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Dads and Birth Trauma

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 
I am writing to see if there are other dads out there who have been present for traumatic births. I was present for all 45 hours of my wife's labor and birth which ended up with medical intervention. We prepared for natural birth and started in a birthing house with midwives. My wife came through this (fortunately) with only emotional trauma, though this is bad enough. Some women (and babies) experience long-term physical trauma as well, which only adds difficulty to an already difficult situation.

My wife is recovering well, having recieved some outside help from birth trauma groups. I have tried to support her and facilitate her recovery in any way I could. Now that she is doing better my own feelings are starting to surface and it is very difficult. I am very busy, trying to complete a Ph.D. in a foreign country without a great command of the language. I feel isolated without other people to talk to about it. I am no stranger to my feelings, having done lots of peer counseling in the past. I can tell there are all sorts of feelings bubbling under the surface - pain, sadness, powerlessness, guilt. I would like to talk to other men about this difficult topic.
post #2 of 23
Ours didn't go as planned. went from Birth Center/Natural => Hospital, Pitosin, Epidural C-Sect. I didn't have any trauma from it it didn't seem. I watched the C-section and my daughter "come out" My wife was a lot more troubled by it than me. (understandably) I'm very much a process person. "This is the process it just took for it to happen"

Daughter was 9.5 lbs, really broad chest. Just wasn't progressing for a natural birth.

What kind of traumatic experience? I hear of a lot of people really feeling helpless when they get to the hospital and all of a sudden like they're just a "number coming through the turnstiles" and that all their planning turns into a process they have no control over, and that becomes traumatic for them.

What's up?
post #3 of 23
Wow 45 hrs of labor! They don't do that in America anymore. They would have c-sectioned her within 24 hrs. We birthed in 17 hrs, only 6 hrs active labor, though. We planned on the midwife and a natural birth in a birthing suite, but the baby got stuck and the doc came in with the forecepts. He said that he would try once and then c-section if the forecepts didn't work. I thought he was going to hurt my son with the metal forecepts, but he did a good job by getting him out, I suppose.

My wife was pretty beaten up and I was wiped out. But I thought the birth experience was so incredible despite the medical intervention piece.

So, I don't think I was traumatized by it. But, I did struggle with having a cholicky (sp?) baby who appeared to be in pain most of the time, day and night. I also struggled with not having any supports, no family around.

I wonder if maybe you are struggling w/the stressors of working on a phd, being isolated in a foreign country, plus having a new baby? It all adds up to a heck of a lot to deal with. Have you considered seeing someone?
post #4 of 23
Thread Starter 

The Story

Thanks for the replies. I guess I need some explanation of the whole situation. We are in East Germany and we were using a birth house run by a mother/daughter pair of midwives. The birth house model comes from Holland and is gaining ground here. Midwives are very common here, not really alternative like in the States. Even regular hospital births have multiple midwives in attendance.

As I mentioned, my wife was in labor for a total of near 45 hours, which is a tremendously long time. It is true that in the States she would have been given a C-section before this time, though I do know one person who went 24 with an epidural and a nap. As a background, my wife was very much afraid of both German doctors, who tend to be rather unfriendly, and especially of an episiotomy. Our midwife spoke English and is foreign herself, both of which we liked. I would say at this point that she and her mother made some big mistakes which at the very least exacerbated the birth difficulties. For instance, she convinced us to try to sleep after the labor had started (it was around midnight) and then we would start up in the morning. She said my wife needed to rest so she could get the baby out. I now think this may have stalled her labor, because her contractions never got long or strong enough after that. But we will never know, I guess.

Anyway, we tried and tried, with my wife on her back or on her side for the next 30+ hours, with no pain medication and small amounts of oxytocin. This was excruciating for my wife, but it really so often seemed that it was going to happen soon. It was really a rollercoaster ride, one hour seemed like the contractions were getting stronger and the midwife trying different techniques to get her fully dialated. I had decided to trust the midwife, though I was terribly scared and worried. I knew I had to not show this, to be calm and stable for my wife during this time. In retrospect, I am surprised I was able to do this.

Needless to say, none of this worked and what we had dreaded happening happened. We had to go to the hospital, though it was a really nice birthing center within a regular hospital. The doctor turned out to be pretty nice and respectful. But it was so late in the labor that no pain medication could be used. Our dd's head was stuck a bit so she couldn't get out even though my dw was finally fully dialated. Then the worst thing happened. They had to do not one but two episiotomies and use a glocker, which is a suction thingy on the babies head to get her out. Meanwhile the midwife's mother is on top of my wife pushing on her abdomen to get the baby out. Remember, all of this was with NO pain medication whatsoever, after 45 hours of gruelling labor. And I was present for it all, in fact, holding my wife's left leg during the delivery and witnessing the cutting, etc.

