Birth Trauma from a Dad and Therapist

Birth Trauma from the eyes of a father

Written By – Paul Ledger – Accredited Psychotherapist – Team LGT

Content Warning – you may find some of the content in this blog difficult or triggering. Please read with care. 

However cliché this sounds, I never thought it was the done thing to think about how I was doing when it was my wife who was the one who was pregnant and about to give birth. I thought that my role in all of this, aside from the obvious responsibility 9 months ago, was to be the support and to basically keep my mouth shut and not get in the way of the medical staff. 

For the most part, I think that I did my role rather well. A friend of ours told us that her midwife said that dads leave the labour room all the time and never come back! 

After a day and a half of labour, my wife was induced.  She was experiencing “impressive contractions”, the mood and the plan shifted, and she was taken into surgery. 

It’s the gear changes like this that I logged as being the “hotspots” that I figured I would be revisiting in my own future therapy.

A hotspot is a moment in a traumatic script whereby there is a particular emotional and physical intensity in the story. 

My ‘hotspots’

My first one was when my wife’s epidural wore off and she was screaming in pain and begging for the baby to come out.  A whole team of doctors came into the room and suggested theatre.  This is when I panicked and thought, “this is serious, something could go wrong here”. 

When I followed my wife into theatre, my next hotspots were the language that the staff used, not “it’ll all be fine”, but rather “we’re going to do all that we can”. I thought that they must have been coached on how to speak to parents, and to make no promises because they can’t. Then the baby wouldn’t come out. Then the baby’s heart rate was dropping unexpectedly and in distress, “oh, shit!!”. Then Sarah wasn’t doing too well.

There is a chance I could lose both of them

I imagined myself being alone and having to tell everyone what had happened and seeing how sad they would be for me. 

Then they surreptitiously invited the Crash Team into theatre to immediately see to the baby; this is when I imagined them saying to us that they’d done all that we can, but…

I still didn’t say a word.  

I looked into my wife’s eyes and prayed that the doctors knew how to deal with this.  My fear was that this was different and that this would catch them off guard. 

Our baby was born via forceps, our last choice of delivery. The very first time I saw him he was upside, purple and with forceps clamped to his head immediately being rushed off for oxygen. My first thought was, “oh God, have I just seen a dead baby?!”. The thing is that my wife asked the very same question and that just worsened the dread I was feeling. 

When Experiencing Trauma, Time Does Not Work in The Same Way 

In PTSD therapy they teach you that time is elastic, that seconds can seem like they’re hours, and prolonged experiences can be over in the blink of an eye. For what must have been 10 seconds of waiting to hear our son, this felt like an eternity. 

Then, when I heard the crying, I didn’t believe it was from our baby, but perhaps another baby from another theatre. 

I was asked if I wanted to cut his umbilical cord.  I said yes but my legs weren’t working. My adrenaline was in overdrive, and I even remember talking to myself, willing myself to move and get it done. 

They told us that the previous dad had collapsed in theatre, and I was determined to use everything I knew about preventing myself from fainting, to stay there. Be there.  

The Relief AND The Trauma

When our son was brought over to us, despite him being tiny.  He was ok. 

The relief I felt was indescribable.  I became an emotional wreck and I didn’t mind one bit. 

My wife and I have a video of that moment and we don’t share it with anyone else. In it, I’m just overwhelmed with emotion, and I can barely speak. 

I’m over the moon to say the least, but I remember scanning his body and his gestures to make sure he was alright.  

It was a few minutes later that I saw my wife being sewed back together again.  All the bloody towels, the blood-stained medical gowns, and the surgical trolley. This is something that looked like it was out of a horror film. 

My wife says that she doesn’t remember any of these details.  But I do. I can’t forget them. I can’t forget any of it!! 

Postpartum, Post Birth Trauma

Then the sleep deprivation, which come to think about it probably staved off the chances of getting PTSD. I was asked, “how are you doing, dad?” and I thought that this attention should have been on the mum and baby, but I really do get it now. It can be a horrific experience for dads too. 

I can honestly say that it was the best and the worst thing to have ever happened to me. 

I see my feelings about what we experienced, as completely valid. 

Ever since that day, I have thought of my wife as being a Goddess. 

I could barely watch, and she did it all. When we talk about it now, we know that we both remember the experience differently, which is interesting as we were next to one another throughout it all. 

People ask us if we’re thinking about having another baby and that is the plan. I am in no hurry mind!! I still welcome the sound of my son crying which might sound strange, it reminds me of the moment that I realised he was alive for the first time. 

My Commitment to Support Parents

I vowed to work with parents since that day, pay it forward you know. It’s a very special time, but not a trauma-free one either. 

I am proud to be part of team ‘Laura Greenwood Therapy’.  Supporting Mothers, Fathers, and Families alike.  

Because I know firsthand, that parenting is hard enough, without coming from a place of trauma. 

Anything that I can do to support anyone struggling during their fertility, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience.  I will. 

Paul x

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