Unfit for Fatherhood

Image courtesy of The Huffington Post.

Image courtesy of The Huffington Post.

The baby wouldn’t come.

Push.

My wife was in pain. There was a large audience of doctors and nurses. I don’t remember how many. It must have been the most vulnerable she had ever felt.

I was 29. And clueless. And worthless. And helpless.

Just standing there with my mouth half open. I’d squeeze her hand. I’d mutter “C’mon, baby,” more to my wife than the baby.

But, no baby.

The labor had been a long one.

Push.

Our child was not coming. The doctors were monitoring heart rates and blood pressures and all those things we normally take for granted that can turn a typically happy occasion into a tragic one.

“Okay. No more. We’ve got to take her to surgery,” the doctor said.

I just looked at her.

She told me it would be okay. Someone handed me scrubs to wear.

Surrealism had taken hold as I was shuffled into the operating room where everyone was preparing for emergency surgery.

My wife was exhausted. I’d never seen her like that. The anesthesiologist was going to work.

Because I had never experienced anything like what was happening, fear took over as I watched her eyes roll into the back of her head—almost a total loss of consciousness.

I didn’t know what was happening. Just that a bunch of strangers were cutting my wife open and that I didn’t want her to die.

Everything was happening so fast. At 8:24 p.m., I heard crying.

Our baby.

A nurse carried a messy little bundle of human toward me.

“Can you tell the gender?” she said with a smile.

A boy.

I have a son.

To my left, nurses were cleaning and poking and prodding a flailing, crying little boy that I was now responsible for turning into a functional human being.

To my right, doctors were stitching up that baby’s exhausted mother.

I would look left. My son.

Then right. My wife.

They were going to be okay.

Once cleaned and swaddled and outfitted with a teeny tiny baby hat, they put our son in my arms. Mom had done all the work, times a million, and I got to hold him first. It seemed unfair. She just smiled at him. Mission accomplished.

He was okay.

She was okay.

My wife had just spent 158 years (in labor time) trying to deliver a baby and getting cut open. She was starving. The hospital gave her cold, shitty chicken fingers. I don’t remember how much she ate.

Eventually, the baby was given to mom. He needed fed.

The breastfeeding wasn’t going particularly well. Our stubborn little son wasn’t cooperating. The brand new mother must have been terrified and feeling extraordinarily helpless.

It was late and I was getting tired. I had some people tell me that I should really try hard to get sleep because between the two parents, it would be good to have one mentally sharp for sound decision making. I somehow got it in my head I was going to go home and get sleep and come back in the morning.

My wife. Exhausted from the past two days. Frightened. We have a newborn! And the only people there to help are strangers.

And she asked me to stay. She needed me to stay with her. I remember her crying.

“It’s going to be okay,” I tried to tell her. “I can’t help you, and the nurses can. I’ll be back first thing in the morning.”

My wife—this brand-new mother—was feeling as frightened and vulnerable and exhausted as she had ever felt before.

She didn’t want me there to “help.” She wanted me there because she needed to feel safe. To know I had her back. To feel loved. To feel the security of knowing this new little person she had just brought into the world had a father who could be counted on. To feel the security of knowing she and that little boy would never be abandoned.

I didn’t know. I wasn’t smart enough. I thought she was being needy, overly dramatic and emotional.

You know. Like a girl.

And on her very first night of motherhood, I left her.

Scared and alone.

The First Year

Everything changes when you bring a baby home for the first time. Everything.

You either know EXACTLY what this feels like, or you don’t.

The dynamics of the house and the rhythm of life get turned upside down.

In the beginning, everything’s an emergency. Everything’s a challenge. That’s why parents of newborns rent U-Haul trucks just to travel with all the stuff you need to accommodate a miniature human only capable of performing three tasks, four if you count sleeping.

A million little decisions need made throughout a child’s first year of life. A million little things need coordinated.

Where do you put things in the house?

What’s the sleep and feeding schedule?

Who will take care of the baby once we go back to work?

Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.

I’ve known A LOT of people in my life. A lot of mothers. And to be sure, many of them are amazing women.

But, purely as someone to handle the logistics of baby nurturing? To manage the tasks? My wife was unbelievable. The best I’ve ever seen, bar none.

She was so good, in fact, that I didn’t matter much at all. I did what I could and was always there to assist. But assertiveness? I didn’t display any. If there was a decision to be made or a task to be managed? It always fell to her.

