'It Took Me A Year To Get To The Point Where I Could Say I Loved My Son'

Dads get postpartum depression too, but many suffer in silence. The New Fatherhood's Kevin Maguire wants to change that.
Kevin Maguire, founder of The New Fatherhood newsletter.
Kevin Maguire
Kevin Maguire, founder of The New Fatherhood newsletter.

After the birth of his second child in 2019, Kevin Maguire would take his dog for a walk to a nearby park, which was far enough away from his home that he wouldn’t bump into anyone he knew. There, he would sit on a bench and cry.

Maguire, who lives in Barcelona with his wife Sejal and their two children, didn’t know it at the time, but he was in the grips of paternal postpartum depression.

It might surprise you to hear that men can experience postpartum depression, too. It certainly shocked Maguire, who – for some time – had no idea how to label what he was going through.

The 40-year-old describes feeling “lucky” that he developed it the second time around, because he knew very quickly that something wasn’t right. This wasn’t how he’d felt after the birth of his first child. Far from it.

“I was working for myself and I took a big chunk of time off to be around and definitely noticed that things weren’t the same and I really had a problem connecting and bonding with my son in a way that, just, alarm bells were ringing,” he tells HuffPost UK.

“I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I was like: is there something wrong with me? Is there something wrong with my son? What’s happening here?”

Maguire found himself Googling his symptoms, but notes at the time there was very little in the way of conversations around men’s mental health online, let alone this.

It was only after he stumbled across an article that was written by a doctor who’d had his second child and was exhibiting a lot of the symptoms Maguire was, that he realised there was even a name for what he was going through: paternal postpartum depression.

“When I came across it, I felt this overwhelming sense of relief. It was a moment of going, ‘Oh wow, I’m not broken. There’s not something wrong with me. There’s not something wrong with my son. This is actually an illness’,” he reflects.

This experience, coupled with the dearth in information around what it means to be a dad today, led him to create The New Fatherhood newsletter in 2021, where he explores the intersection between fatherhood and mental health.

Fast forward to today and there are 13,000 dads spread across 150 countries who read the newsletter every week – “and they really, truly look out for each other,” notes Maguire, who’s also created a smaller, tight-knit community of around 200 dads who meet twice a month to chat about the struggles they face.

Part of the reason he’s so passionate about creating safe spaces for men to discuss their feelings is because very soon after the birth of his second child, he was struck by the realisation that “women have a wonderful caring, nurturing instinct – not just when it comes to raising children but when it comes to looking out for each other, that we [men] don’t have”.

“It doesn’t come naturally to us as men and fathers,” he says.

The dad-of-two recalls how his wife received a “monster message” that filled her entire phone screen a few months after the birth of their son. Her friend was simply checking in to see how she was doing, because she knew how tough those first few months can be for new parents.

“I felt two things: relief that my wife had this support network around her, and envy. I was like: where is my Jenny?” recalls Maguire.

“And that was one of the things that drove me to start the New Fatherhood. I thought there needs to be a space where we can normalise the behaviour of men looking out for each other, of checking in and just saying: ‘Hey, are you OK? And if you’re not OK, then it’s alright and we can talk about it’.”

The newsletter focuses on mental health, but also the ways in which fatherhood is changing, and the active roles dads are taking as more equal co-parents.

His aim is to subvert the idea that “male vulnerability is synonymous with weakness” – and for men and dads to understand that “there is such a huge bravery and courage in opening up – either with friends, your partner, or a group of strangers in a newsletter on the internet”.

“There’s this weird paradox where sometimes it’s easier to open up to a group of strangers than your closest friends,” he adds.

Maguire certainly found this when he was in the throes of postnatal depression. He experienced symptoms such as feeling angry all the time and not wanting to talk to his family, be around friends or spend time with his son.

“I felt like I was making my way through mud, with a 50kg weight strapped to my back,” he writes in one of his newsletter entries.

He didn’t feel able to open up to his partner for a long time – and, he tells me, “that was through zero fault of hers”.

Paternal postpartum depression symptoms generally resemble those in women, but studies note men might also experience indecisiveness, irritability and emotional blunting.

