At a recent visit to the hospital to check out reduced fetal movements we met a young dad anxiously pacing around an empty bed making increasingly panicked calls.
He had been told to come to the hospital as his partner had developed pre-eclampsia. He turns up not knowing where his partner was and with only the faintest idea of what it meant to his partner or their unborn child. He’s offered a range of empty reassurances and left to his own devices, phone in one hand, crumpled leaflet in the other. I hope that it worked out for them.
There are further accounts in @mancmidwife’s post about expectant fathers being told to say goodbye to their wife as they watch them being wheeled into surgery and the confusion and anxiety about what that ‘goodbye’ would mean.
I remember a similar experience when our boys were delivered. My wife was on a cocktail of powerful drugs and was falling unconscious. I desparately tried to keep her awake despite her exhaustion, terrified she would die in front of me. No-one had explained what was going to happen at delivery to me. Had I known I might have been more use to her. When she saw the panic in my eyes she fought when she could have rested.
Despite stories like this it feels like things have improved but there is so much more to be done. But there are so many similar stories of dads being treated as an afterthought and hindrance and the eternal punchline.
More needs to be done to help support dads so they are can support their partners. Part of that is on dads (and I include myself in this as you’ll see later) and the rest is on healthcare professionals involved throughout the process.
What is on us
The self deprecating humour often used as a defence mechanism subtly undermines us. There are books written in a jokey, blokey tone that give no preparation for the potential horrors ahead. Even ‘normal’ non-traumatic births can be scary and confusing. Is there really meant to be that much blood?!
Cheeky humour and ‘I’m rubbish, me’ self deprecation is bot all use in the face of sheer naked bloodied terror. An uncomprehending bovine stare is no use when your partner is in no fit state to tell doctors what she wants and (more importantly) doesn’t want. Preparation is essential.
We always joked that we wouldn’t be one of those parents that insisted on candles and whale music. Our original preferred approach was all the drugs. We took a perverse pride in our lack of birth plan.
What each successive pregnancy has taught us is that it does make sense to have a birth plan. To this end we watched a lot of One Born Every Minute. A lot. Often whilst eating dinner. We sat making notes on all the things we saw and then discussed what we wanted to do in those situations.
Things like establishing a code word for pain relief or defining in what circumstances to consider intervention / surgery. Who gets first cuddle? Do we want the baby clean or as is for the first cuddle? Who do we tell first? What’s the communication strategy to ensure that everyone knows at the right time and non-Facebook family and friends are not slighted?
We attended NCT sessions for the first time and learned so much that would have made a huge difference to the previous pregnancies and labour. One of the off-notes was a section where the men were hurried away to a discreet corner to practice nappies and bathing a doll whilst the women received a hushed talk about…things.
I understand the need to senstively handle potentially embarassing talk of fluids but it’s important stuff that partners should be aware of. Otherwise you end up with the unedifying spectacle of a new father nervously clutching a blood clot in a sandwich bag asking horrified hospital staff “Does this look right to you? It seems too big for a normal clot“.
What is on the health care professionals
A father to be having done all this preparation and discussion needs to be respected and treated as less of an afterthought. A father brave enough to admit their fear should be able to ask questions without ridicule.
We’re not asking for a biscuit for being involved we’re looking for acknowledgment of our concerns and the wishes of our partners. We’re looking to not be dismissed or brushed aside with patronising assurances.
After the baby is born we should not be kicked out bewildered into the street whilst our partner is forced to fend for themself mere hours after giving birth. After my son was born that was exactly what happened. I had to leave my son with my exhausted wife and hope that the night staff would not subject my wife to the horror she experienced after the birth of our daughter.
A plea for kindness
I don’t want to be a gloom bunny all the time. Whilst there are many examples where people have got it wrong there are also stories where professionals have shown compassion, kindness and respect and those stories have as much a right to be heard as the bad ones.
Clinical staff could tell millions of stories of kindness and hard work, if only we asked them
If anyone has a tale where they were listened to, they were looked after or were the person doing the listening and looking after-ing please share in the comments section.