We spoke to ten husbands/male partners, and one lesbian partner, of women who experienced a life threatening condition in childbirth or shortly afterwards. Partly, this was to help fill in the gaps of their partners’ experiences, as the women are often unconscious for many hours or days during the emergency. But we also wanted to understand men’s experiences of nearly losing their partner and baby, and how they were treated and supported in the hospital. Women themselves also told us what they knew of how it had affected their partner, and how frightening and traumatic it could be.
Natalie is a software consultant. She is married with one son. White British.
My husband’s very contained. He’s very, he contains his emotions very, very well and he did that very much when it was happening. So I would never have known. He wasn’t freaking out, he wasn’t panicking, he was being calm, he was keeping me calm. He was very comforting, he was very reassuring. And I think that’s his way of dealing with the situation. I don’t think he allowed himself to think about what was going on at the time. And I think it was only afterwards when we were in the recovery room, that the emotions overcame him, and he just thought, he just thought he was going to lose me, and he was like, what would I have done? And he was terribly upset by what had happened and what he’d seen. And overjoyed at the same time that, you know, his son was here. So I think it was a whole range of experiences, emotions going through him at that time. But he’s since confessed, in that birth thing, birth story, he did say that he had a weird feeling that something was going to happen and that towards the later stage of my pregnancy, he had actually been distancing himself from the pregnancy and me to some degree because he didn’t, he was almost afraid to become attached because he had some weird feelings something was going to happen.
Age at interview:
Age at diagnosis:
Kerry is a receptionist. She has three children and lives with her partner. White British.
Do you think he’s…. how do you think the actual experience has affected him? Does he carry that with him still do you think?
I think he does yes. Like I say he’s a real closed book. He plays everything down but that day, when I got rushed in. He just got there, and obviously I think he… I was in the theatre room, I think I’d had the epidural and everything by the time he got there, and he was in the, all the blues, so I think he was planning on coming in, and then I just remember him walking in, and him just walking straight, like walking backwards out the door. And he’s hand on his mouth, and I don’t know if he’s seen the blood and he’s just freaked out. I think he feels guilty about that as well, but I know [partner] and he doesn’t do blood… he’s… And I just remember coming back out into the recovery room and he was, he was crying, he was red. He was on his own, his hand was in his head. He was pasting the room, and as soon as I come out I just remember him grabbing hold of me, and he said, “I thought you were dead, I thought you were dead, I didn’t see the baby, they just whipped him off. I didn’t know whether to go down there or stay with you. I didn’t know whether you was all right. No one’s come to tell me if you’re all right. So I didn’t want to”…And I think he was, he was all over with it. But…
So no one went out to tell him then?
No. He was left on his own in the recovery room. So he didn’t… I remember saying he didn’t know whether to go with the baby or whether to stay there. He didn’t know, he said, “I know that obviously my sister was with me, and she’s brilliant.” But he didn’t know whether, you know, do I go down there. Like is my girlfriend all right? He said, “There was no one around to ask, everyone was in there.”
The men we spoke to told us of their experiences of their wives’ labours and the start of the emergency. For some, there was a long build up before things started to go wrong. Simon described feeling “impotent” as his wife was in labour, “going through something as intense as that, and as uncomfortable as that, as unpleasant and painful as that”.
Simon, a 35 year old marketing manager, is married with one daughter. White British.
And that was the first real stage of you know, going through into the scrubs, gown, and you have that first sense of crap. You know, it’s ludicrous, but you kind of watch the Casualties and the ER’s and you have the episode where it goes terribly wrong and everything’s fine as far as I could… and you have like that kind of feeling of, it’s not going to, but at the same time, crap.
So then it got into scrubs, and also I mean at that stage for me, the, apart from, well there’s not much you can do throughout but I had not been in that situation before, something quite as stressful as that, or in terms of just stupid things like theatre and blood and [Hannah]’s blood at that. And so again there was just that of fear of I’m going to balls it up. You know, hopefully I’m going to be okay, because I don’t want to let [Hannah] down.
