all these things before you have a baby and this is how to go about it’.
So to all you couples about to go through the ups and downs of being a new parent make sure you build your village. Even if you have a supportive village already, make sure you accept their help. Dave and I had a supportive village and I still do now, but my mindset I had before Dave passed was that we were to get through it together without pestering our friends and family. What I know now is that people want to help. Everyone (well almost everyone) loves a new baby in their circle so they are more than happy to help out. People want to help so be honest with yourself and accept that. There is too much pressure on mums and dads these days to tough it out themselves without seeking help. There is nothing wrong with asking for and accepting help. Also make sure your loved ones know what to look out for if you’re susceptible to depression. Identify your triggers and communicate these. Ask other new parents in your lives how they are coping with the major life adjustment. So many people ask new parents how their baby is going, but I think it’s also important to ask how mum and dad are going too. People have asked me how I’m going along the way but I think they forget to ask the dads, including myself. We just assume that the dads are immune to the stresses and craziness that comes with a raising a newborn. I’m not sure why as parenting is normally a two party affair. This all needs to start at the root level within your village as I think it gets harder when you need to look outside your village for help. I know it would have been so hard to convince Dave to get professional help and I think it would be the same for a lot of men so it’s good to identify early on. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t seek help as professional help works. It’s worked for me and is today as I speak to a counsellor weekly. I guess I’m saying that your network knows you and can identify changes in behaviour or struggles as they’re more likely to see you more frequently.
I don’t know what the future holds for me. I’m taking each day as it comes but I know that I need to communicate my message. Like Aliza and Destiny have expressed in previous posts, more needs to be done to support parents. I’m trying to find gratitude for the positives in my life as I know it is going to be a difficult journey. Every birthday, Christmas, anniversary and milestone is going to be difficult without Dave standing by my side. I don’t look forward to the day when I need to explain to Evie how her father died. I know it’s a long way in the future, but when the time comes I will need to be honest and tell her what happened to him. I am grateful for my beautiful daughter Evie, the special memories I have of Dave, the almost eight years we spent together, the things Dave taught me over those years and my loving and supportive friends and family. It stings so much that Dave is no longer here, but I am extremely grateful and proud that I had the pleasure of being his partner in this world.