THE BLOG

Postnatal Depression - Gay Dads Can Get It Too

22/09/2014 12:32 BST | Updated 21/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Postnatal depression affects men as well as women. There is much cultural and medical conversation about PND - anyone who has had a baby will be aware of the illness and might be familiar with the symptoms - but the fact that these symptoms can be seen in fathers is rarely discussed. I recently wrote a book about postnatal depression in fathers. I talked to many fathers, many of whom had experienced PND, and this included some who were in same-sex relationships. With the growing acknowledgement of the condition in men, it is vitally important that no group of fathers is forgotten.

One father I talked to told me that it is the overwhelming responsibility of becoming a parent which tips some men into depression. Do fathers, and gay fathers in particular, feel this responsibility more than mothers? Maybe so -men haven't necessarily had the same expectations placed on them as on the opposite sex. Women are expected to be mothers, and men are expected to be fathers, but when there are, effectively, two fathers, there can ensue a tricky and fraught negotiation of parental responsibilities where there is no socially defined mother/father blueprint to follow.

It can be a difficult and drawn-out process for a same-sex couple to have a child - there is no 'accidental pregnancy' - a child has been planned for, yearned for, and becoming parents is definitely not undertaken lightly. But sometimes the reality of being a parent doesn't meet a father's expectations. It can be an anticlimax for any parent, but one who has fought hard to have a child should feel overwhelmingly happy when they finally have one...shouldn't they?

In a similar way, couples who go through many punishing rounds of IVF and eventually get pregnant and have a baby can struggle with the reality of becoming parents after such a rigorous and emotionally draining process is over. Gay fathers can experience this too. An adoptive father I spoke to told me that they felt like they were expected to be the 'perfect father' - they felt like they had to prove that they were worthy of becoming a parent, that they were good enough to be given a child. Inevitably these expectations will be different from the reality of being a father - any parent will have to deal with sleep deprivation, feeding routines, relationship changes and lifestyle changes - adoptive fathers can find it difficult to accept that they can't uphold this burden of perfection. Adoptive fathers, like all fathers, cannot be super-fathers all of the time.

It is an unfortunate situation that many gay fathers will slip through the net if they are depressed. It is difficult enough for a straight father to have his postnatal depression recognised - gay fathers have little hope. Antenatal appointments will almost certainly not be attended by adoptive parents. A surrogacy arrangement might allow for a little more flexibility, but gay fathers won't usually be in situations where their mental health will be a concern. And, after the birth, it's very unlikely that a professional will ask the simple, but incredibly important question "how are you feeling?" There'll be no questionnaires from health visitors, and they might not ever know about the local 'dads group' that meets every Saturday...even though they'll be going through the same transition as other parents and facing the same joys and uncertainties as them too.

The world is changing and we must change with it. Same sex couples should be accepted for what they are and offered the same rights and services as all parents. All fathers should be acknowledged as such, and their mental health treated as something important, regardless of how they became a father in the first place.