One of the things I love about having this blog is meeting people I may never have come across otherwise. George is one of those people. Being a paramedic is an incredibly demanding role so the fact that, in his own time, he has created such an important platform for dads and dads-to-be, to me, really is hero like behaviour.
Sadly, when George's very cute little girl was born in April 2019, the first few moments of her life did not go to plan. Seeing a gap in support for dads, George has drawn on this experience, as well as his knowledge as a paramedic, to launch a series of workshops to help men feel more confident about being a father.
George took some time out of his busy schedule to speak to me about his experience and to tell me more about BeingDad...
First things first, given my blog focuses on mental health, it probably makes sense to ask you about your own mental health journey. Have you experienced mental health issues before?
I have suffered with a few episodes of anxiety in the past. Thankfully these episodes haven't lasted for elongated periods of time and I have always been able to work through them. My latest episode was caused by a few concurrent events at work and really shook me up. Thankfully we are relatively well supported through work, as a paramedic, and I was able to access counselling.
Like a lot of blokes, I tend to 'stick my head in the sand' and just try and get on with things. I have learnt, through experience, that this is an awful way of doing things and I try and get on top of my feelings as soon as I can.
What has stopped you accessing mental health support in the past? As you say, men tend to stick their head in the ground, but why do you think this is?
For me my biggest barrier to accessing help was not recognising really that I needed help. It sounds silly, but I didn’t really think that people would be able to help with how I was feeling, I also believed how I was feeling really warranted the help - I could cope.
I don’t want to assume how others think, however, I imagine a lot of blokes feel the same as me. They either don’t really recognise what their feelings are, or they believe they’re not worthy of the help. I do hope that this is changing; men’s mental health has really become more ‘mainstream’ in recent years which is nothing but positive.
Do you have set activities you do to manage your mental and physical wellbeing? Do you find this difficult to fit in being a father and having a job with unsociable hours?
My biggest 'escape' is exercise. I really enjoy cycling along the country roads and running the coast paths. It gives me time and space to clear my head and I often end up feeling rejuvenated.
Unfortunately, due to work and the unsocial hours, I really struggle to keep this exercise regular and I notice if I haven't exercised for a few days. I become restless and agitated. Due to my shifts, I often end up exercising either before work or later in the evening - not something I overly enjoy.
What made you want to create BeingDad?
We have a beautiful 16 month old girl and attended the usual antenatal classes whilst my wife was pregnant. It soon became very apparent that the majority of this course content was aimed at mums.
Unfortunately we had a very traumatic birth experience and as a dad I was offered zero support in the aftermath. It wasn't long after this that we realised there was a huge gap for dads and dads-to-be.
We now offer 2 hour face-to-face antenatal workshops specifically aimed at dads. These are all hosted by me and I draw on experience as a paramedic and parent to deliver content designed for dads.
We are also building an online portal of advice and guidance on our website and we are in the process of starting a podcast.
What was the mental or emotional impact of having a traumatic birth on you, as a father?
This is a really tricky question to answer for me. The traumatic birth affected me immediately, obviously. I spent the first hour following the birth sat in the delivery room alone, holding our baby, whilst my wife was whisked to emergency surgery. I did not know what was happening, how serious it was - was this my life now? It was horrible. I’ve definitely thought about that moment more than once in the past 16 months.
In the weeks and months following, I didn’t really have time to worry about anything other than my wife and baby, we just kept moving along. It was not until we started talking about a second baby 12 plus months later that I really started reliving the trauma. To this day my wife says I go quiet and clam up when we start talking about it. I guess I don’t want to relive that moment. I’m definitely working through it. I’m realising that it is quite unlikely to happen again and that I should try and be more realistic about things.
What do you find are the common worries men have when they attend your BeingDad workshops?
Confidence is a huge issue with the men that attend our workshops. A lot arrive and don’t want to ask questions, I think a lot feel like they are just along for the ride. I spend a good majority of the session time trying to empower them and make them realise that they are a going to be fundamental part of their little ones life and reassuring them that they will survive this change in their life.
What do you hope people will get out of joining BeingDad?
I hope by interacting with BeingDad people will became more confident as parents, have a safe space to ask questions and learn something new.
To find out more about BeingDad, visit www.beingdad.org.uk or follow them on Instagram @beingdaduk