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It was a lovely calm evening at home. Michelle and I were relaxing on the sofa watching some easy TV, probably Drive To Survive or something (we love it ;)), I with a wee whisky in hand and Mich nursing a cup of tea. All was quiet and calm and we plodded upstairs to bed. We were still five days before the EDD (Expected Due Date), so I drifted off into a deep sleep probably dreaming of F1.

The next thing I knew was Mich prodding me in the arm and saying 'I think it's happening'. And like that, you're catapulted into your new role before you even feel ready for it. My initial thoughts were: "oh man, it's like 2:30am...", but we started counting the time between contractions and pretty soon we realised that this was more than just Braxton-Hicks (false contractions).

People often asked me during the pregnancy: "you must be so excited!" or "I bet you can't wait to meet your baby!". And yes of course part of you feels like that. But these questions can also prompt a modicum of guilty thoughts such as: "why aren't I feeling the way they're asking me?" or "yeah I guess I'm excited but I'm also flipping anxious and scared and have no idea what I need to do!".

But fear not dads, you're not alone. The unfortunate situation you're in is that there is in reality very little external / community support and acknowledgment of the mental well-being of dads. And it's not about who has it worse between you and your partner, more what you experience is just different and the ability to listen, acknowledge and empathise between you is the most important support you can give to each other especially in the early months during your lives' transition.

Once our daughter was with us at home and we were getting used to our new lives, I remember Mich and I starting to feel ourselves taking a bit of a turn for the worse. A lot of mums suffer from postnatal depression, but many suffer from postnatal anxiety (something I'd never heard of). It also affects dads as well with 10% suffering from it. However, staggeringly this figure rises to up to 50% if the mum has it as well. What we experienced respectively in terms of our feelings and transition are for another post, but in short, the thing we found most important was that we were a team and we listened to each other and helped each other when emotional wobbles happened. Believe me there were many, but it only resulted in us becoming tighter and closer. Mich also started to make great and strong friendships with other new mums from her WhatsApp mums group and would often be messaging them in the middle of the night trying to figure out breastfeeding / wind / sleep / swaddling problems! The support that the mums gave to each other was just wonderful and I think had a massive impact on how they all coped, particularly when the other partner returns to work. However I remember wondering why there was not anything similar for dads? At many points I remember feeling (despite the amazing support from Mich) quite isolated and not able to express how I felt to anyone other than her. This feeling is then compounded by also not wanting to over-burden as well. So as a result you often end up internalising and putting on a facade of being okay.

Cutting forward two years... since Mich and I have taken over The Family Zone, I am now determined to build a community for dads where they don't feel isolated and not able to share anything with others. I'm trialing this on the 22nd September with one of my chums (dad of three) at Musubi Hiro in Central. The objective being to have a cosy gathering for dads-to-be to meet dads-that-are in a completely BS and judgement free environment where literally any question can be asked and sharing of feelings encouraged so that dad's-to-be feel more empowered about what's coming and about themselves.

My point is this: there is no should or shouldn't when it comes to how you feel

about anything. Honouring, sharing and acknowledging what you're feeling and

working as a team is the most important thing you can together. The danger of dismissing emotions and feelings is that it denies that person the right to feel what they're feeling and as a result compounds this by adding on the layer of 'what's wrong with me? why am I feeling this when I shouldn't be?!'. And when well-meaning friends and family advise us "don't worry!" or "stop being silly/emotional!" or "come on cheer up!" OR the insidious phrase "come on man up", they might as well be telling us "what's the matter with you? Just speak Japanese!"

Hugo Busbridge

Director - The Family Zone

Dad of one

Husband to Michelle

Nappy changing expert & Prince of wet wipes

"My initial entry into motherhood in the summer of 2020 was a beautiful one; smooth, well supported, calm, despite the chaos of the third wave of COVID swirling outside. Hugo and I were in a lovely bubble for the first three days. But my journey into breastfeeding was a different matter and beset with issues that I hadn't even considered or knew were possible, odd, you might think, given my background as a former practising physician! But Yvonne was a wonderful balm to my anxieties and challenges. Her reassuring presence on our first day home with our daughter was all that I needed to feel that I was doing alright for a first time mum without family to help, but it was her ongoing, much much needed support during some very tough weeks ahead, support that only my own mother could have provided, that made me realise just how vital her services were to new families in Hong Kong. The more that I spoke to people, the more that I came to learn of the legend of Yvonne Heavyside and how many people's lives she had touched and helped. Her praises were sung, and my praises were added to that growing list!

So when she quietly disclosed to me that she was retiring, I was stunned. She couldn't possibly leave us, I'd told everyone about her, we needed her! But by then my curiosity about breastfeeding and everything involved with it was truly piqued, something that I had mentioned to Yvonne during one of her postnatal visits with us, and I wanted to learn more; how could I help others with their breastfeeding journeys in the future? So it was such a shock and a huge honour indeed when Yvonne asked if I would consider taking over the reins of The Family Zone and continue the work she had started. There is a funny parallel between the origins of The Family Zone and its new beginnings, and I can only look back at last year, my first year as a mother, and be grateful that my challenges brought Yvonne, Peter, Hugo and I together. I'm so thankful for Yvonne's help, kindness and empathy, and I hope that we do her proud and continue her legacy in supporting the next generation of families through their journeys."

Dr. Michelle Ng

MBBS BSc (London)

Certified Lactation Counsellor & Postpartum Doula (CBI)

"It gave me great pleasure to hand over the reins of The Family Zone (TFZ) to Michelle and Hugo.

I first set up a postnatal home visiting service during very similar times to those that prevail now, at the start of SARS. I was working at The Matilda International Hospital as a Health Visitor, running their Well Baby Clinic and the Mum and Baby Group. At that time many new parents were nervous to go near hospitals or doctor’s surgeries, to avoid catching SARS. This resulted in many experiencing isolation and anxiety and so they requested home visits.

My long-suffering husband started to help with running the company and over the years we added new professional associates and developed new services.

One thing I continuously noticed was that many of my clients were very anxious about leaving their babies and little ones with domestic helpers so, listening carefully to their concerns, I tailored a Paediatric First Aid & CPR and Childcare domestic helper course, something which proved very relevant to Hong Kong life. Along with the Paediatric First Aid & CPR for parents, these courses have always been extremely popular, often with waiting lists.

When I initially started teaching TFZ Ante-natal classes, they were huge! Sometimes the attendance was 30 couples per course, but happily now those group classes are much more intimate, enabling plenty of questions and discussion.

The Family Zone evolved from a one-woman practice to become a busy provider of many services catering to the needs of parents from the antenatal period and beyond.

As you can imagine TFZ was very much my baby, and as time was rapidly approaching for us to leave Hong Kong I felt sad that we had not found anyone we felt comfortable could continue the services on offer. Then, almost miraculously, at the 11th hour, I met Hugo and Michelle, and I knew immediately, even before they approached me, that they were the ones! Between them I saw that they have the perfect combination of qualities, energy and enthusiasm and I am thrilled that they have embraced the work of The Family Zone with the values of acceptance, warmth, love and kindness."

Yvonne B Heavyside

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