The day my world and my perspective of life changed forever. Nervous, scared, excited, and overwhelmed were just some of the many emotions I was feeling. This was the day I found out I was about to become a parent and a father. Four days prior, the love of my life said, “Yes”, to me as I got down on one knee in front of loved ones and friends at our family place in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The celebration began, the drinks were flowing, it was blissful. Little did we know what journey we were about to begin together.
Flash-forward nine months later to April of 2021, our baby boy Cole was born in triage 14 minutes after arriving at the hospital following the craziest 30-minute car ride of my life. This involved a New Jersey State Police escort, our amazing midwife Nicole about to deliver Cole in the car, lots of deep breathing, crazy thoughts and my mother-in-law and I looking at each other with this feeling of stress and concern. Those same feelings of nervousness, scared, excited, and overjoyed came flowing back again. My journey to parenthood begins.
The following two years have been the best times of my life. Watching my son Cole go from a snuggly newborn to a talking and walking 1 year-old, to an ambitious and ever curious soon to be 2-year-old toddler has been nothing short of incredible.
Where do I begin? It is hard not getting emotional as I type this. She is my rock. My biggest supporter. My confidant. Watching her become a Mom and seeing the patience and nurturing compassion she has is admirable and something I strive for myself. I do not know how she does it with such a demanding job and career that she excels in. For myself, it certainly has had its challenges. I have lost touch with friends. Gained new friends. Lost a pet. Bought another house. Manage a second. All while trying to be the best dad, husband, son, brother, nephew, cousin, co-worker, son-in-law, and brother-in-law there is.
Hearing little footsteps on the floor, re-discovering the world through your child’s eye, introducing them to sports and concepts you did as a child. It’s pure joy. However, no one tells you or can prepare you for the sleepless nights, depression, anxiety and fear that all come rolling in at once. It’s fucking hard. It’s raw. It’s emotional. We live in this society of instant gratification through Instagram, Tik Tok, and other social media platforms. People seem to have it “all figured out.” That is simply not true. They don’t. They are struggling like you, and I. Struggling with how to juggle my child’s needs, versus my spouses’ needs, versus my own needs. It’s hard. It’s confusing. It’s overwhelming.
These are all tips and pointers I try to do when I am feeling overwhelmed. But remember, it’s okay to feel this way.
I was told that recently by a friend of mine. I love saying that. I love telling others that. It’s helped me through some rough times already and has allowed me to appreciate and cherish the good times or smaller moments in life and as a parent. It’s reassuring for me as someone who struggles deeply with anxiety. Over the last couple of months, I have sought out professional help for my anxiety. As a guy, I am not afraid to admit that. I was reluctant. I kept putting it on the back-burner. Deep down, I knew it was something I needed to do for years.
My wife encouraged and supported me, and truthfully, I didn’t want my son growing up with a Dad who was constantly angry, sad and yelling. I didn’t want my wife leaving me. I wanted to keep my family intact. When your son says, “Daddy scared me.” “What’s wrong with Daddy?” Or when he physically pushes you away. That right there is a sobering and scary moment. That right there made me realise how impressionable our children are. How important our words and actions are around them. How we treat our spouse and others. How we treat our children when we are parents will determine how they are as a parent someday. Think about that.
The “Dad” perspective and the challenges associated with that are overlooked at times. Listen, I am not going to pretend to know what a mom goes through physically, emotionally and mentally during pregnancy and postpartum. Many of my longtime guy friends have become fathers over the last few years and the struggles we all have dealt with are very real and valid. From the fear of not feeling as connected to the newborn baby, to dealing with a spouse who had severe postpartum depression and suicidal thoughts, to feeling disengaged at work, having a traumatic and crazy birth experience, to juggling a successful side business, to even something simple as wondering, “How do I make time for friends and care for my pets?”
It can be scary. It can be exhausting physically and mentally. But it’s worth every damn hardship.
As I write this blog post, I am sitting in my home office eagerly anticipating the arrival of baby boy number two. The house is ready. The car seat is secured in the car. The supplies for the impending home birth are sitting beside me. We have our name picked out. Godparents chosen. Birth plan in place. Yet, all those same feelings I have referenced are back, and even more heightened the second time around. My journey to parenthood begins again.
And you know what…there is nothing wrong with that. Kaila keeps reminding me daily that everything will be okay, and we will make it work.
And to all parents out there struggling, keep your heads up. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Keep chugging along.
For more from another Dad, read “Becoming Dad”.
If you or someone you know is suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety (PPD/A), help is available. For more information on PPD/A, visit the Mayo Clinic, postpartumdepression.org or postpartum.net.
Tom Zulewski is a fundraising professional specializing in higher education. He is a father, husband and animal lover. He holds a professional degree in journalism and is a licensed real estate agent. In his free time, he enjoys golfing, antiquing, and spending time at their family house on Cape Cod. He lives in southern New Jersey with his wife, two sons, and two dogs.