It is all very barbaric sounding now that it is written down. It is still difficult for me to even think about. I feel as though I made many mistakes, that I should have intervened somehow, though I had to focus on dw the entire time to keep her going, to keep her sane, to get her through it. I feel wrong for having trusted the midwife and especially stupid after having read so many books and prepared and thought about it before hand. I know books and reality don't match up, but we weren't people who had not thought about natural childbirth.

Needless to say my wife was experiencing post (partum - post) traumatic stress disorder and has sought help for this. She is doing quite well now and fortunately does not have any long-term physical difficulties (some women experience terrible ongoing physical trauma in addition to the psychological aspect). Now that she is okay my feelings are coming up. I am noticing that my level of self-confidence has plummeted (I don't trust my decisions very much) and of course I am often ready to cry. This in and of itself is okay, I'm not afraid of that. But given the fact that I am so busy with work and with fathering I have little time to devote to resolving this. I am definitely seeking some counseling soon, but just have to get around to it like so many other things. And I have to deal with the language barrier, which just complicates it more.

Anyway, that is the story. Thanks for reading.
post #5 of 23
I know you said you wanted to talk to other Dads, but my husband hates anything computer related - so I thought I could share our experience. Did it help to write everything out? Sometimes putting it out there and not just having it float around in your head is really helpful.

I don't think that sleeping stalled your wife's labor, in fact, considering the fact that it was so long, it was probably the best thing to do. My labor lasted 36 hours from the time my water broke and I also had to go to sleep that night to get through the rest of it. If you are able to sleep through contractions, they aren't doing a lot to open the cervix anyway, so you may as well get your rest! Anyway, I didn't have to leave home, but the final moments of the birth were kind of scary. My husband was behind me as I was squatting and trying to push. Suddenly, the midwife yelled for him to get out from behind me and he had to jump up and move out of the room (we were in a tiny tiny bedroom). When he looked back in the room, the other midwife was pushing on my stomach, while my midwife pulled the baby out. The baby was blue and my husband thought that the baby was dead. I rubbed the baby and talked to him and immediately, he turned pink and started crying. So everything was fine!! But those last moments were really scary and not the magical moments we expected. He feels pretty good about everything, because we really trusted our midwives and know that they did everything right.

It sounds like the hospital intervention, paired with the traumatic episiotomy were really awful. Keep talking and know that there are lots of others with similar thoughts. Don't feel bad about the midwife situation, it sounds like everything was fine and from what you described, it doesn't sound like they did anything wrong, your baby just needed some help getting out in the end. A lot of babies need help!

Have you shared your feelings with your wife? If you can rely on one another to get through this tough time - it will make your marriage stronger in the end!
post #6 of 23
I dont have time to write a long reply, but I know this must be so hard for you and your family, Ive had similar experiences.
post #7 of 23
Wow, what a challenge you're facing. What I hear you saying is that you felt powerless to watch your wife as she went through her birth trauma. That's a hard place to be.

First, I just want to address the beginning portion of her labor. When you called the midwife and were advised to just try and sleep, that's standard. I highly doubt there's a midwife or doctor, or anyone for that matter, that wouldn't give that advice. And, here's why. If labor is truly intensifying, there is NO WAY that mama is going to be able to sleep. It's kind of a litmus test for labor. So is taking a bath, or having a glass of wine. All of these things are common suggestions for early labor. Take it easy, see what happens. If sleeping, taking a bath, or having some alcohol slows labor, then it's not really time yet. But, if labor is truly cooking along, it will cook, whether you take any of those measures or not. So, please, try and forgive yourself, your wife, and your midwives for getting that rest. It looks like your wife really needed it, anyway. Think how much worse this would have been had she had 45 hours of labor and didn't get that little bit of extra rest.

more to say, but baby needs me. posting later...
post #8 of 23
In retrospect, our midwife directed my wife to get some sleep too before the active labor took hold of her. Of course she was dilating quickly and couldn't rest for a minute. Sounds like your experiences may be more common than not, although the time frame may be near record territory.

I remember feeling pretty helpless during the birth because I couldn't comfort my wife. I also remember thinking the pain may kill her (irrational but I feared for her life because I NEVER saw her in such pain).

Don't blame yourself as one can only be so prepared for a birth. It is so unpredictable for some.

