As part of International Babywearing Week 2014, I wanted to share some of my story. This was first published in Juno Magazine in the summer time and is reproduced with their permission.
Some children grow up wanting to be footballers, rock stars or firemen. Some want to be dancers, builders or train drivers. I didn’t, although I did spend a phase of my life touring with a band. I grew up wanting to be a dad.
Every dad I know has said fatherhood is everything he expected, and nothing like he expected. And they are right. It’s a million times better, and it’s completely life-changing. The adoration that overflows you for this tiny little being that has just entered your world is like nothing else you will ever experience.
No matter how many times you hear about sleepless nights, nothing prepares you for the morning when you get to work with odd shoes on and nod off on your keyboard. The endless nappies, tears and concerns about whether your little one is gaining weight are wiped away when you catch that first smile, or when his tiny little fingers wrap around yours.
There were lots of things that will stick with me forever. First hugs with a minutes-old premature infant in the delivery suite at the hospital while Mum was being looked after. Bringing them both home from the hospital. A while later came the first “Daddy” – one of many 4ams when our little girl woke up for the umpteenth time that night and I lifted her from her crib at the end of the bed to pass her to her mum for a feed, my frustration cut through by little arms and a joyous greeting.
One of my favourite things was carrying her in our sling. I loved having the intimacy and whispering in her ears; being able to respond and have that degree of closeness to her was truly magical. The tiny little girl who blew our world to bits was soon walking, talking and stealing the chocolate from the fridge, and we decided as a family to try for another baby.
In due course our second child arrived, affectionately known as OohOoh. He was a different child, and our situation had changed too. I was in full-time employment, whereas previously I’d worked part-time. He was far more affectionate and in many ways less demanding than his sister, yet for some reason he was months old before we started using a sling with him. He loved it, and thanks to our discovery of woven wraps, his big sister rediscovered her love of ‘up’. Having a second child in the family was incredible.
It changed everything again, though. I naively thought I could be the tower of strength that my wife needed, provide financially and be involved as much as possible while carrying on with all my other commitments. But the changes and sleepless nights took their toll. I grew increasingly irritable and snappy and found myself withdrawing from social situations and struggling to focus on my work. My relationship with my wife was degrading rapidly and the very thing I was desperate to be, a good father and husband, was the thing I was mucking up the most.
It was strange: I went from being a real ‘people’ person to being almost a recluse. I put the mask on in public so no one outside the home knew there was anything wrong, but the people closest to me were suffering with, alongside and because of me. I loved my family, but the noise, the requirement for interaction were just too much for me. Slinging the kids stopped – not intentionally, but it just didn’t enter my mind as an option. I did what lots of people do in that situation and retreated into the internet.
Eventually, during the summer of 2013, I had to face up to the fact that something wasn’t right, and I took myself off to see the doctor. I had depression. I thought post-natal depression was something only women get, but according to recent statistics released by the NHS as many as one in five fathers suffers with depression in the first year of his child’s life. Yet I’d seen or heard very little about it.
Medication and a month off work were step one in my recovery. After a few days of adjusting to the side-effects of the anti-depressants, I decided that the best way of spending my time wasn’t playing computer games. I’d been involved in the promotion and development of a group called Sling Dads for a while, but had never fully engaged with it. Sling Dads exists to promote and encourage the role of fathers, with a particular emphasis on babywearing. It aims to encourage and enable the family in all its forms and it was just what I needed: a space and an opportunity to engage with other people in a similar situation to myself, so that we could share experiences and support each other.
Simon and Garfunkel released a song in 1966 that said, “I am a Rock, I am an Island.” It’s a nice sentiment, and sometimes I do need to be alone, but the more I was isolating myself the worse I felt. As my journey into parenthood has continued, I’ve come to realise that the ancient Yoruba proverb is far more accurate:
“It takes a whole village to raise a child.”
In this day and age, that village has become global, and seeing other dads enjoying carrying their little ones and sharing their experiences reminded me of the enjoyment and closeness I’d shared with my children. I pulled a sling from the shelf and asked OohOoh if he wanted ‘up’. The smile and the little legs charging to me gave me a clear answer.
As I wasn’t working I took the opportunity to attend several local sling meets, some more welcoming than others. I really relished being part of it, trying out new carriers and learning lots. One of the women running a sling library spotted my enjoyment and encouraged me to train as a babywearing consultant. Towards the end of 2013 I became the first School of Babywearing-trained dad consultant.
Now my children and I regularly enjoy slingy cuddles again. It’s amazing how much sharing those special times together has helped, even with the ear-pulling and neck-scratching that seem to be a part of it. It hasn’t made me ‘better’ or made the depression go away, but it has helped me and my children keep close to each other, restoring the bond that had been damaged by my illness.
In November I set up the High Peak Sling Meet and have begun building a library to help other parents enhance their bond with their children through babywearing. Seeing other people’s smiles and joy as their little one has fallen asleep in a sling or has chuckled and chattered away to them as they have left with a carrier on their back has been so rewarding, so some good has come from the situation.
Article first published in Issue 36 of JUNO, Summer 2014. The magazine is still available to buy if you are interested – http://shop.junopublishing.co.