‘My wife came in and took the baby’
WHEN Dave Edwards became a dad, his world turned upside down. But while he expected sleepless nights and around-the-clock nappy changes, he had no idea how bad things would get.
"(My son) was born via emergency C-section - he came out screaming and didn't stop. So it was a stressful time from day one," Mr Edwards, 33, recalls.
Although nurses as the hospital assured Mr Edwards and his wife that things would get better, their baby continued to cry.
"I basically had five weeks of paternity leave and I spent most of it trying to settle a very unsettled baby. We were lucky to get two hours sleep a night," says Mr Edwards.
"The fatigue led to agitation. It was a really, really difficult time."
Things got harder for Mr Edwards when he went back to work. Sleep-deprived and constantly worrying about his wife and baby, it was almost impossible to concentrate on his job.
"It felt like I was being asked to jump back in the driver's seat and expected to maintain a high speed - but with my hands tied to the steering wheel. I felt totally out of control," he said.
In the next few months the agitation that Mr Edwards experienced on a daily basis became worse. He remembers being irritable and snappy. Despite worrying about his wife and baby all day, he didn't want to face walking through the door.
"I felt so much guilt," he recalls.
When his son was about three months old, Mr Edwards reached breaking point.
"Our son woke up screaming again and although I was able to settle him initially he started screaming again five minutes later. I screamed at the top of my lungs right back at him, quite aggressively - it was like an out of body experience."
It was a wake up call. "My wife came straight in and took the baby - she gave me this look. I felt so ashamed and so guilty," says Mr Edwards.
Realising he needed help, Mr Edwards went to his GP.
"I described what had been happening and how I was feeling at work and at home. She said, 'What you're describing tends to be symptoms associated with post-natal depression and anxiety'."
news.com.au invites readers to support Movember to raise awareness, funds and start conversations. Sign up now at movember.com because whatever you grow will save a bro.
According to Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA), around one in 10 expecting or new dads will experience peri-natal anxiety or depression. Despite the numbers, it is still a very misunderstood condition.
"We know that many men don't want to speak up about their struggles as they can feel pressure and expectations to be the rock of the family, to just get on with things rather than make any difficult feelings a priority," explains PANDA's National Helpline and Programs Manager, Ms Mitzi Paderes.
"Many men find it particularly hard to talk about difficult emotions when they know their partner has gone through the difficult journey of carrying and birthing the baby."
While the symptoms of anxiety and depression appear differently for each expecting and new dad, Ms Paderes notes that there are some red flags such as tiredness or exhaustion; a loss of interest in things that were once enjoyed; changes in appetite; sleep problems (unrelated to baby's sleep) and an ongoing irritability, anger or moodiness.
On top of this, some men will experience an emotional withdrawal from their partner, baby, family and friends, a fear of looking after their baby. Some dads will immerse themselves in work or use alcohol or drugs to "escape".
Ms Paderes notes that it is really important for dads to seek help as early as possible.
"Seeking support might include calling PANDA's National Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Helpline or talking about how you are feeling with someone you trust like your partner, a friend or a family member," she says.
"Once you start talking you might be surprised at how many people have had similar experiences. It might mean talking to a doctor. Therapy or counselling might also help - seeing a therapist or psychiatrist is not a sign of weakness, it's a sign that a man is taking the steps necessary to keep himself and his family safe and healthy."
For Dave Edwards, being diagnosed with PND was the first step on the road to recovery.
Five years on from the birth of his son he is very vocal about his experience. "My advice to new dads is, expect the unexpected," he says. "You'll face vulnerabilities like you haven't before - be kind to yourself."
PANDA National Helpline: 1300 726 306
Has this story raised issues for you? Help is available.