Keep talking. And this is a good place to go for support cause the people are cool, caring, gentle folk. peace and good luck and congratulations for surviving a very difficult situation.
post #9 of 23
Thread Starter 

Thanks and more

First of all, thanks to everyone for the great responses. It is nice to have a forum in which to talk about these things. I will kind of respond all at once here, since my time is limited. My wife and I do talk about this and that has certainly helped. I would definitely say that our relationship has gotten stronger through it all. I have had to put my feelings on hold while she dealt with hers (still ongoing but the ball is rolling). Also, jumping back into work, fathering, etc. as I am sure everyone here knows, means putting some things on the back burner. Writing it down definitely helps, something I have been meaning to do but haven't gotten around to. I appreciate having such good listeners out there. This definitely seems like to the right place to do this.

The problem I saw with the sleeping is that my wife definitely could not sleep at all. She was having regular strong contractions that had been increasing in intensity and were getting closer together. So we spent several hours in bed with her falling asleep for a few minutes only to wake up moaning in pain. When she finally got up, took a shower and walked a bit she felt much better. If she had actually slept it would have been great, but it didn't happen. Still, it is good to know that this is a common procedure and perhaps not the cause of further problems.

There were definitely other problems with the midwives. We had doubts about ours as she seemed a bit inexperienced but decided we could trust her. But there were some things they did which were not right. My wife was getting to be several weeks past her supposed due date and our midwife's mother did some cervical stimulation to induce labor. But neither midwife ever announced that they were going to do this - she just did it. It felt very invasive to my wife. Then our midwife said some things during the labor that were not good. When we arrived at the birthhouse she chastised my wife for making so much noise; basically a "suck it up" kind of attitude. We did not expect this from our midwife. I think she is basically a good person but emotionally immature. It is also a "German thing", we've noticed - basically a cultural difference. Many folks here can be stiff and stern.

I don't want to rant but this is one of my favorite topics to rant about. This stupid attitude has done tremendous damage to our culture and is the primary way men are oppressed. This is how we are socialized to be oppressors - by denying parts of our humanity, 'sucking it up', being 'men', cutting ourselves off from our feelings, etc. I guess the women here get a dose of that, too. I find it very sad. In the end it caused my wife more trouble than the physical pain. To have her experience invalidated on that level, at such a vulnerable time, was very, very difficult. And there were several more instances of that kind of behavior (being told not to cry, etc.). I sometimes feel guilty about not stopping it, but at the time I had blinders on, focusing fully on my wife and also not wanting to create more friction with the midwives. It was a little late to find new ones. I know I did the right thing in the end, but these insults stuck with my wife more than anything else. And I don't think I had the presence of mind to do more anyway. I, too had been awake through that time, encouraging her, etc. trying to keep her focused and above all grounded.

Anyway, in the end we feel that it was really a midwife-centered birth and not a mother-centered birth. This was contrary to what we were told all along, that it would be the latter. I know that birth is difficult and unpredictable and perhaps we would feel differently if the midwives attitude was different, if they had explained things better and not pulled the tough guy routine. My wife struggled so hard, so valiantly, so long. She had to endure that time on her back or on her side, sometimes bouncing on her side to try to move the baby. A few days later she asked me about the blood that she saw dripping from the ceiling and then realized it was an halucination. It really was a rollercoaster, with the labor stalling and then picking up, full dialation finally coming after many hours and then part of the cervix being lodged between the baby's head and her pelvic bones. Then stalling again and picking back up. Our dd's head was in the birth canal for quite a while, but amazingly she came through it all unscathed except for some bruising.

Sweetiemommy, I can only imagine how scary that last part must have been. I hadn't heard of midwives having to push so hard on the abdomen before. I guess it works. But to have a violent ending to such a process is tough. For us the last bit was pretty gruesome and then when our dd was out and on my wife's chest I don't think we knew what to feel. My poor wife was so traumatised at that point. Fortunately I was able to attend to dd during that time, cutting the cord and dressing her, holding her. The upshot to all of this is that we bonded very strongly in those moments. We still have that bond. Not every father gets to experience this.

Get this - two hours after the birth, the cutting, the stitching, etc. my wife and I walk out of the hospital and go back to the birthhouse. It was a very good decision; we did not want to stay there. I think she is a superwoman. I can't imagine how she did it but she did. When I took a shower back at the birthhouse I could not control my "flashbacks" to witnessing the episiotomies. I would cringe and shudder uncontrollably, having to close my eyes hard and get through it. This is a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder, I later found out. This lasted for some time and still occasionally comes on in a milder way. In the shower I thought I was speaking my wife's name but she tells me that I was practically wailing. She didn't know what was wrong and I wasn't aware that I was even doing it. That night I had to stay up with dd as my wife was so exhausted she just passed out and I couldn't rouse her. I got my first on-the-spot lesson in parenting. I walked with dd while she slept but I couldn't keep those thoughts from haunting me. The next day we went home and were happy to be in our own space again. My wife recoverd extremely fast. Fortunately Germans believe in giving paternal leave as well as lots of time for the mother (she wasn't working outside of the home anyway). I was able to attend to her fully for two whole weeks. I now know that most people don't know how hard that time can be for some women.

