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Mindful Dads group helps new father breathe easier

When Greg and his wife first became pregnant, they were excited to embark on the adventure of parenthood together. But as the reality of becoming a parent sunk in, coupled with obstacles during their pregnancy, resulted in a need for additional support.
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Greg and his wife's journey begins with finding out they were pregnant with twins. They were overjoyed with the thought of bringing two lives into this world, and began planning for the arrival of their bundles of joy.

In Christmas of 2016 a regular doctor's appointment would bring unexpected news to the couple: they were not pregnant with twins after all. What was thought to be a second baby in an earlier ultrasound was actually just a dark spot. This news shook Greg and his wife, who had been become excited about bringing two children into the world, and their mental health began to take a turn for the worse.  

Greg was excited about the thought of becoming a dad, but other feelings began to surface for him. He began to question his ability to be a parent and a husband, and was setting high expectations on himself of being the "super dad" and the perfect husband, where he would always be able to put his needs aside and be there for his wife and future daughter.  When the news came about the ultrasound error, his anxiety became worse.

"It was an emotional rollercoaster. You find out you're becoming parents for the first time, to finding out you're having twins then discovering that's not the case. It brings a lot up in you," said Greg. "Becoming a parent can be stressful time and we really started to play off of each other's negative emotions. We were both in dark places."

Greg and his wife decided that together they needed additional support to navigate this difficult time in their lives. They received a referral to the BC Children's Hospital Reproductive Mental Health program, and began treatment in April of 2017. Once his wife began seeing a psychiatrist through the program, Greg was able to also attend an appointment was referred to a new mindfulness group for men. The 8-week course, called "Mindful Dads", is for husbands and partners of patients being seen through the Reproductive Mental Health program, and takes a dad-centric approach. For Greg, the fact there was a group targeting the Dads was really effective.

"When you're becoming a dad, lots comes up and you start  the "perfectionist parenting". My expectation was I would be super dad," said Greg. "I'd be able to go to work, come home, play with kids, always be there, and put my wife's and daughter's needs before my own. But you need to step back and realize I need to take care of myself. This program helped me do that."

Greg attended the course weekly, where Dr. Jake Locke would lead the men in mindfulness practices to help them develop healthy coping skills. One of the big things for Greg, was the realization that he was not alone.

"I came in and saw other guys who are smart, articulate and intelligent people from all walks of life, and I thought to myself, wow, I'm not alone. This is okay, and other people are going through it."

Dr. Jake Locke, a psychiatrist at BC Children's Hospital, is running the courses for men, and shares this is a population of dads who are in great need of this support. He shares that this group was adapted from a similar group for new mothers.

"Practicing mindfulness regularly can help boost positive emotions and decrease negativity and stress, helping these dads or dads-to-be cope better with stressful situations and help them be there for their partners and families in a healthy way," said Dr. Locke. "There is still a strong stigma that exists around mental health and becoming a parent – there is this expectation of perfection and happiness that isn't always the reality. It's important for parents to realize they're not alone, and these feelings do not make them 'bad' parents."

Greg was with the mindfulness group from September-October 2017, and shares his experience with Dr. Locke and the other men has made a huge difference in how he approached fatherhood and being there for his family.

"Mindfulness is a really big tool in my toolbox. It has helped me to accept the negative feelings instead of just hiding or fighting them," said Greg. "Being a dad is going to come with stresses and challenges, but mindfulness has shown me how to breathe through it and take care of myself so I can be there in the best possible way for my wife and daughter." 

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