Lightning Can't Strike Twice? A fathers experience of childbirth.

I want to start this with a huge thank you. To our friends and family who have been there with us, to the amazing NHS staff who helped bring our two children into the world, to the two children I am proud to call my daughters and to my partner, who gave me the ultimate reward in life, twice.



Growing up I decided that I was going to be a dad at some point. And, when that happens, I will give my children my everything. At age 24, my partner (aged 25) brought Sakura into the world and four years later we welcomed Isla.


Sakura

We were looking after my partner’s sister for several years until she moved out. It felt like the right time. We had discussed our desire of having children. I had just finished university and taken a job in Manchester. I am involved in football refereeing too meaning I was out of the house a lot.

My partner was working as a chef at the time and whilst it wasn’t the most perfect scenario we could have imagined, it was the right time.

A miscarriage came first in Spring 2015. Horrifying, awful, heart-breaking doesn’t cover the feeling. To find out we were pregnant later that year was met with cautious trepidation. The pregnancy passed without issue. An understanding employer allowed me to attend all the birthing classes. Naively, we felt prepared.

The birth began with a feeling, a sensation, a stomach-turning, a ‘right this is it!’ moment. We call the hospital and head into the birth centre. The birth centre is part of the hospital but is operated by nurses and midwives. Whilst still part of the hospital, it allows for a relaxed environment and is located on the opposite side of the hospital to the labour ward. We are greeted by wonderful people ready to share our moment. My partner is set on a water birth. She climbs into the pool and after some time, we realise birth has slowed. We are told this is normal and to head home as “your own environment is best for labour”.

Time goes by, we sleep a little until my partner’s waters break. We return to the birth centre and spend another period there. To begin with, it felt like a breeze, but it turned into what felt like an eternity. We are advised we are being transferred to the labour ward “just because there are loads of doctors up there who are right on hand if needed”. This was due to the labour slowing again when my partner returned to the pool. The midwives had become concerned about the time that had elapsed (roughly 12 hours) since the waters broke.

On the labour ward, we are greeted by midwives. We nearly reach 36 hours post waters bursting. We are told the time in between is too long, there’s a risk of infection. In addition, every time my partner had a contraction, the baby’s heartbeat fell. We should elect for a c-section to protect both mother and baby.

A walk down the hall accompanied by a cry and expression of worry to the doctors and we were scrubbed up and in theatre. Sakura was soon brought into the world. Purple, no scream and immediately whisked off. We are worried, scared, and tired. Just cry, scream, do anything!

I am allowed a short amount of time with Sakura. She is now crying but still very purple. I am told she was in distress and may have had some oxygen loss accompanied by an infection.

We return to the labour ward without Sakura. A room of six women, some with their partners’, some with their family, celebrating their new arrival. It is late in the day; I can visit Sakura on the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU). She is in an incubator asleep. I am told she spent 30 minutes on Neo-Natal Intensive Care, but they recognised she was stable and now needed some treatment for jaundice and anti-biotics for a potential infection.

The next seven days are fraught with breastfeeding challenges and managing my time between home and being with them. An ulcer under Sakura’s tongue was challenging, it seemed to prevent breastfeeding but wasn’t noticed until a few days later.

We are thankful for the help and love we received from the NHS staff. We get on with everything. I return to work a week later. My partner is at home with our child and life goes on as a family of three.



Isla

We are conscious of the fact we want siblings relatively close in age, we agree to start trying in late 2019. We come towards March 2020 and I’m conscious of the developing Covid-19 situation. We agree if it doesn’t happen by the end of March we’ll postpone. Furlough arrives and we are pregnant by the end of March.

The pregnancy passes with a breeze. No birthing classes are running and it is difficult managing a young child back at home when she wants to be with friends. In addition, my partner had to attend all the scans on her own.

We come towards the end of November which is the due date, but no sign yet. We know it’s another girl. Sakura cannot wait.

My partner feels like she is getting reduced movements and is advised to attend the hospital for monitoring. I am kept updated, no real issues, maybe due to stress or anxiety. They decide that on Tuesday the 1st of December they are going to induce her and when she is in established labour, I can join.

I am back on the labour ward again. The look, the smell, the feeling — all the same. The pessary inducement hasn’t had the effect they want. We will go with a c-section. A short time later, my partner is hooked up to a hormone drip to induce her and proceed with a vaginal birth.