The resentment started to build. She became angrier. I became more defensive.

Who are you? Andrea Yates?

My wife told me she wasn’t feeling well. She even spelled it out for me: Postpartum depression.

I thought that was code for “I’m a shitty, unstable person who doesn’t love this innocent baby as much as you.”

All I could think of was the Andrea Yates story—the mother in Texas who drowned five of her own children in the bathtub in 2001.

There is no way my wife is crazy like Yates! Postpartum depression! What!? She doesn’t love our kid!?

I completely blew her off.

We used to argue about apologies, my wife and I.

She thinks you’re supposed to apologize when you hurt people, no matter what. (You are.)

And I often argued that when things are done accidentally, they perhaps should be treated differently than something done maliciously. Like the difference between accidentally killing a pedestrian with your car versus premeditated murder.

She thought I was ridiculous.

“Why can’t you just say you’re sorry?” she’d ask.

But being right was more important to me than helping my wife feel better, I guess. Instead of hugging her and telling her how sorry I was, and demonstrating respect for her feelings, I essentially told her that her feelings were bullshit and I had done nothing wrong, or that she was blowing the situation out of proportion.

I was so ashamed that I could upset my wife this much. I was so defensive because I was a nice guy who everyone liked and no one ever got upset with. And I was too much of a stubborn child to swallow my pride and say and do what needed to be said and done.

I was too much of a child to act like a man.

I heard the words she was saying. I heard them, but didn’t hear them.

She was reaching out for help. “I think I’m experiencing some postpartum depression.”

But I didn’t respect her, or the physical and mental impact that our bodies’ naturally produced chemicals (or a lack thereof) can have on us.

Depression is something crazy people feel.

Depression is something unhappy people feel.

Depression is something people not like us feel.

After a mother gives birth, she will often experience a sudden drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Her chemical makeup will completely change. Plus, her entire lifestyle just changed overnight. Plus, she is sleep deprived and overwhelmed by… everything.

And all she wants is the support of her loved ones. The support of her son’s father. The support of her husband.

But I shrugged her off. I probably had something much more important going on.

“You’re fine, babe,” I told her. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

Just like the doctor had told me.

We were both wrong.

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47 thoughts on “Unfit for Fatherhood

  1. Paula says:

    I wonder if you get married again and you have another baby, would you be more understanding with your wife?

    Like

  2. jgroeber says:

    Oh, heartbreaking. There’s no answers to any of it. We really don’t know how to do these things. You heard about my husband falling asleep on his cell phone while I lay American-Gothic-style literally crying out for help? But for us it ends up being the punch line to the birth story… “…and so he fell asleep on the phone! I had to call this random neighbor at 5 am!! While I was in labor!!” We all fail all the time, especially as parents and spouses. I’m just sorry yours didn’t get to be turned into a funny story about how little you knew, because we all knew that little about everything- parenting, being a spouse, being a son or daughter.
    You deserve a funny story.
    (As always, one of those posts that will stay with me all day…)

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you for being gentle with me, Jen.

      This is not something I’m proud of. And it’s not hard for me to connect this story to the end of my marriage.

      And I don’t suppose it will be very hard for others to do the same.

      Thank you for your kindness.

      Like

      • Hi Matt – this post has stayed with me overnight. I’ve tried to write responses several times, but have deleted them because they were written… not objectively, that’s for certain.

        This one hit me in the gut and brought up a bunch of negative sh*t. That’s my stuff.

        But yeah, you took the words right out of my mouth… I think these two events, not staying and not supporting when she disclosed her depression very well may have been ground zero.

        I’m glad you wrote it because it has cast a light on issues of my own. I’m not glad you wrote it because it has cast a light on issues of my own.

        As other’s have said already, I admire your insights. This 300th is a powerful one.

        Maggie

        Like

        • Matt says:

          Thank you, Maggie.

          I’m sorry for the inconvenient feelings and memories. Really sorry.

          I’m confident there were other little instances of her feeling like I couldn’t be counted on prior to this. But in terms if the big moments? The ones that stay with you for life?

          Ground zero feels like an apt description. I hadn’t thought about it that way.

          But it’s true. In many ways, this was the beginning of the end.