On a happier note, dd is wonderful and has been such an easy baby. She slept 6 or more hours at a stretch the first few months. Having a fussy or high needs baby at that time would have been extremely hard, and I feel for all of you who have had that experience. Especially the women who have had trauma, are suddenly mothers full-time and must really be there fully. I don't know how you do it and it is a testament to the real (unrecognized) strength of women, though not the only one. It is tough for the dads, too, and we don't have many places to go with this either. People rarely ask how the fathers are. Of course, the mother is the one who did the really hard work and endured it all and should be primary in people's thoughts. But dads, I feel for you, too.

Okay, I think this is long enough for now. Thanks again for all of you who have replied. This has really been helpful already.

take care all
post #10 of 23
It sounds like a very midwife centered birth! I'm so sorry about your experience. It sounds like you are handling it really well and good for you -talking about it instead of bottling it up. How old is your baby?
post #11 of 23
I'm so sorry you and your wife had to go through that, it sounds truly awful and freightening. You absolutely did everything you could and I glad your wife had you there by her side through it all.

Continue talking about it, that will help. I hope your wife can do the same.

I very sensitive man I used to work with was telling me about the birth of his dd, who was at the time 3 yrs old. As he told me how she tore during the delivery, he got choked up and couldn't continue with his story. That was when I first realized how upsetting the birth experience can be for men, as well as women.

I also was terrified of getting an episiotomy and didn't think I could tolerate getting stitches there, but I tore to a 3rd degree tear and needed stitches but it was really ok. I healed beautifully and quickly with no lasting physical problems, and I bet your wife will also. She will be whole physically before too long, don't worry. And hopefully, together, the two of you will heal emotionally.

BTW, I well had over 72 hours of labor here in the good ol' states, slept through some of it with morphine and a sleeping pill and did NOT get a C section!

Sending you both warmest thoughts,

post #12 of 23
your story really moved me and i hope that you are feeling better and better. being helpless and witnessing such pain must have been terrible. i think the labor lasted so long becasue the midwives weren't letting your wife express herself, and even worse, they were shaming her in her most vulnerable moments. they invalidated what she was trying to do on an intuitive level and that is a travesty. since she probably didn't feel safe, her body was unwilling to open up and let go. it's very understandable.

i had a relatively easy labor with midwives i really trusted, but looking back, even they tried to control certain things during the birth which over-rode my intuition about things. since i had no experience, i let them make decisions when i could have trusted myself more. It all worked out, but it think my experience could have been even better. i felt a vague sense of disatisfaction afterwards, and i think it's common to question the experience even if it was a "success". my husband felt helpless a lot and exhausted by the whole thing so i can imagine that 45 hours would just about do you in.

there's a good book out that deals with birth trauma for both men and women "birthing from within." you are not alone! there are some great excercises in there to help purge painful feelings and memories associated with birth trauma. also any books by ina may gaskin might help you feel better (or more angry) about the way you were both treated.

i'm so sorry that your wife's biggest fear (being cut) came to fruition. i hope your healing continues and that you can forgive yourself for anything you think you did wrong. giving birth is so intense that the birth attendants have tremendous influence for good or ill. i want to validate you!

best wishes,
post #13 of 23
Hi! My husband was present for everything. We've talked about it (I was really upset at how it turned out....we planned a UC but ended up transferring for pain killer ) and he was not pleased as well. He was pretty freaked out while we were at home because of my pain level and the trouble I had dealing with it. He was very upset at how long it took for me to actually get pain killer. He was pissed when they lost the DD's heartbeat and took another ten minutes to find it. He was upset that they overdosed me on pain killer and the fact that he had to wake me up multiple times. Overall he was pretty traumatized over things. The thing that really got to him though was the episiotomy I received. He vividally still recalls the sound it made and he has gone ahead and told me I will NEVER get one again. :LOL We both came out pretty traumatized over it all. There were things he thought the doctors could have been more gentle about (like turning DD due to her face up presentation) in regards to the fact that he was right there to see it. I'll see if I can get him on here to talk about it all.
post #14 of 23
Our baby won't be born for another 2-3 months, and I'm concerned
about what the experience will be like.
The biggest thing in your story is I can see you did nothing wrong,
and yet if I were you I would probably blame myself as well. I guess
that's a natural reaction, and all I can offer is sympathy, because I
haven't been there.
post #15 of 23
Thread Starter 

