Birth Trauma- A Dad's Perspective

When you go through traumatic event, it may happen to you, but you can’t forget the other people it’s also happening to. 

Going through the birth experience with my son was scary and extremely hard to understand, but one person it may have been even harder for was my husband. While I was in surgery, he was left to take care of a newborn, make the decisions for anything that needed to happen, and then watch as I recovered in the ICU. 

He was left to be my advocate, my voice, and our son’s voice. After everything happened and I found out how much he fought for me, I’m not sure that I ever felt more loved. 

Because his story is so different than mine, but so much a part of what we went through, I thought it would be important to share, so I interviewed him and the story below is what came from that interview. 

“The birth of our son was very exciting, but also nerve wrecking even though we already had a daughter. This experience was different from what we thought was going to happen. 

Walking into the hospital, it seemed as though it was going to be a normal birth and everything was going to go according to the plans that you had created, which I fully supported (ie- VBAC with a natural birth).

 As things started to develop, it was just very crazy and I wasn’t prepared for that. Or rather, I was strong for all the things I needed to be strong for, but I just kept thinking about you and how you wanted things to happen. That was breaking my heart. All I was thinking about was your reaction, what you were going through, what you had prepared for, but didn’t experience. Thinking about what was actually going to happen since things hadn’t really gone according to your plans, that was difficult. 

During labor, when things started going wrong, I just wanted to get you out of your misery. You were in so much pain. I thought that when they gave you the epidural things were going to be much better and that would help get Ethan out, but then the epidural went wrong, something went wrong. And then he wasn’t coming so that’s when it was like ‘save both.’ There was no reason to continue (laboring) and the doctors and nurses had to act fast. It was such a chaotic time and the only thing to do was an emergency c-section.

I thought that I would at least be brought into the operating room to hold Ethan next to you with you being awake and responsive to see Ethan. But nothing happened. I was just waiting. 

Then a nurse came in and started showing me a camera and I was like, ‘why are you showing me the camera?’ I was all dressed up to go in the operating room and she started showing me pictures of Ethan and I was like, ‘what? what’s this?’ I didn’t know what to think. I just didn’t know why she was showing me a camera. And then I just started crying when they told me it was Ethan. 

It was also a lot of frustration coming out that I couldn’t be there.

There was no communication from the doctors and nurses between the time you were taken back until that nurse brought the camera in. It was just ‘get dressed then we’ll come and get you.’ But it happened so fast…or maybe it was more time than I thought, but, to me, it happened so fast. 

I felt terrible about not being there. With Emily, I cut her cord, I was more involved, we were taking pictures with you there, you were awake, you knew what was going on, I was there with you after, and we were more involved as a family than with Ethan. 

They took me back to the (recovery) room, but the details are hard to remember. I do remember when they took me back to see you and I think that was the first time I met Ethan. I also remember I was taking pictures of you with Ethan in the recovery room because our photographer wasn’t allowed in there. I don’t think I met him before then. 

When I saw you, you looked like you did after having Emily and I thought it was just going to take a few hours time to get back to how you were, like you were after you had Emily. Your mom and Emily came to see us and that was a really nice time, a happy time. It was still a little chaotic because the nurses kept coming in and out and then they noticed something was wrong. Then the doctor came in. Your mom and Emily had already left and I hadn’t noticed anything was wrong. 

When they took you back for the second surgery, I didn’t think anything bad was going to happen. They had already cut you open. They had already done surgery. I didn’t think it was going to get any more complicated, that it was going to get any worse. I thought they were going to just check to make sure everything was in the right place. I don’t remember them saying anything about internal bleeding. I thought they said something about your bladder being blocked. 

The first I knew something was wrong was when they told me you were in the ICU. It’s hard to remember if they came to talk to me because I was taking care of Ethan too. They wanted to keep me distracted, so we went to give Ethan a bath, they did his hearing test, they did some other tests too while you were going through all that. I guess it was after. I’m not sure how long the surgery took, but it was super late and they took me to see you. 

It was pretty crazy seeing you. I don’t want to remember that. 

You had so many cables and things connected to you, a tube down your throat, and you didn’t look like yourself. You looked like…so different. You looked like you were 500lbs heavier than you were 3 hours ago when I saw you. I mean your face, your hands, your feet, everything was so swollen. You were almost unrecognizable. 

They had told me that you had developed preeclampsia, that you blood pressure had dropped, that they were keeping you with a lot of meds so you didn’t develop seizures, that the amount of blood that you lost that they had to transfer you…they didn’t tell me you almost died, but they pretty much implied all of it. 

