Fathers who have premature or sick babies now have a place to go and mingle while at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.
A new and unique initiative called “Dad’s Night” is now rolling out at the hospital. The event brings together new fathers who presently have children in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) with other fathers who have previously gone through the same experience. The goal is to talk and support one another.
“The outside world doesn’t get it. They can’t,” said James Whitehead.
“It’s hard to relate to it where as when you can talk to someone you relate to or who can relate to what you’re going through, there’s almost a validation of what you’re feeling or what you’re going through.”
Whitehead’s oldest daughter Tessa is now five-years-old but he clearly remembers feeling helpless when she was born prematurely at just 28 weeks.
“There’s all these other people who seem like they’re almost in charge of your baby’s care but at the same time because that’s your baby, you want to be in charge of it but you don’t know what to do,” he said.
Dr. Doug McMillan, who works in the NICU, says both mothers and fathers can feel a number of different emotions after having a premature or ill baby.
“When mothers deliver prematurely or have a sick baby, they often blame themselves or look within themselves: ‘Is there something I did do or didn’t do that could have prevented this?'” he said.
“If we have a mother and father in the room and a baby is in the room, we naturally tend to gravitate to talk to the mother and sometimes the fathers can feel a little left out.”
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It’s hoped “Dad’s Night” will change that and offer the support that fathers need.
“There isn’t really a whole lot for dads. Often, Dads sort of get forgotten in the whole birthing process and to a certain extent, understandably so,” said Whitehead.
“But they are very much a part of what’s going on and we feel like we’re a part of what’s going on. We want to be there. We don’t want to be in the way but we do want to help to help however we can.”
Shawn LeBlanc and his wife just had their second child, but the delivery didn’t go as planned. Little Emma LeBlanc had a traumatic birth and was airlifted from Moncton, N.B. to Halifax shortly after arriving in the world.
“She’s been through so much in the last 12 days,” LeBlanc says of his daughter, who he has nicknamed “The Little Champ.”
“Emma’s heartrate was very, very low. They had to do CPR to bring her back.”
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Emma is now a patient at the IWK neo-natal unit. LeBlanc says the idea of a “Dad’s Night” is a good idea.
“Every experience is going to be different of course but we’re all kind of in the same place at the same time with kind of the same issues going on,” he said.
As for Emma, despite a rough birth, she’s surpassing everyone’s expectations and her family is hoping they can take her back home to Moncton in time for Father’s Day.