One out of four new fathers will suffer from symptoms of postpartum depression, a condition that often goes undiagnosed and untreated.
The start of fatherhood brings on a new identity, changing relationships, and a need to develop caregiving skills that may not come naturally. With all the change, new and expecting fathers can experience many life stressors.
“There aren’t a lot of dad-specific resources available especially around birth,” said Stephanie Rayburn, a fifth-year doctoral student in the Applied Developmental Science program in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Colorado State University. “Dads are placed in a support role to moms without receiving proper education or support around becoming a father.”
As a childbirth educator for nine years, Rayburn experienced firsthand a lack of support for new dads. As society’s expectations for fathers continues to increase, the resources available to help dads live up to those expectations remains scarce.
Dedicating her research and work to this societal need, Rayburn collaborated with the Women’s Clinic of Northern Colorado to create DadSpace.
“DadSpace helps to fill an essential gap in the Dad resource info-sphere,” said Andrew Frisina, a DadSpace father facilitator. “The program goes so much further than ‘what is the best diaper?’ and hits the harder questions like ‘what type of Dad do I want to be?’
DadSpace is an eight-week educational and mentoring group for dads to focus on the transition to fatherhood. Weekly class topics range from father identity to baby development tips, stress management, and successful co-parenting, but is flexible to the needs of the group. The class is led and facilitated by fathers to help build rapport and connections. After the classes end, the group continues to stay in touch through regular meetups and Discord, an instant messaging and digital distribution platform designed for creating communities.
“This program means so much to me,” said Mike Sebald, a DadSpace father facilitator. “To be a part of something bigger than myself is amazing – raising awareness that we as dads need some help and support too.”
In the past, the Women’s Clinic education program was focused on the birth process, which only consists of one day of a parent’s life.
“I love that we have had a shift in our education toward what’s next – postpartum, relationships, and all the aspects of being forever parents,” said Kristin Glenn, who has been with the Women’s Clinic of Northern Colorado for 25 years and currently serves as its education coordinator and marketing director. “It’s great these essential partners who have been ignored for too long are now being included, and I love that we are finally catching up to the fact that dads are equally important as moms in this parenting journey.”
To create DadSpace, fathers were asked questions along the lines of what they want, what is currently missing, and what they would ideally like to have regarding support as a new father.
“I felt like we had this opportunity to support dads in a new way,” said Rayburn. “It has been really exciting to see it come to fruition.”
Creating DadSpace, finding best ways to support dads
In 2018, Rayburn and Doug Coatsworth, a former Human Development and Family Studies professor, created an initial pilot program called “Becoming Fathers” to provide support and education to new fathers.
“Dads really appreciated having a space to talk about their experience without feeling like they were burdening their partner, who many perceive need more support than they do,” said Rayburn.
Participants gave feedback that they enjoyed talking with others who were in the same life stage as them and going through similar experiences. Results indicated decreases in stress and depressive symptoms and increases in the mindfulness constructs of nonjudgment and nonreactivity.
“Anyone can read a book or Google something,” said Glenn. “But we need to get rid of the ‘sit and get’ model and actually sit with a fellow dad, have a real-life conversation, and talk about what being a dad feels like and looks like.”
The positive response, results, and supporting research from the pilot program initiated the start to DadSpace.
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DadSpace is funded by The Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. Co-principal investigators on this project include David MacPhee, HDFS professor emeritus, and Julie Braungart-Rieker, HDFS department head.
The next DadSpace sessions available are from October 20 to December 15, 2021. The series is $80, and scholarships are available for those who need them. To sign up or learn more, visit the Women’s Clinic website.