Birth Story Revisited... a Husband's Perspective
The following was written entirely by my husband as a response to my birth story. He wanted a chance to share the husband's side of things.
Emily has asked me to write my perspective of our birth experience for a guest-blog appearance. In her PTBD entry, she described the trauma she endured and how she is just now able to cope with what happened. I am still not sure I am there yet. Writing this has been emotionally draining, but a necessary evil, I suppose. This will be a very emotional account of what happened. I will skip over most of the narrative since Emily nailed all of the details; instead, I will start from the point where we are in hard labor.
In order to accurately frame this story from my perspective, you need to know a little bit about me. Approximately a year ago, I was laid off from my last job and found out Emily was pregnant exactly a week later. This news, while being what we both wanted and talked about for quite some time, sent me into a tailspin, given the timing. I started developing a severe social anxiety, daily panic attacks, and a variety of psychosomatic symptoms. I was eventually diagnosed with a classic case of anxiety disorder. Even before the birth of our daughter, I became aware of just how strong and amazing my wife is in helping me deal with this; it couldn’t have been easy dealing with me at that time. Thanks to her amazing support, a good therapist, and a lot of hard work, I can honestly say that this disorder does not plague me as it once did and I actually live a normal life now.. It has helped me become aware of the same symptoms in others, and I now have a strong motivation to help others afflicted with this. It really is astounding how many people have anxiety-related problems, but, like most mental health issues, is rarely ever discussed. My experience actually helped me to identify Emily’s first panic attack in the hospital and urge her to get the help she needed at the time.
One major symptom of anxiety disorders is called ‘catastrophising’. This word describes imagining everything ending with the worst-case scenario and worrying to excess. For example, I dread flying. I am worried that my plane will crash, which is statistically very, VERY unlikely to happen. Part of therapy is learning to rationalize your way through catastrophic thinking, and facing your fears, which never actually end how bad you think they will. Normally I am an extremely rational and logical person, which made dealing with this all the more difficult. Fear begins to override logic. Truth be told, I had struggled with a lot of catastrophising throughout the course of the pregnancy: I had MAJOR fears about something horrible happening to either Emily or my daughter during birth. It never left me throughout the pregnancy and is still with me, now just in much more normal level. Once we arrived at the hospital, however, all of that got thrown out; I had a purpose and it was time to get down to business.
Here is how all of the drama starts: I have been talking Emily through the peaks in her contractions with the help of their contraction monitor. It’s not much, but it’s the only thing I feel I can do to help. I manage to keep my cool up until the point where the doctor comes in and says ”We’re ready!” Bam, the flood lights kick in and vinyl tarp is being spread everywhere. This is when I start feeling faint. I am sitting by Emily’s head, holding her hand, telling her I love her, but it’s really all I can do to keep from passing out. I tried to stand, felt woozy, and sat right back down. At one point the doctor asks “she is crowning, do you want to watch?” Not a chance in hell. First off, Emily has refused to let me down there. Second, I wouldn’t be able to stand if I wanted to.
We get through the birth and a huge weight is lifted from my shoulders: My daughter is born, she is healthy and beautiful. Months and months of anticipation, worry, and fear have culminated in this amazing and beautiful event. Emily, who had been so adamant about having them wipe the vernix and other related goo off before holding her, makes an immediate grab for Daphne. Truth be told, I hadn’t really though about Emily as a mother prior to the actual birth. I knew she was going to be, and I had no doubts that she would be a good mother, but I have never truly seen her have that overwhelming gooshiness when it comes to babies. From the first look she got of Daphne, I knew she was meant for this role. Emily was a mothe,r and it was a very powerful moment for me.
I pick up the camera and start snapping photos for my in-laws downstairs. We get our first feeding in, and I run downstairs to show off my new daughter. I am beaming. I cannot wipe the shit-eating grin off my face. We exchange ooh’s and ahh’s and the new Grandparents show off some of the pictures to other future grandparents they have been waiting with. I break it off and rush back up to the room to be with my wife and daughter. My family. Weird.
The trouble started while I was holding my daughter for the first time. A nurse had come in to escort Emily to the bathroom while I sat in the chair with Daphne. After a few seconds in the bathroom, I hear the nurse yell “Mama, MAMA, MAMA!!”, a shuffling sound and then “can I get some smelling salts in here NOW!” goes out over the intercom. My stomach sinks. My heart starts going a million miles an hour. Nurses are rushing in and I am panicking because I cannot rush to help my wife. At this point, I was desperate for someone to take Daphne from me so I could be by my wife’s side, but I couldn’t do anything but sit there while nurses rushed in to pick my wife up off the floor and revive her.