But you know, so we kind of went through theatre, [Hannah] was wheeled through, and [Hannah] was then worried understandably because that was started to conform, not conform, to her, it’s like fears beforehand. And we went in a strange and alien environment. It’s not one you want to be in, it’s a bit strange, and lots of people buzzing around and doing things, and kind of standing next to [Hannah], and they put the anaesthetic in and basically I was then staying up [Hannah]’s end of the screening and all sorts of things.
Again they tried to do the Ventouse, very physical thing, a surprisingly physical thing. You see people really physically attacking your wife. So that’s quite strange to see. And I expected things to be, I mean birth is not a delicate operation, but seeing a guy straining away, like… and yes, that wasn’t working.
And so again there was sense of okay, right tick, tick, tick, definitely done the right… and they decided not to do a Ventouse, they just said, “Right okay, we’re going to get this baby out.” So it was suddenly going to be a Caesarean, which again was something we hadn’t wanted. And that’s really when things started to going properly tits up and yeah, so they started cutting and she, I mean at that stage, you know, originally kind of okay, fine, that’s a very quick ending. You know, fine, okay, that’s not really what we wanted, but there’s not much that can go wrong with that. You take out the baby.
And then it did start to go wrong, and you know, they were struggling and then I think [daughter] came out, I remember [daughter] being huge. She was a big baby, she was like nine four or whatever, but I remember being quite shocked at that. At just how big she was. And then kind of I went across and briefly went to see her, and then you started to hear a few things back from back from [Hannah]’s side and from the doctors.
And then I mean in terms of the order things went wrong in I can’t quite remember, but I remember [Hannah] starting to get concerned about feeling, you know, her, her sensation coming back, which is grim. Considering, you know, how she was, thinking how she was cut open on the table, and they started to say you know, I think [Hannah] copes better than I do, in terms of like the urology or neurology and get, this kind of stuff going on.
And that’s pretty much where they kind of went, “No, go, go, out.” And please to go and take the baby and… I was asked to leave and had to go and wait with [daughter]… and again it was like they were just going to do some tidying up. Fine, and being like half an hour or an hour, but they just needed to, you know, to stitch her up and just to stitch [Hannah] up, and, but by that stage I real
Age at interview:
Simon, a 35 year old marketing manager, is married with one daughter. White British.
So I tried to go back through to the wards, the operating room. I just asked for some kind of update, and again the guy said, “Oh sorry, you know, you can’t, there’ve been a, there’ve been a few complications but everything’s fine.” And of course, by that stage, the everything fine message isn’t entirely believed. Not necessarily that they’re lying, but it just carries no weight in terms of emotional reassurance by that stage. Because everything should have been fine all the way along, but you know.
But anyway so I went back to wait some long, some more. And then after, I don’t know how long. You know, it’s one of those things, actually, now, you kind of think it will be totally like burned on your brain, and it’s not. But after ever so many kind of hours it was, one of the guys came through down, the anaesthetist I think it was, the anaesthetist came through and kind of said, well I mean, the good news is that [Hannah] was okay, [Hannah] was, you know, all right. But then that she’d had, she’d had various complications and had been taken up to intensive care. And they’d had to regulate her blood gases and so therefore she was on a vent. And, you know, I’d been able to go up and see her, in whatever it was, in a while.
And I was like, “Okay, okay thank you very much.” And that’s, that’s when I do remember actually being, getting, that’s like, you know, when it wells, just because she’s going to wake up on a vent, she’s going to wake up. That’s exactly what she was petrified of doing, and, and the image and experience that was so, you know, so much part of the bad experiences with her Mum, and that kind of stuff. And that’s what she was going to do, and she was going do it alone, because I wasn’t going to be there, and so I did kind of well at that.
And then it was just a case of wanting to see her, and, and, get the, get [daughter] to her, get the baby to her because you know, we’d always wanted as much as a natural birth as possible and the baby being Caesarean, feeding as soon as possible and all that kind of stuff. And so then, it just became a case of right I just want to see her as soon as I can, and go and get baby to her.
