(Brandon originally posted this article to Birth Without Fear Blog in 2011.)
Birth trauma is very real and probably much more frequent than women in our society realize. But birth trauma is not exclusive to the moms and babies. We dads experience birth trauma, too, but in a very different, very mentally draining way.
Postpartum Depression for Men?
I am very involved in my family and find that my life revolves around them no matter what I do. I lie down with the younger two kids at night and, if I’m home, for naps during the day. I draw for my son and play superheroes and tag with him often (though not often enough by his standards, which would be 24/7/365), and I’m constantly teaching my oldest the differences between right and wrong as she begins getting older and discovering new language and behaviors (that we aren’t always thrilled about). I recently had to quit a steady job that demanded too much time away from family and I am now currently starting up my own business where I can make my hours revolve around my family.
With all that being said, it should not came as a surprise that I am very involved with the ins and outs of January’s pregnancies and births. When she goes through trying times, I go through trying times.
Birth trauma is a very real thing for women. In fact, I will go so far as to say that birth trauma can account for much of the postpartum depression that happens in our society. It just never gets addressed because the very ones women trusted to guide them through childbirth and violated that trust have placed themselves on a holier-than-thou pedestal. It wasn’t anything the OB or the nurse or the midwife did, it is all in the new mom’s head. Her experience, good or bad, happened all by random chance and nothing the “expert” care providers did, right? It is up to the new mom to deal with it all by herself after, many times, no one would leave her alone when she needed it most. Nice logic.
I say this because I have seen it first hand with January. I have watched her move on past the trauma and postpartum depression by herself. I was there, but I am not a trained counselor or therapist. There’s only so much emotional support I can offer because I have never experienced it first hand.
But what about me? What about the husbands reading this or the husbands of the women reading this? What happens to them when they see their wife’s plans go up in smoke, when the hospital staff mistreats or violates their wife, when these supposed childbirth care providers instill their ignorant fears and hospital protocol on humans in a one-size-fits-all manner? What happens when we are there to support our wives through the thick and thin, but can’t because only she can birth her baby?
I was there to support January, but I never realized I needed someone there to support me.
Deer in the Headlights
I was there, supporting January throughout her first pregnancy, when she literally vomited every single day. So much so, that we had to take her to the Outpatient Center to get IVs so she could stay hydrated. I was there when three different midwives palpated and said the baby’s head was down, only to find out at 36 weeks that the baby was Frank Breech. Not nearly as natural minded as we are now, we opted for the c-section, believing that a Frank Breech was impossible to birth naturally.
After planning a natural birth at a birthing center for months, it was a huge disappointment to go this route.
But I was there, by January’s side, looking at her insides during the c-section as they tugged our first baby free. I was there in the hospital room the next three days, sleep deprived from the nurses barging in repeatedly to check January’s vitals literally every single hour. I was there to watch her cry in frustration as the baby wouldn’t latch on, all because bonding couldn’t happen after the c-section.
Fears, Crackpot, Stress
I was there during January’s second pregnancy when she had constant low back pain, despite going to a chiropractor. I was there when she began labor for the first time. Labor continued for the next 54 hours unable to progress because of birth fears never addressed. I was there when the inconvenienced midwife thought January was lying about the pain, asking me what I thought we should do. I was there when we rushed January to the hospital and they said she had an infection (of which they never told us what)… and the midwife later admitted she thought January was making it up (being in active labor).
I was there when the strung-out crackpot OB, on edge and jittery from at least two whole pots of coffee in the last thirty minutes, performed a hack job on my wife as I watched. I was there when my son had a fever and they wouldn’t let me or my wife touch him. I was there, for an hour, talking to him, unable to touch him, while he cried in the incubator until all his vitals settled down. I was there pleading with the nurse to bring him to his mom, so she could hold him for the first time… two hours later. I was there three days later, when the nurse wouldn’t let me carry my own son to the car in his car seat due to hospital protocol. So I ripped the car seat out of her hand, finally fed up, rudely explaining that he was MY son and I would carry him to MY car and buckle him in MYSELF, of which she obliged (my death stare is second to none).
I was there when the crackpot OB took the staples out of the incision five days later and told January “You can never attempt a homebirth ever again.” I was there when the crackpot OB told January that the numbness in her left thigh since the surgery was due to sciatica and not the anesthesia, simply to shut us up because she had another patient waiting.
I was there a week later when I had to take five exams in seven days (I was in grad school and could not miss any time). I was there, every night, studying, helping January with the new baby and sleeping an average of an hour and a half each night for a week. I was there when, after too much stress and too little sleep, severe back spasms kept me from doing anything except lie on my back for a week. I was there feeling like scum that my wife, recovering from a traumatic emergency c-section, was taking care of me because I couldn’t move. I was there for the post-partum depression that lasted weeks and months because of the failed homebirth, emergency c-section, and lack of bonding between mother and baby.
