When she was born in January 2016, I did not react well. It was a planned pregnancy, and my wife and I had been together for a decade, married for three years. But I was still a man-child and had not started to manage my ego as effectively as I do now.
It turned out I had postnatal depression, with some trauma from witnessing the birth. I became distant, short-tempered, selfish, and assumed every father talking about the “wonder” of the experience, was spouting propaganda to get other men to join them in their hell of having children.
I was lucky that a friend spotted it, and I went to the doctor relieved that I might be ill, not just a horrible person. I arrogantly thought I could handle the depression, and chose not to take medication, assuming that things would get easier as I adjusted to my new role. It did not.
In November I finally went on anti-depressants, and also engaged with several other strategies, including seeing a counsellor.
My daughter is now two, and is adorable. It’s easier now she can communicate and say when she wants water, or if she is cold, or wants a specific toy. It was trickier when I had to guess those things.
As anyone with a toddler knows, life moves pretty fast, and you do not often get time to just “be,” and monitor your own thoughts.
Bathtime is my time for this, and is now one of my milestones for how well I am managing my mental health. Bath time can be scary, bath time can be dangerous, bath time can be a massive source of anxiety. What if the water is too hot or too cold? What if she slips in her bath seat and traps her legs? What if she poos? How do I keep hold of a soapy wet wriggling baby when I need to lift her out?
(Quick tip for new parents, if anything bad happens in the bath, PULL THE PLUG!)
But all those worries have gone away. So now I put her in the bath, she gets excited by the bubbles, and splashing me. She plays with the foam letters and numbers, spends a fair bit of time drowning her toy monkey, and regularly checking that her favourite teddy bear is safely watching her from the toilet seat.
For me, its fatherhood. This moment. It is somehow a metaphor for everything. The love and tenderness I show in this moment feels greater than at any other point. Bedtime is fun, but there is some stress of the “please go to sleep” variety. Dinner is fun, but again, the stress of “please eat more than just waffles”. But bathtime is a break from life, and chores, and momentum. It’s 15 minutes of just us.
She seems so small and vulnerable, as my big man hands gently wash her hair. The feeling of wanting her to stay innocent, and to protect her from any negative experience, can be overwhelming. She has no self-esteem issues, makes no judgement about her body, she just seems happy that it can do things, and that she can label various parts.
She also loves me unconditionally. She thinks I am hilarious.
And so my thoughts often turn to the future. To her heart being broken, of being sad, or feeling grief. Even to my own death, hopefully far in the future.
Are we bringing her up well enough? Are we giving her emotional resilience, or helicopter parenting? Will decisions we make now impact her negatively for the rest of her life?
But these thoughts are not helpful. It’s just bathtime. Probably my favourite part of parenthood. And if I can deal with bathtime, I must be dealing with life okay as well.
I get her out, and wrap her in a towel, and she snuggles in while I dry her and put her in her pajamas.
It’s the best feeling in the world.
For those fifteen minutes, the world stopped.
And everything was perfect.
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