birth trauma, partner trauma, postpartum depression, partners and birth

When Dads Fail During Birth

The birth of a princess…

As a doula’s spouse you learn a thing or two about birth. One of those things is that the mental and emotional state can seriously affect the birth. This sounds like a no brainer. However, when you have not had a lot of education about  birth or life stresses start getting to you, things are not as clear. This happened to me with the birth of our third daughter. I was not as well versed on mental states and such back then, and when my wife needed me most, I choked. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning….

Christine’s pregnancy was extremely routine and without issue. We had a wonderful midwife who took care of our prenatal visits and answered all our questions. She was, and still is, a great midwife and friend. She was also pregnant and due about a month or so before us. We were not bothered by this situation since she explained to us that she would most likely deliver her child and then be back on call with us. If the baby was late, then she already had a backup midwife who we were also familiar and comfortable with. We went through this pregnancy rather calmly. However circumstances dictated that when we went into labor, we were in the hands of the backup.

Around 11 pm on March 9th Christine awoke to her water broken. We called the midwife who said to wait until contractions were consistently 6-7 minutes apart before she would drive out. We timed contractions and called our midwife around 3am.  Around 6 am the midwife arrived. Things seemed to progress slowly, but without incident. Time dragged on and Christine’s progress stopped, started briefly, then stopped again. This continued all day and into the night.

At 10:30 pm on the 10th, we had a decision to make. It had been almost 24 hours since Christine’s water broken and the law was not on our side. After 24 hours without progression, the midwife must transfer to a hospital. We could continue on our own without her help or transfer and receive care from an OB. It was a difficult choice to make. We wanted our home birth so much, but we were worried about if something went wrong. Fear and doubt crept in and we decided to transfer.

At this point, I was extremely disappointed in myself and it showed. I inadvertently withdrew and left my wife felling alone and unsupported. We arrived at the hospital just before midnight, with our midwife providing support in an “unofficial” capacity. By this point Christine was scared, I was shocked by the whole ordeal and withdrawn, and the next 20-30 minutes was a pure nightmare. The doctor was rude and only saw us once. Then he missed the delivery. He did not want to listen to anything my wife or I was saying.  He ordered an ultrasound in the middle of transition and then left.

I was still in my own little world when our midwife verbally smacked me in the face. I was so focused on how disappointed I was, and the feelings of being out of control, I didn’t even notice my wife begging for help. I had shut down in her time of greatest need. If our midwife had not snapped me out of it, I would have completely let her down. I’m glad I didn’t, but it was, and still is, a trust problem Christine and I struggle with even now.
Once I snapped back to reality, I helped Christine move forward and birth our daughter. I stayed with her the entire time. I watched over our baby and made sure Christine could rest and focus on the afterbirth. I never left her side. However, I realize that it almost did end up that way.

At one point I lost sight of my role as husband and support for my wife. I understand how this could easily happen to anyone. How easy it was to get lost and not be able to find your way back. The worst part is, it was not only me there. Christine entered that dark mental state and was traumatized by it fairly easily. She screamed and cried for a C-section, even though I know that’s not what she wanted. But even with our story turning out better than most, it still haunts us. Especially me. I failed. I choked at a crucial moment. Feelings were hurt and trust was damaged. It was and still is a hard road to travel down.
we recognize that partner trauma can happen to anyone. Support is the best prevention against trauma during birth. That support is necessary not just for the woman in labor, but for her partner as well. Even though we didn’t have a doula, our midwife stepped into the role and kept us from giving up completely. That trauma could have destroyed both of us and the joy we gained from our daughter.

It has now been four years since that night. I have had to deal with trust issues with Christine, feelings of inadequacy, and depression. Christine and I have had many conversation about the events of that night and how we need to heal the trust between us. I have tried to build confident in myself to ensure this kind of trauma never happens again. I have resolved to support my family as best I can no matter what happens. Even when things get difficult or go horribly wrong, I need to be there. I can’t check out. Without support, we would have nothing but despair. I now understand this and understand the importance of support during birth.

You can read more about partner trauma here and Fathers and PTSD here.

About the Author
Antonio Santos

Antonio Santos

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Husband, babysitter, supporter, and cheerleader for my wife Christine. I take care of all the things she can't stand about running a business. Like math...