Tuesday, 16 April 2013

My war story

Some research has been recently published exploring the experience of fathers present at traumatic births.  Broadly, it found that while things are undoubtedly tough for mothers, it's not all plain sailing for fathers either.

Unsurprisingly, some areas of the popular media have sensationalised the issue, while The Independent and The Guardian published excellent opinion pieces.  I was approached by the Mumsnet blogger network to offer my views, so allow me to start by telling you about my experience.

Henry's birth was easier than some, harder than others, in the simple terms of physical complications.  It was a natural delivery with the help of an episiotomy and forceps.  No coneheaded ventouse delivery, no emergency Caeserian, no blood transfusions; a conscious mother, a healthy baby, a normal delivery team.  So far, so good.

This is where I find Ally Fogg's Guardian piece overly simplistic.  I did find the birth of Henry to be one of the more traumatic experiences of my life.  I haven't been haunted by flashbacks and I'm not after sympathy.  But there is something very harrowing about helplessly being beside your partner who is going through considerable pain, while a medical team slice, stretch, inject and, generally, violate an area that is particularly dear to your heart.  The one focus of all of this attention is to deliver your child, a miracle that has been made possible by the magical work of the mother's body, and a tiny bit of goo you provided nine months ago.  You are, in effect, helpless at a time when you want to protect your family the most and the only thing you can do is support, in whatever way is required.  For me, this was hours of rubbing a back, followed by hand-holding and, finally, inspecting the needlework of the obstetrician.  That, if I am honest, is an image I try not to revisit.

So why tell you all this?  As I said, I do not want sympathy - my emotional experience pales into insignificance next to my wife's physical pain, that lasted far longer than those hours of labour and delivery.  I have asked in the safety of my own family whether or not the experience is emotionally more traumatic for men, whilst physically more traumatic for women.  I was not derided or divorced, so perhaps there is something in that.  Whatver, the case may be  I am writing about this because, and at this point I find myself in favour of Ally's article, it is important that fathers are there for many reasons.

Firstly, your child is coming into the world.  No feeling can replace it.  I was the first person to see that Henry was a boy (thank goodness, it's a rubbish name for a girl).  I wept for the pain my wife was in, but also for the magic of seeing and meeting my son for the first time.

Secondly, I had to be my wife's rock during this time.  Until you have seen what women must go through you cannot possibly begin to understand childbirth - much like you have no idea what parenthood is like until you become one.  She needed me there, despite any hardship that I may have faced as a result of being there I would never change it.  I cannot imagine her having to go through that without me, even if all I did was rub and ensure the gas-and-air remained firmly clamped to her mouth.  Heaven help you if the tube falls off the mouthpiece.

Thirdly, you will respect and appreciate your partner in ways you did not realise were possible.  She is terrified of anything creepy or crawly, squeamish around meat, frightened of birds, does not like to be last up the stairs in the dark, and will complain incessantly if she has a bruise.  But never will I feel comfortable calling her a wuss again.

And, finally, because I agree with Mike Higgins in The Independent. There is still an expectation that fathers do not get affected by situations like this.  We do.  It is emotionally tough and it is important that this is recognised.  I have not met another father who thinks differently, but nor have I met one who was not looked after by the delivery team.  By talking about it we can be better prepared because I am sure that everybody wants to do whatever it is that is required of them to help their child enter the world.

1 comment:

  1. I will be sharing this with my husband because I feel the need to prepare him for what sounds like a difficult time ahead of the birth of our first child. I know from witnessing loved ones in pain (in other circumstances) how harrowing it can be, but also can't imagine him not being there. Thanks for writing this thoughtful post.