Happy to be first-time parents

Until last week, I hadn't realised that a significant number of first-time parents feel depressed after their baby comes along.

I read a New York Times column reprinted in The Straits Times that said many women and men experience significant psychological distress as first-time parents and trotted out some depressing statistics to support the assertion.

A 2010 article in the Journal Of The American Medical Association reported that 42 per cent of new mothers and 26 per cent of new fathers exhibit signs of clinical depression three to six months after the child's birth.

It also cited a more recent study reported this year in the journal Pediatrics which concluded that men on average experienced significant increases in depressive symptoms in the first five years of fatherhood.

I belong to the majority group of men who did not experience depression, but was it also true for my wife?

My recall of events after the birth of our first daughter, Yanrong, is that depression hadn't been an issue but I could be wrong.

So I asked if the article struck a chord with her, bracing myself for the recriminations that might follow.

"Giving birth to Yanrong brought me nothing but joy," she replied with no hesitation, to my relief.

Our personal experience has been a happy one. Looking back, there were several serendipitous factors that helped to ease our first steps in the parenthood journey.

Love of a child

It may be stating the obvious but I am a firm believer that one must buy into parenthood wholeheartedly before starting a family. This is because some lifestyle adjustment is necessary once the baby comes into the picture.

It helped that I was sure I wanted to be a dad after getting a taste of "fatherhood" when I was teenager. To one of my three sisters who is 16 years younger than me, I was both a father and a brother, a dual role that I grew to like.

Financial stability

I got married when I was 30 but my wife and I delayed parenthood while waiting for our new flat to be ready.

We also wanted more time to shore up our savings, which was an important consideration for me. I didn't want a repeat of my angst during childhood when family finances were tight, partly because my parents married young.

My dad had to seek a job overseas and my mum would supplement the family income by doing the washing and ironing for a Taiwanese family. My two older sisters and I were left at home to fend for ourselves on many a morning.

Realising our dream

Our goal was to have a baby in 2000, coinciding with the Year of the Dragon. But as the saying goes: Man proposes, God disposes.

The anticipated pregnancy didn't happen and my anxiety heightened with each passing month. She went to a doctor, who said the issue might be stress-related. So we made the drastic decision for her to quit her job.

Financially, it didn't make sense as she would lose her maternity benefits but we felt it had to be done if we were to realise our greater aspiration.

It was with much joy and relief when my wife finally conceived, albeit almost two years later than planned.

Realising our dream of parenthood under these circumstances left no room for depression.

Support network

The initial euphoria couldn't last, of course. The prospects of a first-time father looking after a helpless and delicate being for what seems like an eternity were daunting.

I remember feeling an acute sense of loss when the confinement lady ended her one-month stint.

It must have been harder on my wife, even though she didn't voice her fears. As a full-time mother with nobody for company except the baby when I was at work, she would have to fend off loneliness and a sense of isolation.

This is where a support network is so important, be it in the form of relatives or friends. We were blessed with several kind and generous neighbours, who would add an extra dish or two to our dinner, run errands for us and organise weekend family potluck gatherings in one another's homes.

Our immediate neighbours - a woman and her niece - regularly babysat Yanrong after the birth of my second daughter, Yanbei, especially when she was in a fussy mood.

The kampung spirit was truly alive where we lived.

It was with genuine regret and reluctance that we moved out of the neighbourhood to be nearer the city just before Yanrong began primary school.

It has been seven years since. We still keep in touch. In our hour of vulnerability when much could have gone terribly wrong, nothing did because they were there for us.

For that, I am eternally grateful.


This article was first published on July 13, 2014.
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