They brought her back into the room and she did not look well. She was ghost-white, and seemed barely conscious. It was terrifying, but the nurses assured us that this was normal. I tried to relax, but after awhile Emily was still very woozy and looked even paler than before. I brought a nurse into the room to check her, and that’s when things got really scary. Multiple nurses came in to look at the stitches and making comments that sent me into a tailspin of worry, followed by the delivery doctor, who started poking and prodding down there. After a few minutes I hear “Oh! You see, that’s why I didn’t want to go poking around the stitches!” followed by “I need her in the OR, right now.” After a few minutes of scrambling, and a LOT of blood pooling in the area, another statement, this time which much more urgency “I need here in the OR, RIGHT NOW”. By this time, I am already in tears, and with that last statement, I am now hysterical.
Well, my worst-case scenario begins playing out before me. My wife is bleeding out rapidly enough for the doctor to have to raise his voice to call attention to the fact. Emily is barely coherent from the blood loss. I should have been strong for my wife at that moment, but I wasn’t. I was afraid of losing her, and I lost my shit. I was crying like a baby, and as they wheeled her out of the room, I leaned in and told her “I can’t do this without you”. Immediately after she was out of the room, the nurses took Daphne up to the nursery. I didn’t have the capacity to be a good father at this point. I hadn’t slept for days. I was convinced that I would never see my wife again. All of those horrible thoughts and fears that my anxiety plagued me with were playing out in front of my eyes. To continue the earlier analogy, my plane was crashing. I was pacing the room, hyperventilating, nurses were coming in to calm me down and assure me that she was in good hands. It didn’t help; I was beyond the point of rational thought.
After about an hour, my brain to start working again; it wasn’t easy. I was still in the worst possible head-space of my life, but I decided to see my daughter.. The nurses in the newborn unit had been made aware of what was happening, and were more than supportive and understanding of my shakiness. I was told I could take as long as I wanted. So I held my daughter for the first time where it was just me and her, alone. I talked to her. I told her how great her mother was, and how excited we were to have her. I remember thinking of how robbed Emily was of getting to spend that early time with her daughter, and just hoping she would make it out.. I remember wondering “how on Earth can I do this alone?”. I couldn’t, so Emily had to make it out; she had no choice.
I left after about 30 minutes so I could go and check in. Once I got back to our floor, the nurse told me that Emily was still in surgery and that it was going well. It was at this point I think I passed out in the chair, probably from sheer exhaustion. I guess I got about an hour of sleep before someone came in to tell me she was out so I packed our things and headed to C-section recovery. I cannot describe how I felt when I finally saw her. After hours of worrying that I would never see her again, she was there, still too pale, and groggy, but she was there. I felt like I could finally breathe again.
We were in that room for hours. My pillow was the metal railing of her gurney. The room was bright and loud with people constantly checking on her. I eventually headed downstairs to make phone calls to the family. The call I dreaded the worst was to her father. How was I going to tell him what the hell just happened to his daughter? That’s rough news to take and on the phone no less.
By the time we actually got to the recovery room, it was difficult to sleep. We were finally reunited with Daphne, but Emily was not out of the woods. Ordered to bed-rest, I had to take charge in caring for Daphne. Diaper changes, rocking her to sleep, setting Emily up to breast-feed, putting her down, it all fell on me, and I wouldn’t have changed that for anything. I felt like it was my chance to connect with my daughter during a time period where most fathers feel ‘left out’. In all this time, I never lost sight of Emily’s blood-oxygen and pulse meter; which was the constant monitor that the nurses were judging her recovery by. I switched the orientation of my bed so that I could fall asleep staring at it
By Saturday morning we knew we were being discharged. Most couples I talk to feel nervous to be going home with their first baby but I couldn’t wait to get out of there. After five days and Emily finally out of the woods, I felt the only way life could get back to normal again would be to get home, and home we went. Emily’s recovery was slow, and it took her weeks to regain her strength and normal color (yes, it is difficult to imagine her any paler than she already is). But we are a family now and everyone is healthy and happy. Scary stuff, but it does make you realize all the things that are really important in life.