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Carl Mullan: ‘It’s such a shock to the system becoming a parent’

Parenting in My Shoes: I don’t care about work – if my kids can say ‘he’s a class dad’ that’s my job done

“We thought we weren’t going to be able to have kids,” explains Carl Mullan, the 2FM presenter and father of two.

Carl, who has known his wife Aisling since they were aged just 11, says knowing each other since childhood meant they were able to have an open conversation about potential fertility difficulties early on in their relationship. “With Ais, she had been told previously that it might be difficult for us to have kids.”

The couple decided to have a “Plan B” in place if they couldn’t have children. “We had kind of said to ourselves, well, we’ll need to find another way to fulfil ourselves in whatever way we can. It’s definitely something we want to do but, if it can’t happen, we’ll travel the world or do whatever.”

But just three days after booking their wedding they discovered Aisling was pregnant. “It was just this mad whirlwind of events,” he says. “I wanted to be a parent, but in the back of my head I had actually resigned myself to the idea I might never get a chance to be.”

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Carl’s first child Daibhí was born during Covid restrictions. When Aisling, who is a nurse, first discovered she was pregnant and showed Carl the positive pregnancy test, he thought it was a positive Covid test.

“I remember at the time being really happy, but being terrified too. As soon as you find out you’re going to be a parent, you actually have to have this moment where you have a chat with yourself. You are actually saying goodbye to your youth here because now you’re no longer the most important person in the room.”

Having a wife who was pregnant during the height of the pandemic “was scary”, Carl says. “None of us knew what way it was going to affect people.”

A month and a half after discovering she was pregnant, Aisling got Covid. “Ais got really sick with Covid. I’ve never seen Ais as sick in my life, to the point where she had to go to hospital. I had to call an ambulance.”

As for the birth itself, Carl says while there’s lots of jokes about “making sure you stay north”, during delivery, he wishes he had been told about the feelings of helplessness he’d experience on the labour ward. “I could see that she was in pain and there were times when she was worried, and I was just like, ‘sh**. I can’t do anything bar just being here’.

“It’s such a shock to the system becoming a parent ... we’re made feel like it’s going to be a certain way. And it’s even through the things that people say to you. People were saying, it’s like this instant love and it’s this instant connection. I actually don’t think that’s what it was for me. I felt an instinctive protective nature. I felt instinctively I had to look after this baby. I have to provide for them and make sure they’re kept safe and well ... I felt that that was nearly so overpowering that you nearly can’t go into the state of love. It’s like that grows with time.”

Carl admits he felt guilty at the time about not immediately feeling the way others had told him he would feel. “I would be like, ‘sh**, why am I not feeling this’?” He also says he feels a “caveman” responsibility to provide for his family, even though Aisling works in paid employment.

The couple’s second child, daughter Éala, was born last year. But, between Daibhí and Éala’s birth, Aisling suffered a miscarriage. “We found it hard ... I think with Daibhí, because Ais had been so sick during the pregnancy in terms of with Covid and then we had so much worry around whether Daibhí would be okay,” he says. “When we found out Ais was pregnant, we really wanted to embrace it, even to the point Ais actually filmed the reaction to me finding out, she had the pregnancy test and she filmed a little video of Daibhí giving me the test and it was just this most gorgeous moment.

I definitely find in my line of work, you’re putting yourself out there for people to both love you and to hate you

—  Carl Mullan

“We were just so happy ... we were going to grow from a family of three to a family of four. And then it was only a few days later that, unfortunately, Ais rang me she said, ‘Carl, I don’t think this is going well’.”

Although it was early in the pregnancy, the couple had shared news of Aisling’s pregnancy with some close family members, something which Carl says he’d “advocate”, as they were able to offer their support when the miscarriage had happened.

Since becoming a dad, Carl says he has started to acknowledge that he struggles with anxiety. “I find it very hard to find the balance between the workload and making sure that you’re providing, but also being a dad and making sure you’re there for them. That’s a constant tug-of-war that’s there for me.

“I’m a bit of a sensitive soul as it is anyway. I definitely find in my line of work, you’re putting yourself out there for people to both love you and to hate you.”

On occasion, where Carl gets “a bit of grief” or “a bit of abuse”, he finds this can sometimes stay with him. “I’m going home and something that someone said is playing on your mind. But then you’re like, ‘I need to be here for my kids and for my wife. I don’t want to be distracted.’ And then you start to go in on yourself and go into a bit of a spiral.”

Carl says he’s sought support in dealing with this in the past few months and has found talking to a professional “really, really useful”. It has also given him an opportunity to discuss something else he believes has been a concern for him all through life. “[I have] genuine issues around my own body image,” he explains. “I would be very hard on myself.

“My little one, Éala, she hasn’t been sleeping. And you’re up early, you’re going into work and you’ve had a couple of hours sleep. You have to switch it on. And then you’re not getting to exercise as much and you don’t feel good about yourself ... and that actually does have an effect on me.

“I always knew I was self-conscious about it, but I actually never realised it was maybe feeding into something more than just being self-conscious. It’s actually feeding into your overall image of yourself.”

Delving further into these things has led Carl to question whether he may have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). “I think I might tick a lot of the boxes. One of the things I’ve spoken to the psychologist about is time blindness.”

It’s “actually something I’m interested in exploring further, because it potentially could be something that I might find out about myself that I don’t know. To be honest, even when I was speaking through it, I actually felt huge relief when I thought, ‘actually, hang on a minute, there might be a little bit of neurodiversity there’. I compare myself to other people and I’m always really envious of people who are very structured, and they can really keep themselves to a schedule and they can be super-organised.”

Carl feels his anxiety and potential ADHD traits affect him as a father in the form of guilt. He worries about the days where he can be distracted, because of his anxiety. “The most important thing for me is that my kids when they grow up get to say, ‘he’s a class dad’. I don’t care about anything I do, I don’t care about work, I don’t care about radio shows, I don’t care about TV shows, I don’t care about Instagram followers – if my kids can say ‘he’s a class dad’ that’s my job done. I would never want my anxiety to impact my ability to be a great dad. That would be the main thing I would be concerned about.”

Carl also says there’s huge guilt about the sacrifices his wife and family have to make to work around his job. Raising a son and a daughter brings different worries, he says. “My eyes were really opened around the whole Ashling Murphy case. Around the whole idea of male privilege. Obviously, a lot of people around that whole time had conversations that they maybe had never had before.

“I definitely want to make sure that maybe the world I’ve grown up in doesn’t impact her [Éala] and that I can give her the best opportunity possible to be whatever she wants to be and to let her believe that she can be whatever she wants to be.”

He feels he needs to be “hyper-aware” of the subtle messages given to girls.

The lack of sleep is the low of parenting for Carl. The highs, however, he says “completely outweigh it”.

I remember with Daibhí the day he took his first steps – that was absolutely magic. It was like he timed it so perfectly. It was Father’s Day and it was the day before Ais went back to work after maternity leave. So it was like he just saved the moment for that day.

“Éala, she’s making me work for the laughs. But I managed to get the first laugh out of her the other day. There’s something about your own child laughing which is the greatest sound in the world.”

Parenting in My Shoes

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