According to Dr Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, of UT Southwestern Medical Center, risk factors that can play a role in dads developing postpartum depression include:

  • Hormonal changes during and after their partner’s pregnancy (notably, a decline in testosterone)
  • Having a partner who is depressed
  • Feeling disconnected from partner and baby
  • Family or personal history of depression
  • Psychological adjustment to parenthood
  • Sleep deprivation.

“It took me the best part of a year to get to the point where I could say that I loved my son, which is so hard as a parent,” says Maguire.

“And I adore this child now, he lights up my world every single day. But I didn’t feel that then.”

When he did eventually summon up the courage to talk to his wife about it, she helped him seek professional support.

“I went and started working with a therapist and I remember coming to the realisation through therapy that I was going to have to work at it. It wasn’t going to come naturally to me to love him,” Maguire says of his bond with his son.

“But it was so much sweeter when it eventually came. And I feel that all the time now – this incredible sense of gratitude for the relationship we have and knowing that I had to do the work to make it happen.”

His experience of therapy was positive, but he notes there were “all the roadblocks that people face when they’re in the UK and US” such as long waiting lists and “limited knowledge in medical circles” around paternal postpartum depression.

He also read a study that found baby-wearing had helped women who had postnatal depression form stronger bonds with their children. So, each day he would wear his son in a carrier and walk around the neighbourhood.

Other aspects of his ‘mental health toolkit’ which he credits for helping him on the road to recovery, include:

  • Not using his phone too much
  • Being outside in nature and walking
  • Meditation to help him manage his emotions and negative thought processes and cycles
  • Regular exercise, such as yoga
  • Writing his newsletter
  • Talking – whether to a therapist, friend, partner or strangers on the internet.

The latter experience is what led him to set up The New Fatherhood Therapy Fund, which helps dads access therapy no matter where they are, how much they earn, or what healthcare plan they’re on.

In the space of six months, they’ve raised enough money to help 10 fathers attend therapy. He’s also launched a Good Dads Club clothing collection – think t-shirts, caps and socks – with proceeds going towards the therapy fund. The hope is to raise enough money to help a further 25 fathers.

Postpartum depression is thought to affect one in 10 dads. Although given how little awareness there is of the issue, this may be an under-estimate. Maguire notes it could be anywhere between 5% and 25% of fathers.

“What I’ve come to realise is, as men are taking a more active role in the raising of children, of course this is going to be a more prevalent issue for them as well,” says Maguire.

“When you’re a new dad, there is a prevalent feeling that you should just be able to do it – it’s just being a dad. It’s one of these rules that’s been passed down by generations that just doesn’t apply any more.

“This generation has seen such a dramatic transformation in what fatherhood means. One of the things I keep coming back to in the newsletter is just how different fatherhood is for this generation of dads than anyone before and how we’re really not equipped to deal with it.”

The 40-year-old is hopeful that things will start to shift – and one change he really wants to see is the introduction of a postpartum depression survey for fathers after the birth of a child.

In the UK, women are typically (although this doesn’t always happen) asked questions about their mental health and wellbeing not long after the birth of their child.

But there is no such thing for dads. Even on antenatal courses, a lot of the focus is on how to spot the signs of mental health issues in new mothers, not new fathers.

“There have been multiple studies that suggest if they asked dads the same questions – but lowered the threshold, because men are less likely to open up – the very same tool would catch a huge majority of paternal postnatal depression cases,” says Maguire.

If you’re a dad who’s read so far and believes they might be struggling with postpartum depression, Maguire wants you to know you’re certainly not alone – “even though it can really feel like you are”.

“It’s so much more common than we think but because there is not a huge amount of conversation around it online, it can feel like you’re the first person to go through this,” he says.

Reach out for help, he urges – and if you don’t feel comfortable speaking to your partner, friends or family, speaking to other dads on forums or via newsletters like The New Fatherhood can really help.

“In doing that, you’re almost unburdening yourself of this need to suffer in silence and to do what we believe to be the ‘manly thing’, which is to grit our teeth and bear it, no matter how painful it is,” says Maguire.

“You just don’t have to do that. The world has changed and fatherhood has changed in a way that other men will not look down on you because you’re struggling.

“You’ll actually find the opposite, that they’ll lift you up, and you’ll find so many other people in your life that have been through this too.”

Help and support:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
  • CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email help@themix.org.uk
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.