Good to hear from you all

Hey, thanks everybody,

I have definitely been feeling a lot better since I have posted here. My feelings opened up a bit more and I was able to cry about everything. I always find that that makes things better (especially for men, who tend to be crying-starved). Kind of like removing a splinter - it hurts to dig it out but feels so much better afterward and heals faster. My feelings of self-blame are getting less, too. I'm always sorry to hear about similar stories but it happens. And I assume that the people that post here are less inclined to the normal hospital birth experience which tends to be pretty bad, from the sounds of it.

OtherMother'n'Madre - You know, I, too can vividly remember the sound of the episiotomies (there were two), especially the first, and the scream that followed. That scream horrified me more than just about anything, it was such an intense outporing of shock and pain. Also the look on my wife's face when it happened. When they cut her the second time I thought I would go crazy. Your story is intense and I can imagine there are lots of feelings for you both. I can really empathize with your dh's experience (the fact that you are watching it all, feeling helpless yet responsible, seeing the one you love in pain, the uncertainty of everything). I hope you guys have found a way to process the feelings, especially you since for you it was even more intense as the subject of the pain and difficulty.

Changa, I don't really feel qualified to give advice here and perhaps you aren't looking for any, but I also don't want to unnecessarily foster apprehension. I know there are some horror stories out there but also some really wonderful ones. The only thing I could say is trust yourself and try to set up an environment where this will be cultivated. As julia pointed out, even the "good" births can be less than perfect and the whole thing is very intense. But if you trust yourself and your body and your partner and birth attendants do, too, then things will go well. Modern medicine can take care of traumatic situations, saving lives, etc. but the human organism knows what do in most cases if we just let it do its job.

thanks again and take care
post #16 of 23
post #17 of 23
Originally Posted by tootpapa
OtherMother'n'Madre - You know, I, too can vividly remember the sound of the episiotomies (there were two), especially the first, and the scream that followed. That scream horrified me more than just about anything, it was such an intense outporing of shock and pain. Also the look on my wife's face when it happened. When they cut her the second time I thought I would go crazy. Your story is intense and I can imagine there are lots of feelings for you both. I can really empathize with your dh's experience (the fact that you are watching it all, feeling helpless yet responsible, seeing the one you love in pain, the uncertainty of everything). I hope you guys have found a way to process the feelings, especially you since for you it was even more intense as the subject of the pain and difficulty.
Thanks.....neither of us has really gotten through it. I don't remember all of it so that hurts. DH though is scared, understandably. When we went in the doctor said he was glad cause homebirth is dangerous and I think that stuck with him. He associates my blood pressure issues and her breathing issues with something other than an overdose of pain killer. He's slowly accepting things. I have found out some things since DD was born that I have shared with him and it seems to help...both of us.
post #18 of 23
I helped my wife labor for 16 hours at home with baby #2 (VBAC) only to have the cord prolapse at the very end. Our son died a week later.

This was and is very traumatic to me and reading your story makes me sad for you.

Regardless of the outcome these situations can be traumatic. I know you are grateful that your baby is ok, but don't forget to hug her extra and think about what could have been.

post #19 of 23
Thread Starter 
Wow, SadDaddy, I am so sorry to hear about this. It really makes me sad. I know you two must be having a hard time right now. I can't even imagine it. We definitely are grateful and thankful that we have our little toot and do give her lots of hugs to remind us of this. I hope you guys are finding a way to deal with the trauma. The birth trauma association that fourgrtkidos mentioned is really a good place. Your wife can get help over the phone as well. Otherwise, you can tell your story here as I did if that appeals to you. Sometimes it helps to write and talk about it. Of course, that is when and if you are ready and it feels right for you.

take care
post #20 of 23
Yes, i find that talking about what happened helps me more than anything. I almost wish I could see an acquantance at the store that doesn't know so i can tell them. It is cathartic for me. Opposite for my wife, she only wants to talk to close friends, but she does find help from finding people with similar circumstances (on these boards for example).

What gets us through this is our faith in God, knowing that our son is alive and well and perfect in heaven, plus that God has a purpose for his life. Without knowing these things we would be hopeless.

Anyway, sorry didn't mean to hijack your thread.

How is Germany? Go enjoy some weinterschnitzel and a Spaten Optimator for me. I'm jealous!!!

Grant's Dad :
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