I was pretty devastated.

I wasn’t sure if you were going to make it there. And I was alone with Ethan and Emily was not with me, which was also hard for me. 

I wanted you to be there helping with Ethan. It wasn’t about me not be able to take care of a newborn, but just you not being there because I knew how much you wanted things to be different and because nothing went according to plan was pretty upsetting to me. I just wanted you to be there experiencing everything with us and your baby. All I could think about was you and not really me and not how I was feeling. Not being able to breastfeed him and not being there when tests were done or not being there when they were giving him a bath or hear him cry for the first time. I was thinking about you. I wasn’t thinking about me. And the thought that I was losing you was even worse. 

I didn’t let the nurses take Ethan that first night. They offered to, but I felt like that was holding me through the experience. I felt like me caring for Ethan and making sure he was ok was what you would have wanted if you were there. You wouldn’t have wanted the nurses to be taking care of him. I knew that’s what you would have wanted. We were also coming to see you every few hours. 

On Friday, you came back. You woke up.

I wasn’t there when you woke up, but they told me you had. When I got there I was really happy, but I didn’t know what to do. It’s hard to remember the details. I was so exhausted. I was not sleeping. We took Ethan a couple of times for you to do skin to skin. 

I hadn’t told anyone what had happened, except for your mom who I was in contact with through everything starting Friday morning. I mentioned something to my mom when she came to visit on Friday. 

When I came to see you, you were just disappointed. I felt like you didn’t want to see me. I was so happy to be there and that you were awake, but you didn’t seem like you wanted me there. It was tough to be optimistic when you were going through so much more. I feel like a lot is a blur because I wasn’t focusing on the bad stuff. I wasn’t focused on the counting the tubes connected to you. I wasn’t thinking about the bad stuff or exactly what when wrong, but just thinking that you were going to be ok and that Ethan was also needing me and you. I remembering bringing Ethan to you so that he could try to breastfeed and be next to you. 

The second night I did give Ethan to the nurses so I could sleep. I was so exhausted. 

When you came back to the postpartum room on Sunday, I thought we were going home, you were going to get better and everything was going to be just fine. I knew you weren’t going to psychologically feel the best right after. The first thing you wanted to do when you got there was take a shower and as soon as you did, you seemed to feel so much better. You looked so much better than the day I saw you the first time in the ICU. 

They had given you diuretics in the ICU to bring down the swelling and probably something else to get all the fluids out. I thought about taking a picture the first day, but I decided not to. I didn’t want to.

I told the nurses that you wanted to breastfeed. You had told me not to give him a bottle and use a syringe. I told the nurses and they showed me how to do the tube feeding. So I would use the glove with this little tube and wrap it just right. It was so difficult. But it helped because he wasn’t getting too much so fast and he had to work on it and get the milk out of the syringe. He never threw up or spit out the milk because it wasn’t too much. I think that also helped. 

I never asked or thought you couldn’t breastfeed or what complications this could all bring. I think bringing Ethan to you and doing the tube feeding, plus you breastfed him twice helped make it possible for you to breastfeed him after everything. 

Now I have a much different perspective on things. On you. On how I see you. After everything you went through. I have much more respect and admiration for you for being so strong and fighting to go through all of that. 

It never crossed my mind that things should have been done differently. I don’t remember the bad things that happened. What I do remember the most was me taking care of Ethan, doing what you would have wanted done. Going to see you, being there for you. I never thought you should have done something different. I have never placed any blame on you for any of what happened. 

It has been difficult to see you going through all these changing feelings. Some things you don’t express, but are affecting you, but you don’t realize how that is affecting me. I have tried to be respectful of your feelings, but sometimes I have gotten frustrated because of the way you felt after all of this. It would help if you just tell me what is wrong so I can understand and know how to help. 

Now I know not to take things for granted. Life changes so fast. I wasn’t thinking about myself. I was thinking about you and the kids. 

Whoever is going through a similar situation, you should look at the positive things. Think that things will get back to normal and take it one thing at a time. Don’t get frustrated by little things. Look at the bigger picture with more hope. More optimism. Have faith and hope that things will get better. Look forward to better things. Be supportive with your significant other in how they may be dealing with things they are not expressing and help them know there isn’t blame.”

To all the dads and partners out there, fighting for your wife, fighting for your child, and stepping up to the plate when it is probably hardest, we see you and we love you.