Alex (33) is training to be a train driver and his wife works as a senior veterinary nurse. Their son, Zack was diagnosed with severe reflux a few months after he was born – a challenge they’re still dealing with. The condition means he vomits and had severe stomach cramps caused by a build-up of acid in his stomach. Alex tells his story.
‘Zack is now 12 months and his condition is more under control. But it has been stressful. There were times when he’d just scream and scream and scream and there wasn’t a lot we could do to ease his discomfort.
After three years of trying for a baby we had IVF. So there was already a burden on us; having had to work for years, just to begin the adventure. As the pregnancy progressed everything was fine, but I was always on edge, worrying. Until the 20-week scan, because of everything we’d been through there were always those horrible ‘what-if’ thoughts going through my mind – which I never really managed to shake throughout the nine months. I also felt societal pressure in that so many of our friends and family’s pregnancies had been simple and straightforward.
Despite my anxiety I didn’t seek any help from sources other than family, and of course Charmaine and I talked. But I do think it’s important to ask for help if you need it; and talk to friends and work colleagues. So many people do have successful pregnancies; they can be very reassuring that things do go right. Of course, it’s right that support is mainly focused on expectant mothers, but men shouldn’t think their job is to deal with their anxieties all alone. Their minds might be in ribbons, and they need to see that their worries might affect their relationship with their partner and even carry on after their child is born.
At a time when it’s best to be able to give 100% to your new family, it’s good not be worrying about yourself. It’s great if you can enter fatherhood with a pretty clean slate, so to speak. And being anxious could also make you hesitant to help out once your baby arrives; meaning that you’re afraid to get involved in all the hands-on stuff. I think it would be helpful if there was more support for men obviously available – showing them that it is okay to seek it.
I read through stuff on the internet, looking at how to approach things. I was aware that my life hadn’t changed much, but definitely had for my wife. There were things I made sure I’d always do, like make her a cup of tea as soon as I got home from work. Until late into her pregnancy she was still working very long hours, so even for the simplest things I tried to be on hand.
Things didn’t happen as we’d planned with the birth. I was pleased that we’d attended an ante-natal class - which I think is a must, for both partners. It gave me a lot more confidence to talk about issues surrounding the birth, and made me see that things were manageable. However, in the end Zack got stuck under his mum’s ribs, and trying to turn him was, she’s told people since, ‘the most painful day in her life’. Because of this, she was given a c-section, but actually this was probably the best thing for us. It happened at 38 weeks, was simple and straight-forward and meant that we were both so much more relaxed as we felt an element of control had been introduced.
About 12 weeks after Zack was born my wife went to see a therapist, privately arranged through www.dorpip.org.uk. She wasn’t officially diagnosed with PND, but every time she went to see the doctor she’d burst into tears. Because of work I only made it to one session, but it was really good to witness her analysing her feelings and I wish I’d attended more. As the session was so structured and professional it made me realise that, despite the fact that we do often talk about how we’re feeling, there were certain things – perhaps in the way I played with Zack or how I was when we went out – that meant she always felt she was mainly responsible for him.
There are days when I come home from work and want some down-time, but I know that Charmaine and Zack’s needs are more important at that point. I’ve had the stimulus of other adult conversation, whereas she’s been up since silly o’ clock and not had any time out. I now try to look at all the little things - that some might treat as mundane tasks – knowing that for Charmaine, when she’s exhausted they’re really hard. And actually, making sure I’m fully engaged – settling Zack, bathing him, doing the nappy changes – stops me feeling powerless when things are tough. Because I feel that I’m making a difference to the situation. Even if I can’t make him feel better when he is in discomfort, I can still do all the other stuff. But sadly, I can’t fix everything – that’s definitely something I’ve learnt.
Going back to work was pretty terrifying. I wanted to check my phone every five minutes – but you can’t do that while driving a train. In fact, I’m not allowed to have it. Travelling for one, two hours away from my family, I sometimes had the feeling that I’d been cast away on a boat – very far from land – and I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to get back. But again, I’d advise that you’ve just got to focus on your work, when at work, and remember that the person most qualified to look after your little one is going to be their mum. We’d schedule times when I knew I’d be able to call, and generally they’d be absolutely fine.
I think that looking back, one year on, I can see how worried I was at the start. But adapting my lifestyle around my family’s needs has meant that my mental health has grown stronger, especially as I didn’t resist the changes. I see how far we’ve come as a family – Zack bounding around, his cheeky little smiles lighting up my life – and I realise that we’re all doing really well. So when it’s hard, which it still can be, I’ll hug Charmaine and Zack and say, ‘We’ve got this.’