          Like

  3. Jaime says:

    My exhusband could have told that entire story verbatim, the going home after the baby came when I needed him the most, the feeling unnecessary because I mothered that baby like a pro, the dismissal of the cries for help. The sad part in my story though is that I don’t know that he knows how all of that played a part in the now “ex” part of “husband”. And I don’t know that he ever will. I’m proud of you for admitting these things and knowing that if there ever is a next time, it will be different.

    Like

  4. Kelly says:

    Wow. Scary-familiar. Thanks for owning it. Depression is hard for people on all sides of it. It’s like they say of alcoholism or addiction: it’s a family disease.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I’m sorry, Kelly.

      Some of us learn the hard way.

      I’ve written just about 300 posts here. I think this is the ugliest I’ve felt after hitting Publish.

      Like

  5. Was this hard to write? I suspect it was. I watched my #1 son go through this until his MIL and I kicked his azz so hard he wore it as a hat for weeks. Sometimes it takes loving azz kicking from an outside but interested party to make you aware of your deficiencies. We love him but he was sadly deficient as a husband with his first born (5 years ago). He is better now, with the second just born a few weeks ago.

    Matt, you are human. Don’t ever forget you are human. We all suffer with our humanity and lack of understanding. We are all under the mistaken delusion we are good as we are ever going to get until we screw up and are able to look at the colossal mess we have made through the prism of hindsight. Never forget though, in marriage especially there are always two people participating in the destruction.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      It wasn’t hard to write.

      It was hard to re-read.

      I am most certainly human. And I really am learning that all of us are similar in so many ways and suffer from many of the same ailments and shortcomings.

      You just never want it to be you.

      But sometimes it is.

      Thank you. Like Jen above, you’re being pretty gracious and forgiving.

      Like

      • No I am not, I am simply trying to get you to forgive yourself, see your own humanity and start having some compassion for yourself. It is a lesson I am learning. It is a hard one but one we all need.

        Like

  6. panikikubik says:

    I don’t agree that you were infor for fatherhood. You acted the best you could at that time. Period.

    It’s too easy to look back and punish yourself for the mistakes.

    I Failed in my last relationship. I was loving someone who wasn’t ready to recieve love. Things like that don’t end well.
    What did I do?
    I started to give love and shelter to that lost girl inside, who made so many mistakes. And I told her to try again.
    Not to quit loving. Try again…
    I hope you do too- in time
    Hugs

    Like

  7. Caroline says:

    Matt,

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I’m amazed and so drawn in to the rawness of your emotions typed out on your blog. That part.. that amazes me. That you’re so willing to write your shortcomings/etc.. on a blog for many people to see..

    However, don’t beat yourself up. I am not a mother, nor have I been married so it is very understanding for you to read this and think, “Listen crazy, you have no idea what I’ve been through”… because you’re right. I have no idea. But coming from the child’s perspective all grown up.. neither of my parents did a fab job. However, when my father and I talk about everything we’ve been through (once in a blue moon)… I’m always reminding him that we ALL made mistakes and that we all did what we needed to do to be able to wake up the next morning.

    I believe that at that point in your life… you did what you felt you should do. That doesn’t take away your ex-wife’s pain. That doesn’t take away your pain. Nor does that make it any easier.

    But you are NOT defined by your past. Those experiences, ALL of them, have helped shape you into a better version for today; and today is forming you into the better version of you that will be here tomorrow. I think that if you weren’t thinking about these things or admitting them or acknowledging them, then THAT’S the definition of being defined by your past. That’s the definition of being a shitty person.

    Granted I don’t know you… but from reading your blog for a while now you really do seem like a pretty great guy. We all make mistakes. We all miss the mark. But the amazing part about people like YOU, is that you get back up again… made into a better man and you keep showing up.

    -C

    Like

    • Matt says:

      You know. It’s funny. I don’t remember myself six years ago.

      Maybe I really, truly believed I was making the right decisions. But, probably not.

      I have no recollection as to what motivated me to do anything then versus the much larger view of the world I try to maintain today.

      A lot of kindness here in your comment. Thank you very much.

      Like

  8. anitvan says:

    You get it now, don’t you? I could almost *feel* her pain as you related this. And *your* pain too – sorrow for having let her down and profound regret for simply not knowing any better. I know what that feels like too. It’s devastating. How do you come to terms with knowing that you hurt your beloved so carelessly?

