When my daughter Eilidh was born 3 years ago it would be fair to say that my experience was not great. Down’s Syndrome was something I knew nothing about and after reading, through tears, the pile of booklets dumped on us in the hospital at 3am, I was utterly terrified by it. My expectations of what Eilidh could achieve were destroyed.
I searched the internet for hope, looking for someone whose experience I could relate to. Another dad that could tell me everything was going to be ok.
It was not easy to find.
There are loads of mums sharing their experiences through blogs and Facebook but not so many dads. The traditional matriarch / patriarch roles follow through from real life to online where mums happily talk about their children while dad’s talk about other stuff – sport, music, beard wax – anything as long as they don’t have to discuss their fears, worries and weaknesses or admit they need help.
True to form I never talked about what was going on in my head following Eilidh’s birth. When I started writing about it recently on my blog my wife commented on how little she knew of how I felt and looking back I regret that I wasn’t able to be more open with her.
Even when I did start my blog I didn’t want anyone I know to read it. I was embarrassed about my feelings and I didn’t want people to know what I was thinking. I eventually realised this was not the way to deal with anything after one friend ‘outed’ me on Facebook and so I decided to just go with the flow and started to share it wider. It felt like I had a weight off my shoulders and, unsurprisingly, all my friends were supportive and told me they enjoyed the honesty of what I was saying.
I am lucky that I have an amazing wife and strong friends but it is not surprising that men’s mental health is such a big issue. Under different circumstances my life since Eilidh’s birth could have been so different and I am grateful for the support I have around me.
Ironically, my experiences with Eilidh have been so positive. She teaches me so much and makes me laugh all the time. I am a better person for having her in my life; her big brother Rory will grow up to be a balanced, compassionate and understanding adult; and everyone who knows Eilidh is besotted with her sparking personality and alluring undercurrent of mischief.
Eilidh continues to exceed our expectations every day and herein lies the problem – our expectations were set too low. To be given such a negative prognosis on her potential by the ‘experts’ at birth is unacceptable to me. It is like buying a brand new car and being told it will not be quite as good as anyone else’s car. Your car will probably require some major repairs and even if the repairs are made, most parts of the car will continue to be faulty and prone to breakdown. We would all ask for a refund.
I wish I had read one of the many great blogs that I eventually found and disregarded the official information given to us on that night in hospital. I hope that my blog might get read by one dad who, like me 3 years ago, is feeling lost and wondering how they can possibly cope with raising a child with disability. My advice to other dads is to open up and talk about how they are feeling. It’s ok to not be in control and it’s ok to admit it.
Here’s to dads talking about stuff!
As for Eilidh? Eilidh is not a list of risks, she is not a ‘condition’ and she is not a burden. Eilidh is my daughter and I am her daddy and, knowing her, she will probably achieve just about anything she wants to in life.
This blog was published in DS Scotland’s Autumn 2016 edition of ‘Full Potential’ magazine. Learn more about the charity at www.dsscotland.org.uk
Year Of The Dad is a year of activity focussed on embracing the potential of fathers and father figures, promoting their importance in child development. Read more about this at www.yearofthedad.org