Under the Table and Social Services
I was there for January’s third pregnancy, which, actually, went very smooth. I was there when we hired a midwife, but had to keep it to ourselves because the state we lived in outlawed midwives attending homebirths for VBACs. I was there when the midwife dropped January from care at 42 weeks because January wouldn’t try to naturally induce, leaving us to figure out what to do. I was there when we had to find another midwife (because we felt we needed one), and when we did find one (a vile CNM), we couldn’t tell her anything, making us look like the most ignorant fools walking the planet.
I was there when January went into labor again (at 43 weeks, six days) and tried to do it unassisted. I was there when she realized she hadn’t prepared for an unassisted birth and that we had to go to the hospital. I was there when, in the hospital, they wouldn’t let January walk around or squat, again because of hospital protocol. I was there when the rude OB came in and, without introducing himself or saying much at all, gloved up and inserted his fingers in my wife’s vagina without asking, prompting her to scream “GET OUT OF ME!” I was there when he suggested a c-section and she shot him down immediately. I was there to watch her push (finally) and to tell her the baby was crowning. I was also there to watch the vile CNM reach in, pull the baby out, and tear January so badly that I was stunned to see shredded bloody flesh where it should normally be smooth and pink. I was there to see January realize they had given her pitocin to “help her uterus contract,” after she had explicitly told them not to.
I was there, not wanting a repeat of the helpless feeling we had with baby #2, belligerent and uncooperative with the nurses as they tried to run every test under the sun on our new baby (running a glucose test to check for diabetes on a six pound baby… seriously?). I was there when the vile CNM called social services on us because we (I) refused all the tests. They soon realized the vile CNM was a fool because we eventually had them done anyway (January was exhausted, drugged, and didn’t want the confrontation so she gave in). I was there when the vile CNM admitted to January that we made her tired because the nurses, not knowing the specifics of each test, had to go and repeatedly find out from her what exactly they were testing (shouldn’t they know that?).
The Hell With Them All & The Best Day of My Life
I was there to hear a leader in my profession speak about how her first four babies were born at home, just her and her husband and no one else. I was there to come home and bring it up to January during the the first trimester of her fourth pregnancy (after she brought it up to me during her third pregnancy and I said “NO WAY!”). I was there to watch her gain confidence by reading books, blogging about it, and visualizing it. I was there at church where, because of the blog, people avoided her and pointed at her like she was a freak. I was there to hear our church leader say that other women in the church wanted him to do something because they were worried something bad would happen.
I was there when January went into labor in our apartment. I was there when she went into transition in the bathtub, slipping off into a peaceful trance. I was there when she got up and stood over the toilet and pushed. I was there to see the baby crown.
I was there, finally, after so much heartache, and stress, and frustration, to catch my own baby.
I was also there to watch January bond with our baby for the first time without anyone sticking their nose in our business. I was there to watch mom nurse the baby without any trouble. I was there to watch our kids wake up and realize that they had a new sister laying on mom as she sat on the family room couch. I was there to watch our oldest cut the cord.
I was there to finally experience my own healing. After the disappointments, the frustration, the anger, the heartache, the pain, the stress, and fear of another pregnancy/childbirth, I couldn’t help but feel elated, relieved, and healed by January’s accomplishment.
What Do You Mean Your Own Healing? You’re a Guy!
Watching your wife literally go through hell three different times doesn’t exactly render a sense of peace and comfort about birth from the male perspective. Having three bad experiences in the hospital and four bad experiences with a midwife doesn’t give me a sense of confidence in any birth provider whatsoever. Trusting birth, after my trust in it was profoundly shaken, is not an easy thing to do. Even now.
Despite our amazing experience with our fourth baby, I still have fear. But not of birth. It is a fear of what will happen to January. It is the sense that if something happens to her, I can’t do anything about it. It is a very helpless feeling, and I don’t like to feel helpless.
Sure, our fourth experience was an unassisted pregnancy and homebirth, but the only thing that alleviated the fears I had was witnessing the absolute faith and confidence January had in her body to birth that baby after two c-sections and an intervention-riddled VBA2C. The result was truly amazing to behold.
I definitely had my fears and struggles with baby #5, which you can listen to here on our podcast. Baby #6 came with her own set of challenges for me as well. But ending up with two more healthy babies as the end result helped me take a big sigh of relief.
Watching January become a beacon of hope to other women with similar experiences, and solidifying her own faith and confidence in her body to, once more, birth two more babies reminded me how good an experience birth can actually be.
That is what pushes me past my fears.