Last month I experienced symptoms similar to coronavirus, and I needed to self isolate for a period.

During that time, it was my daughter’s twentieth birthday. Even while we were together under the same roof, I couldn’t be there to celebrate with her. This experience felt like a timely reminder that parenting often doesn’t go as smoothly as you’d like.

The experience also made me think of another time I couldn’t be there for my daughter: back in 2000, when I had Postnatal Depression shortly after she was born.

Preparing for parenthood

My Postnatal Depression was never formally diagnosed, but it seems obvious in hindsight. Because having a child was the biggest shock I ever had in my life – and one I never really saw coming.

As a bloke, you know, logically, that a baby is on the way: you’re suddenly buying prams, and cots, and painting the spare room lilac.

You read some baby books, but your partner reads all of them.

I tried to support my partner: for example, fetching her yogurt as soon as she woke up to help control her morning sickness.

But I recognise that I wasn’t plugged in to the birth in the physical and emotional sense that women often can. I mean, they really know that baby’s coming, in a way that I personally don’t believe men can.

I tried to prepare for what was happening: I talked to my football mates who had kids, and one said, gleefully: Your life will END! A close friend was kinder, but also said: No, you can never really be ready for parenthood.

Adapting to life with a baby

When my daughter was born, I immediately displayed my maturity by teasing my wife for being jelly-legged – after 24 hours of labour, gas and air.

But things got serious once the two of them came home.

We wanted to breast and bottle feed the baby, but she never took to bottles – meaning that my wife didn’t have a night out for six months after her birth. She would also wake every three hours or so in the night for a feed.

Accessing support

After about six months as a father, I went on anti-depressants, because I was dizzy with lack of sleep, and guilty about struggling both as a dad and at my job.

Back then, I found the culture around mental health at work was often unsympathetic – particularly in my own newspaper office, which was all about machismo and working far more than your contracted hours.

But I couldn’t do that: I had to leave at five to collect my daughter before nursery closed, and the dirty looks that co-workers gave me back then still make me angry to this day.

My GP, meanwhile, was sympathetic, but didn’t do much more than write me a prescription .

I saw a psychologist, who understood how trapped I felt. But with 20 years of hindsight, I wish we’d put together a practical plan – like requesting reduced hours at work, perhaps – to help me out of my rut.

Postnatal depression as a father

In the end, I gave up my job, my friends and my hobbies, and moved away for a new start with the family.

During this period, I found myself lying in bed all day depressed, while my wife was working and our then two-year-old was at nursery.

I wish there’d been a bit more support available, back then, and that my wife hadn’t – heroically – had to shoulder all of the burden. I wish that I hadn’t lost so much time…

But, although I wasn’t always very good, I slowly got a bit better.

The process of recovery

I didn’t go back to work for years, but I did my best for my daughter – and my son after he arrived a few years later – by becoming their full-time carer.

For years, I dropped them off at school, washed their uniforms, and helped with their homework.

I fed them home-made meals, had their friends over to play, and read favourite bedtime stories, night after night.

And, for a long time, I used to say that my proudest achievement was potty training my son.

When I said that, people often thought I was being flippant, but succeeding at this boring, smelly, task was a game-changer for me.

With my wife at work, it was something that I needed to do for all of us. And, for once, I didn’t feel like I had let anyone down.

Managing postnatal depression

I read long ago in a parenting book that, eventually, your kids won’t seem like your children any more, but delightful young friends – and I’m overjoyed that in my experience it really has worked out that way.

My daughter is doing just fine: she goes to a good university and, to her proud dad, has the talent to become a professional comedian or screenwriter. My son helps me with everything from home building projects to fixing the toaster, and I believe would make a fine engineer.

Thankfully, our attitude to mental health has also improved since my daughter came along 20 years ago. Now, employers and technology can both help out if we need to work flexibly.

Everyone from Prince William to Premier League footballers and soap stars help de-stigmatise depression by talking openly and bravely about their mental battles.

So, if you’re experiencing feeling low after having a baby, please get help.

Please take it from someone who’s been there: it will get better, and the sooner you are supported in making positive changes, the earlier you can start enjoying your children properly.

What to do if you need emotional support…

If you are concerned about your mental health, talking to your GP can be really helpful to find out what support might be on offer for you. Talking to your doctor might feel really daunting, but do remember that you are not alone and that many people take this first step.

If you are in crisis or feel at risk of harming yourself or somebody else, you can also call 999 or go to your local A&E where you will be supported and kept safe. The Samaritans is also a 24 hour crisis service that you can contact on 116123.

By Andy Blizzard