Coaching without fear

Something stood out from an article on the Birth Without Fear site that Sadie sent me earlier tonight:

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 Mrs. BWF, but I never realized I needed someone there to support me.

Sadie has covered in detail the events of Pearson’s birth, and how its effected her. When it comes to moms recovering from traumatic deliveries, there is an abundance of literature, support mechanisms, and well wishers out there. There were many people who were looking out for postpartum depression in her.

But did anyone ever stop to ask how it effected me?

I was there through the entire pregnancy (from the start, technically) and attended every prenatal appointment and test. I was there to research and interview all the midwives and doulas we considered. From the moment Sadie went into labor, I was there for the long haul. That is, up until the very end, when we were forcibly removed from each other.

At the point during the delivery where it became apparent that our natural birth plan wasn’t going to happen, I had been mentally preparing myself for what I thought would happen next. We knew Sadie would be put under because it was past the point of doing anything else. The nurses handed me my scrubs and told me to suit up. Unbeknown to me, there was some controversy as to where I’d be during this process. I assumed it would be right by her side. Sadie was wheeled down to the OR to be prepared for surgery, and I put on my uniform. I was nervous but excited that my son would soon be here. The nurse came back to the room and we started walking down the hall. That’s when she dropped the bomb:

You’ll need to say goodbye to her, and then we’ll come back down and get you.

What?!

By the time I got into the OR, Sadie already knew. I started to cry, and then we were separated. At first I thought I’d watch from behind the operating room windows, but then they shuffled me out and then I was back in the original delivery room.

Saying I had trouble breathing would be a massive understatement. It was as if suddenly, there wasn’t enough oxygen on the planet to sustain me.

I sad on the edge of the birthing tub, and I waited. Crying. Terrified. Furious. The entire pregnancy I’d focused on the process of eventually getting my son out. I was the coach. Through the labor I was the one my wife leaned on through the contractions. I was prepared to be there at that moment, to fight our midwife to catch that kid when he came sliding out. It was my job to be in that room at that moment he emerged, regardless of how… and I wasn’t.

At that moment, it was as if I had my identity ripped from me. What I’d setup to define that moment, and myself as a man, vanished.

Eventually a nurse came past the room to announce that they’d pulled a crying baby boy out of my wife. Eventually I got back down to the operating room and saw Sadie’s insides outside of her, and looked over as they were cleaning off a screaming Pearson. There, in that panic, is a moment I will never forget where I spoke to my son and he stopped crying to turn to look at me. It was awesome.

Awesome is a word that gets misused and abused. That was an awesome moment. For me, it was the moment he was born.

But even as I stood there in that moment, I was still furious. I’d missed something, something that would have been just as awesome. I’d missed the moment I’d waited for, that we’d planned for. I missed something I will never have a chance to experience again. The moment our first child came into the world.

Even as my parents and in-laws arrived at the hospital, in the joyous moment of them meeting their grandson, I was angry.

Everything had come down around us. The entire plan was destroyed. And destroyed not just in a way that we didn’t get exactly what we wanted. In a way that neither of us got to experience the most important part of the entire process. We’d both been cheated out of it. Her, by virtue of the decisions we’d made through the process to do a fully natural delivery, but me… by the decision of the anesthesiologist.

You see, there was no other reason why I was to be excluded from this moment, except for the arbitrary decision of one man.

For the rest of the time in the hospital, my wife and son were very well cared for. But no one really was watching out for me. I was physically exhausted, but more importantly, I was mentally exhausted. Everyone paid close attention to my wife and her care, but no one really stopped to find out how I was doing.

As I sat there on the horribly uncomfortable Dad’s Bed in the hospital room, I contemplated the events of the last 36 hours. At that moment, I wanted to find the man responsible for my pain and beat him to a lifeless pulp. It’s fair to say I probably wanted to kill that anesthesiologist.

I realize he doesn’t feel like he did anything wrong. It was just another day at the office for him. He probably never had a second thought about his decision. He came to work that day, put my wife under, had lunch, and then made similar decisions the rest of the day. He probably washed up, went home and ate dinner and had no problem sleeping. Not me. Here I was living on the flip side of his decision.

Living with the pain.

Sure people made the obligatory “how are you holding up, dad?” (usually followed by a big smile.) But no health care professional, family member, or friend ever pulled me aside and said “Are you OK?” They all made a point of making sure I monitored my wife for signs of trouble. But who was monitoring me?

No doubt that the trauma that Sadie endured was significant. And don’t for a moment let me make you think that mine is as significant. I also realize that there are dads and families that have had far more significant trauma. Pearson is healthy. That’s important, but it’s not the only important thing. The pain, the emptiness, the darkness, from those memories, are still there. I live with PTSD.

There is no support group for dads, like there is for moms. We’re expected to man up and move on. But what if you can’t? How do you deal with that?

What if the thought of your wife being put back into that situation, of having to deal with that pain again, is so much that you don’t even want to consider the thought of getting pregnant again? On January 18, 2012, I wasn’t afraid of becoming a dad, of birth, I was excited. I welcomed it. That’s not the case since January 19.

I had no fear. Now, I have nothing but fear.