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Research to help ‘forgotten fathers’

Posted: 12pm 07 Oct 2021

Within the walls of Redcliffe Hospital, a research project is aiming to support ‘forgotten fathers’, those suffering after traumatic births, complications during pregnancy or the death of a baby.

It has been the work of Senior Obstetrician Associate Professor Alka Kothari since 2013 and she is passionate about the need to improve prenatal screening and advice for fathers, support during pregnancy and birth, and care afterwards.

Dr Kothari’s project is just one example of the targeted research happening at Redcliffe Hospital and she would love to see more funding for other projects and practical support for researchers.

Redcliffe Hospital Giving Day on October 13 will shine a light on the work of the hospital’s researchers and fundraise for new projects. Every dollar donated will be doubled by generous matching donors.

Key to Dr Kothari’s research was the stories of 28 fathers – those for whom something went wrong in the pregnancy, or something happened to the mother, the baby went to intensive care or the baby died.

One of those fathers was Ben Mills, whose wife Candise almost died because of a serious pregnancy complication. The couple, who had been trying for some time to have their third child, lost the pregnancy and emergency surgery to save Candise’s life left her unable to have any more children.

Dr Kothari consulted Mr Mills extensively during Candise’s operation and recovery, and ensured he also had access to counselling afterwards.

She was reunited with Ben and Candise, and their son Max at Suttons Beach last week, where they discussed the need to do more for fathers in need.

“The bigger project has looked at the pre-conception care of fathers. When women contemplate a pregnancy, we say reduce your weight, don’t smoke, exercise, become healthy … we don’t give any of this advice to the fathers but fathers contribute half the DNA,” Dr Kothari says.

“Men’s health is very important to the next two generations in terms of what they’re giving to the baby.”

Call for more focus on dads

She says men need to be screened for physical and mental health issues, so they can be given advice and preconception care. They also need advice and care throughout the pregnancy and during the birth.

“There’s no staff designated in the hospital to look after the father because we’re running around, there’s 20 people in the room, we’re trying to focus on the mum, we’re trying to focus on the baby and the dad is standing in a corner,” she explains.

“We need funding to support fathers especially in these kinds of circumstances because obstetrics is a very volatile environment, things escalate very quickly to the point where we don’t really have time to stand and explain things.”

Ben agrees: “Throughout that process, she’s in surgery, I don’t know if she’s going to make it – all these thoughts running through your head and you’re isolated. You start to be in a tailspin straight off the bat”.

Dr Kothari kept him informed which enabled him to update their large extended family.

“She made sure I was part of what was happening, but in saying that Dr Kothari could only do so much … within that hospital system there are very limited services around that,” he says.

“From a young age, men learn not to talk about feelings so handling trauma manifests in many different ways – use of alcohol, gambling or whatever that looks like.

“A lot of men that I work with (as a Child Safety Officer) use alcohol to handle traumatic events instead of reaching out for better options, such as counselling.

“It’s hard to talk about. As males, you’ve got to be strong. We had two things happening – it’s trauma and grief – we had Candise who nearly lost her life and the experience I had through that, thinking at some stage I’m going to be a single father … then also the grief of never having an opportunity to have another baby.”

Wide-reaching impact

Dr Kothari fears stress symptoms, left untreated, could result in ongoing harm to men and their families.

“If we support men better in our community, they'll be able to look after themselves better and look after their families better. This may also potentially reduce the many negative outcomes associated with untreated mental health conditions,” she says.

“We need it to be OK for fathers to say I’m not OK, I need help and we need funding to change the way we’re doing things.”

Dr Kothari says 99 per cent of fathers want to be present at the birth and 15 per cent says they want more mental health support.

“We need to make provision for that in our maternity services,” she says.

Ben says gaps in care needed to be filled to help men and those around them.

“To make, strong, safe families, it needs to be a holistic approach - the whole family, fathers, mothers and even children,” he says.

REDCLIFFE HOSPITAL GIVING DAY

There are many fundraising activities happening in the community on October 13. To find out how to get involved, or to make a donation, visit redcliffegivingday.com.au or phone 1300 363 786.

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