    It’s ugly. And looking at it full on is hard. Owning it, like you’re doing is a good thing. I encourage you to keep working through it, so that you come to see it in the broader context. Own your part, yes. And acknowledge that it hurt the relationship. And allow yourself to grieve it. For as long as you need to. And, my friend, I hope that one day you will allow yourself to release it and heal.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Yes.

      Five, six years later.

      I didn’t know a person could change so much in that little time.

      And thank you very much. I hope I can, too.

      Like

  9. samara says:

    I think you’re being really rough on yourself.

    I had a very similar labor and delivery. During the 38 hours I was in labor my husband went home and caught some sleep. I didn’t think there was anything he could do, frankly.

    He was there for the emergency C section. But later, I definitely had trouble getting my son to nurse. And I was alone. I was in my room with these La Leche breast feeding Nazis and crying because it was so hard and I was exhausted. Now granted- I never asked him to stay. But again, I’m not sure what my husband could have done for me. Eventually, we – my son and I – got it right.

    Women are probably better naturally at organizing and scheduling. So I did all that for our baby. My husband did things I couldn’t- like repairs around the house. And he put in plenty of nights rocking our screaming child!

    I suppose you’re exploring all the ways you could have been a better husband. And this is your blog to do so. But we can all find things wrong with everything we’ve ever done, probably.

    Try to forgive yourself. Now is what matters. We live in the now.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I hope I put in my fair share of middle-of-the-night rocking. I sure tried to.

      Sure, I’m being hard on myself. I tend to do that.

      And here’s where I come out on all of it:

      No matter how right or wrong I was. No matter what, objectively speaking, the weight of my crimes were. These were NOT difficult things in the grand scheme of life.

      There was no good reason to not just love and support my spouse simply for the sake of being loving and supporting. Where did battling and getting my way get me? Not to a better place.

      And that’s all I want, really. For young men expecting children to keep some of this in mind. And for everyone to really think about their goals.

      Is it to win a small battle, there in the moment?

      Or is it to have a pleasant, fulfilling and sustainable life?

      You’re awesome. Thank you for all of that.

      Now is what matters.

      Like

  10. Jennie Saia says:

    I can’t click like on this. When they say bringing a child into the world is painful, they never warn you about this part of it.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      It doesn’t have to have a sad ending for the parents.

      There are different choices to be made. Better ones.

      And maybe those better choices result in a much better life for the child at the center.

      I don’t know. I hope life can be good for him no matter what.

      Thanks for reading, Jennie.

      Like

  11. suzjones says:

    I think the tragedy here is that most people fear depression because it is an unknown quantity and the media only portrays the bad things that those who are severely depressed do. Your only fault lies in your ignorance of what depression truly is.
    As a mother and as a person who suffers depression, I felt for your wife in every sentence. However times changes and people change.
    You have learned your lesson and next time you will get it right. :)

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I hope none of those comments on depression came off as present tense. I write poorly sometimes (past vs. present tense) so maybe it was confusing.

      Six years ago, I believed those things because I’d never had experience with it.

      Today, I feel more enlightened. I apologize if those words cut at all. I pray they did not.

      Like

      • suzjones says:

        Not all Matt. Your words only highlighted to me that many people don’t understand depression and that is why it causes so much extra suffering for those who have it.
        I know you have grown and changed (or become enlightened if you like) which is why I know that next time round you will be more understanding. :)
        There was offense or hurt caused by your post. I apologise if you felt that way.

        Like

  12. granonine says:

    I really have to respect your journey from clueless to “I get it now.” You aren’t blaming her; you’re accepting your own contribution to a very sad conclusion. Growing up is hard to do.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you very much. I really feel like I’ve learned something. Something important. And, just maybe, someone can recognize the behavior in their own lives and make changes to avoid the same fate.

      That’s my wish. Appreciate you writing this note.

      Like

      • granonine says:

        My pleasure, Matt. I’m a therapist, and I do a good bit of marital counseling. It’s refresing to read something positive written by a guy who’s been through it.

        Like

        • Matt says:

          Oooohhh. Excellent.

          Thank you so much for reading. You may not approve of my approach, my language or my maturity levels.

          But I absolutely feel called to tell these stories in the hopes that someone might make better choices than I did.

          Because of all that’s happened in my personal life, the idea of wanting couples and families to stay together has become very important to me.

