Year of the Dad co-founder DOUGLAS GUEST recalls the empowering experience of attending a ground-breaking ante-natal course for men - and how it made him a better father.
I FIRST saw the Dads2b poster on a visit to the maternity ward with my wife whilst she was heavily pregnant with our first son. My wife encouraged me to attend – and by the first session she had enlisted two other dads from her antenatal group of mums2b so we car-pooled each week.
The course began with more than 20 anxious youngish men from all over West Lothian, joking with each other. One dad already had a 3-year-old, and seemed like a sensei-master to us acolytes – until we found out his wife had sent him on the course to be a better dad the second time round!
BASICS & BATHTIME
Midwife Michelle Davidson quickly settled us down, answering questions and allaying most fears. In the sessions we learned the basics of childbirth, then moved swiftly to baby massage and bathing.
In fact, the most memorable event of the course was seeing a day-old baby being bathed. A young lad from West Lothian Sure start that took us through massaging dollies for practice, and informed us we could do this for real!
Eleven years and three boys later, bathing is still my proud domain. I remember the first time, scared witless with my wife next to me, standing by the baby bath on a stand. Cue one slippery, wriggling, screaming baby and my goalkeeper hands struggling to hold on safely. I never made that mistake again – never on the stand, always on my knees with the bath on the floor and plenty of splashing and kicking around.
FRIENDS FOR LIFE
The course gave me confidence, it gave me a role and it also gave me a support group. The three Linlithgow dads grew with my wife’s antenatal group: some did NCT, and we all met post-natally, eventually setting up a dads’ winter golf competition and making monthly trips to the pub to discuss football, teething and lack of sleep. We still do.
My wife and I didn’t get on a NCT course - you have to book up the Forth Valley ones before you get your scan! Instead we went to the Mulberry Centre where an active birthing course was being held.
It was the best money I ever spent. We learned that an emergency C-section team takes 20 minutes to assemble: less time than it takes for us to get to hospital from home! I learned what my wife already knew - that if a pregnancy is going well the best place to have a birth is at home. The pregnancy was going well and we felt we could try and have it there.
FLEXIBLE & SUPPORTIVE
We had a midwife who was supportive, and we were flexible about going to hospital if there were complications. It felt natural and it felt right – after all, a generation ago that’s where most births occurred. We had three great home births this was great for us and our babies.
These were special moments: spending the first night as a dad cradling my child next to me whilst my wife slept seemed right to me, to us, a new family. I don’t think this would have happened in the first instance if it wasn’t for my wife being keen and the Dads2b course giving me purpose and confidence.
The success of Dads2B is clear from the ongoing demand - through word of mouth, 24 fathers turned up for one recent session! In recent months a new group has been established in Edinburgh at Wester Hailes Healthy Living Centre with our friends at Dads Rock, and plans are in place to roll out to East Lothain in November. For the past two weeks special dad-focused information stands have been celebrating the courses in Lothian hospitals.
“The course makes an enormous difference," said the parent education co-ordinator at NHS Lothian. "At the end of each course, the fathers tell us how much more confident they feel, how they are more excited about the birth of their child and how they feel much better prepared to support their partners.”
So let’s celebrate the difference a great dad can make by expanding these excellent courses far and wide. It's my hope and dream that all dads in Scotland will have the opportunity to attend a course like this, and that all Dads will have ante and post-natal support groups.
With access to knowledge and services and most importantly a confident start for their babies and children, we'll be helping make Scotland the best place to grow up!
WHAT IS IT? Dads2b is offered by NHS working closely with third sector groups such as Midlothian Sure Start, West Lothian Sure Start, Support from the Start, First Step, Dadswork and Dads Rock. A free 4- or 5-week course for expectant fathers, it offers a range of practical skills around nappy-changing, feeding and in some cases First Aid for babies.
There is also a strong emphasis on wider topics such as relationship issues, post-natal depression and the challenges of a maintaining a good work/life balance. Throughout the course, fathers are encouraged to see childbirth and parenthood as a journey as much for them as for mothers.
RESOURCES from Fathers Network Scotland: a complete 84-page guide that takes practitioners through the three two-hour weekly sessions is available athttp://www.fathersnetwork.org.uk/dads2b (2011). And you can read our case study of West Lothian Dads2be here.