Fighting my mental health, at times, has felt like I’ve been participating in a tug of war against The Incredible Hulk. Just as I’ve dug my heels into the ground and I’ve summoned every ounce of strength I have, I lean back, as I create tension on the rope he releases it, sending me flying in the opposite direction, crash landing into a slump on the floor, writes Marc Davis.
That is mental health, some days are bad, some days are good but every day I am aware that it is very much active in my life. It has hit me for six at times but it has also left me alone. I have to take each day as it comes as the only thing that is consistent with my anxiety is its inconsistency.
I believe the stress of becoming a new dad and the fear of the unknown is what triggered my crisis over the Christmas period. As the day of our planned Caesarean drew closer, I could feel the weight bearing down on my shoulders with each passing minute as if an unseen force was pushing down on me, increasing the pressure daily. No amount of research or planning can prepare you for the joys and anxieties that parenthood brings to your life but it is an occasion of great magnitude nonetheless.
The weeks leading up to the birth of my boys saw me doubting myself, not only as a person but as a dad as well. Will I be able to cope as a dad? Will I be able to provide for us all as a family? Will the boys love me? Will I love them? All of these concerns swirled around in my head for weeks on end. I was draining myself emotionally every day, right up until the big day arrived.
During the evening before our big day, we were sorting out Heidi’s hospital bag. Ensuring she had all the necessities for her stay at Gloucester Royal. “This is the last night we sleep here as a couple, when I’m home we’ll be a family of four,” she said, as my smile outstretched the room.
We were in good spirits, excited that we were close to meeting our little bundles of joy after waiting for what seemed like forever, but also five minutes – some parents may agree that it seems like pregnancy goes quick but slow at the same time, it’s such a surreal feeling.
We finished checking over the hospital bag for what felt like the fiftieth time, so we decided to relax in front of a film as it was our last evening to ourselves. As we sat down I could feel those negative energies surrounding me once again. My heart was pulsing out of my chest and those dreaded tingles rushing through my body, making my whole being feel heavy. Only this time I was able to collect my thoughts, rationalise them and send those demons on their way. It wasn’t easy, it was almost miraculous but I did it.
I counteracted every negative thought with one of positivity before the negative thought could finish implanting itself into my mind. This is now a tactic I use daily, any sign of negativity will be washed away with a positive twist to it. As my demons scurried off, back under their rocks, I decided it was time to go to bed, the following day would be mentally tough so I needed to be at my absolute best. Although I was still a little nervy, my troubles were at bay for the time being.
I woke up on our big day, full of life, full of energy and most importantly, full of optimism. I told myself that my anxiety would not interfere with my boys being born. I wasn’t prepared to look back in years to come and remember feeling panicked, rather than remembering the birth of my twin boys.
Still dark outside, we packed the car up and set off to the hospital, the 10-mile drive felt like an everlasting journey. The anticipation building, so too was my anxiety. I had to remain calm, my partner was about to endure a major operation, if she can’t rely on me to be the strength she needs during difficult times, then who can she rely on? It was time to straighten myself up.
As we arrived at the hospital, I went into the toilet, washed my face with cold water, checked the mirror and told myself ‘I got this’. As I continued towards the maternity ward, it all started to feel surreal but I took in every moment, every smile, every worry because I wouldn’t get this day back. I remained positive for Heidi as I didn’t want to add stress to her experience, as I could imagine she was feeling a little unnerved about the proceedings that lead to childbirth.
We signed in with reception and from then on in it was a waiting game as to when we would be called in to start the procedure. After our rapid Covid tests we were escorted to a side room with our scrubs and told to wait for a midwife to retrieve us once the theatre was ready. Both in high spirits, we messed around taking selfies in the mirror in our hospital attire.
The knock on the door seemed like the loudest bang ever, as if my demons were waiting outside the door for me to walk into a trap. The midwife walked in and began to wheel Heidi down towards theatre, my legs became heavy but I walked on, smiling, not allowing anybody we passed in the halls to see that I was nervous. We were then informed on what to expect by the midwife as we were prepped for theatre.
Walking into that room was daunting, the bright white lights shining down could highlight a speck of dust twenty metres away, as a gang of at least fifteen faces all greeted us upon entrance. Heidi was sat up on her bed, being poked and prodded before having an epidural put into her back – I have never seen a needle so big in all of my life. As Heidi was led back down by the anaesthetist, I was told to sit by her head, so I comforted her as she went through all the checks to make sure she was comfortable before surgery.
All of a sudden, my ‘fight or flight’ response decided to make an appearance, almost out of nowhere. My senses heightened, my hearing became so crisp I could hear each individual conversation in all corners of the room. It was neither the time nor place for this to be happening but rather than beat myself over it, I told myself I am more than anxiety.
Anxiety will not win this battle, I faced it head-on. Do your worst, I’m not afraid of you anymore, so I sucked it up and got on with the task at hand, being strong for Heidi. That being said, there was a small cheer from behind the curtain as I see a little head appear above it and only one minute later, the second head appeared.
Just like that, as if the storm in my head just cleared, a ray of sunshine lit up my emotions. An overwhelming sense of pride, protection and unconditional love swept through my whole body, I have truly never felt anything like it. I wanted to remain in that moment forever.
We became parents, all the angst I’d felt over becoming a dad seemed to disappear. It felt so natural as I set about my ‘daddy duties’. I spent as much time as I could in the hospital with Heidi and the boys over the coming days, aiding Heidi as much as possible and relieving her of the duties she had to carry out whilst I was at work, anxiously clock watching, counting down the seconds until visiting hours came around again. As soon as I was back on the ward with the boys, all my anxieties drifted away. All that mattered was being with our new little family. Heidi was absolutely incredible during childbirth and I honestly could not be any more proud of her. All the staff at Gloucester Royal and Stroud Maternity were magnificent, too.
We are now at home as a family of four and I could not be happier, although a little tiring, it has been a magical experience so far. During the days where I feel a shift in my mood, I only have to look at my boys and I realise that I am truly blessed, easing my anxieties and putting me at peace within myself. The battle will go on, I’m aware of that but I need to be strong for our family, as the birth of my boys has given me a purpose in life.
Marc Davis – Diary of an Anxious Dad
The contents of this article are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of a doctor or mental health expert if you have concerns about your wellbeing.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and do not necessarily represent the official policy, position or opinion of Stroud Times.