          Like

  13. Aussa Lorens says:

    Wow. This was hard to read but I can’t imagine how many people look back on relationships with a similar sort of hindsight. It’s almost cruel, really, but it’s good to come to terms with how your behavior or perspective contributed to things ending badly.

    I love what you wrote about bringing a baby home. I don’t have kids but I went through it with a friend and it’s total chaos… I’ll be writing about that soon, actually.

    Keep going, I want to hear the next part of your story.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      I didn’t like re-reading it.

      You know, I’d never thought about this before… But that feeling you have when you bring a baby home for the first time… That’s the only feeling bigger than the end of a marriage (or long relationship).

      The one where you just know… everything’s different now.

      I’ll look forward to reading that, Aussa.

      Like

  14. Chris says:

    The night I slept at the hospital after our first born was born was no doubt the worst night’s sleep I ever had. It was so awful I did it again two years later with our second. But those are stories for another time.

    Your experience is definitely a missed opportunity.

    I have no words of wisdom. I believe you know the cause and effect; everything in life has a price. Atonement comes through your written word.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Yeah. I did sleep there the first night. We went to the hospital. Induced labor. Long, miserable night. Which I feel guilty even saying considering she was experiencing labor pains in the same room. Even my shitty night’s sleep had probably been much better than her’s.

      I was very selfish. Most of us are. I’m just better at perspective and sacrifice now than I was then.

      Like

  15. There are so many things I would do differently if I were doing them knowing what I know today. But I didn’t do them today. I did them in another place — another time — when I was another, younger and less wise person. I think that the best we can ever do is to do the best with what we’ve got to work with. Should you have behaved differently? Perhaps. Should you beat yourself for NOT having behaved differently? I don’t think so. Would you behave differently if you found yourself in the same situation tomorrow? Absolutely you would.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      You’re right. I would do everything differently.

      I do best myself up. Guilty, for sure. However, it’s probably not as bad as it comes off on these pages sometimes. This is the only way I know how to write these stories.

      Always hoping there’s a guy just like me, only 10 years earlier, who’s able to make a better choice than I did.

      Like

  16. Brian Snyder says:

    My heart aches for you man. This is EXACTLY the kind of message new husbands and new fathers need to hear and read. Your pain and eventual realization can help so many men Matt. Your story needs to be shared with many, and your fans are here to help. I’m really sensing some profound shifts in your perspectives lately. I like it. Keep it up.

    Like

    • Matt says:

      Thank you. It is the only point of writing any of this down. If someone can grow because maybe it’s like something they went through or are going through.

      I take that part of the writing exercise very seriously.

      Appreciate your support very, very much.

      Like

  17. JujyCakes says:

    Matt, you were a different person back then. You didn’t have the wisdom that you have now from going through some of those experiences. As painful as it all was, as painful as it still is, you’re still learning. Sadly there are no manuals that tell new parents how to be, how to act, what to do. You just have to live in the moment, trust your heart and your gut, and hope that you make the right decisions.

    My son in law is still very selfish and only thinks of himself first even after 8 years of marriage and a 3 year old daughter. I hope one day he learns some of these valuable life lessons, too.

    Remember you are a better person now, and you can keep being a better person everyday.
    Each new day is filled with lessons. We just need to keep listening and observing with open hearts, right?

    Like

  18. Verity says:

    Great post Matt…. It just hits home on the not hearing thing. I’m not a mother so I can’t even begin to relate on that level, however I know what it’s like when your husband does not give the support you need… that dismissiveness… explains a lot the ‘ex’ status of my ex husband.

    Like

  19. UGH…….so, I, too, had an emergency c-section and the discussion for my ex to stay the night with me played out a little differently. I brow-beat him until he submitted to my will. I doubt he looks back on those days too fondly. Yes, my sense of security was wrapped up in him staying and it was a reasonable request on my part but…..I look back with regret. It’s times like these -when you write the male perspective of my own story- where I hear you saying “it takes both people giving 100%.”

    Had we both been considerate (truly sacrificially) toward the other person….had you and your Ex both been the same….what would it have looked like? would there still be regret?

    Grace…..it’s a beautiful thing.

    Like

  20. khushnumab says:

    I don’t want to ‘like’ this story but I would tell you that if you realized your mistakes, you are already on your way to being a better father. So chill a little, we all make mistakes . They are not lying when they say parenting is a tough job. :)

    Like

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