Over that night her waters burst, several midwives come and go and by morning we aren’t any closer to birth. One thing that is beginning to trigger a sensation, the noise of the baby’s heart rate monitor. Every contraction leads to a reduction. I notice the midwife watching intently every time. “Are you seeing that?” I ask, the midwife replied, “yes”.

She leaves after it happens a couple of times and returns with a senior doctor. She monitors and an “mmm, ahem, yep” later, we are told they will continue to monitor us and if we can get to 8:00 am and be around that 8–10 cm mark then we will continue.

8:00 am comes with another discussion and the doctors believe we are 9cm so decide to proceed until 10:00am. Then, 10:00 am arrives with another discussion. They decide that my partner may not even be 8 cm. This will be a c-section again. My partner’s hope for a vaginal birth after a c-section (VBAC) are gone.

Time passes as per the last time. I notice a bit of blood on the floor next to my partner. Isla is brought out. Thank god for that cry! I hold our new baby as they fix my partner. My partner is sleepy whereas I am overcome by emotions of warmth, love, and fear. Something just doesn’t feel right.

We are waiting in recovery. One of the nurses is vociferously asking down the phone where the blood bags are, “they should be here by now, this is urgent”.

We arrive back on labour ward. My partner awakes and she is adamant she wants to sit up. We help her sit up and I notice a gush of blood from her, “oh, it’s normal to have bleeding after surgery” the Midwife says. I ask her to look again. “Pull the red cord!”

At least 15 people crash through the doors, meticulously looking to diagnose, stem and fix any issue.

My partner is whisked away and I am left with a nurse. Holding Isla close to me, she tells me she will update me where she can and she wishes she could hug me but “you know, COVID and all”.

Time passes and the same nurse returns to tell me they’ve fixed my partner. Six bags of blood along with various infusions of white blood cells, antibiotics, and other important fluids. She lost 2.5litres of blood that day.

I leave at 10:00 pm. I won’t see them in person now for five days.

That night I headed home and I am greeted by expectant family. I recall everything to them but spot a blood-red sequin that Sakura must have dropped during the day. I am immediately returned to the operating theatre and I am reliving it again. Probably only for a second but I write it off as tiredness and lack of food. I make food but I am caught off-guard by that sequin again! I am back in the theatre and experiencing the same emotions. That sequin went very quickly into the bin!

My partner and Isla return home on day five. There is a later diagnosis of an umbilical hernia that needs minor day surgery. We are greeted by the midwife within a few weeks. She asks my partner about how we are, given what happened. She mentions a debrief after I tell her about the sequin. A debrief is offered to people who have gone through labour to deconstruct what has happened, particularly if it is distressing, to help process the experience. We are also directed to VitaMinds.

VitaMinds is a free service through the NHS for people to access talking therapy. I immediately try to book in.

The debrief happens in late February 2021. Healing has already begun but I’m aware that something still doesn’t feel right. We still haven’t had a proper counselling session. I complete several sessions until the end of June 2021.

At the same time, I have physically injured my hamstring and need physiotherapy. I find my physio a safe space and we share similar traumatic experiences. I tell my counsellor who explains that the hamstring injury is similar in some ways. When you are physically injured and the physio needs to go over it over several sessions, it gets better.

This is like mental trauma, going over it can help reduce that tidal wave feeling of emotion. It helps that I can speak to my counsellor, tell him everything without fear of loading him with my problems, fears.

Reliving it again has been tough but it’s important that we break the cycle of dads who feel unable to share their feelings. The kids are the best. Isla’s first birthday is coming up. She is chanting “Dadada” much to the annoyance of my partner.

They and my partner are safe and happy.

That is all that matters to me.


 

Editor’s Note:

If you have enjoyed this blog, do not miss the full 10-part series that will explore aspects of modern-day fatherhood, men’s mental health, and the science behind it — running through to the 19th of November — which is also International Men’s Day UK. Every Wednesday we will publish a lived-experience piece from one of the fathers who have contributed to Dad or MFF, followed on the Thursday by a scientific piece from one of our contributing scientists exploring the associated mental health aspects. Tomorrow Dr Jane Iles, a clinical psychologist with an interest in family mental health across the perinatal period, will explore the associated mental health aspects of Arran’s piece that you have read here today. We hope you enjoy this ITM special series as we shine a spotlight on men’s mental health and fatherhood.