And again, I don’t know how much time I’m afraid went by, but we went up and saw her and she was kind of tubes here and there and... actually I was surprised in theatre and afterwards in intensive care that that didn’t bother me too much. I, you know, I wasn’t, I wasn’t aware how I’d be with that kind of stuff, but actually it just was what it was, and that was fine.
And she was actually okay, and by that stage I remember like, just in terms of talking about it before, you know, from that stage on basically my main emotion was kind of gratitude really that it had, you know, it had stopped. You know, it had got so far, and that was horrendous but the, she, you know, she was okay. [Hannah] was, you know, [Hannah] was okay. Not great, but she was alive. And [daughter] was alive and [Hannah] was alive and so yes, kind of gratitude at that and just kind of love and protection for [Hannah] really. Just that real sense of okay she’s gone through all this and I haven’t been able to anything else. You know, hopefully now I do get a chance to help her out and just try and protect her a bit from all of it.
For others, the emergency developed very quickly. Mark and his wife had rushed to hospital in an ambulance when she started bleeding. He tried to remain “calm” and “passive”. But once they arrived at the hospital, “all hell broke loose” and “I just watched what was going on. I had nothing to do. I was powerless, completely powerless.” Amy and Sally, lesbian partners, were both in the delivery suite when Amy started to haemorrhage. Sally was asked to leave the room. Other partners, such as John, were also left alone when the emergency was being managed, and said that in the rush of the emergency they were not given an explanation as to why they needed to leave, which had been very traumatic.
Mark is a research scientist, married with two children. White British.
And then we got there, and then all hell broke loose. And I got in first, and they told me, I went to get the lift, call the lift, and then they rushed her in, and we were upstairs in a flash into the room and as we got there, the what do I remember next? Being taken to a room and told to sit in the corner.
Then it was crash team time. The call was put out. And suddenly there were people flying into the room. I was still in this corner. I saw them pulling jewellery off and I think some, I forget what it was now, I was just told, and then I realised something was going horribly wrong.
And then I said, “Is the baby all right?” And one of the nurses turned to me and said, “Well his heart’s still being. His or her….” Not his, we didn’t know it was a he. “The baby’s heart’s still beating.” And I thought, “Oh right.”
What happened then? I just watched what was going on. I had nothing to do. I was powerless, completely powerless. But I knew that if, I knew that I couldn’t do anything, and I did have, I suppose I put my faith in that moment, into [wife]’s ability to get through it. And the crash team’s ability to deal with it.
And then she was off. And I was just told to sit there and wait. The room was emptied, there was nothing in there but a chair and whatever was fixed to the walls. So I just sat there and waited.
And then a little while later, and I don’t think it was minutes later. It must have been a few minutes later, a nurse came in, and said, “It’s a boy. And he scored 9 on the APGAR scale.” And I was like, “I’m sorry” [laughs]. I didn’t even know what an APGAR scale was. I didn’t know if that was good or bad. And she, “Don’t worry it wasn’t a ten, hardly any of them get to ten.” And so I said, “All right.” And then she disappeared.
And I sat there a little while longer and then I remember getting and walking out. It must have been an hour later, I don’t know. I lost track of time, but I thought maybe it was an hour later. I walked out and found the theatre, and I saw. As I was still outside they brought a trolley out, it was an incubator, and I looked thinking is he in there, and he wasn’t and I thought. Where the hell is this baby? And I looked through the doors and I could see you lying on the table, and something which I presume was the placenta in the tray. Still no sign of the baby.
And then I went back to the room and eventually the nurse, or midwife came back and had the baby, [son], in her arms, and she handed him over to me, and I said, “How do you hold a baby.” Because I just realised then, I’d never actually held a new born baby and I just held onto him. Got a bit emotional and then waited for them to wheel [wife] out into recovery. It must have been ages. I don’t know how long it took, but it was a while. And then I brought [son] in, and said, “Here’s [son].”
And at some point while we were there, the obstetrician I guess, came in and said that you’d given consent, you were drugged up at that point, to having the emergency caesarean. You were on a drip and having blood pumped back into you and I remember being slightly surprised at the amount of blood that had been lost as the units went in. And, there we were just with little else to do except watch and wait for things to sort of calm down I suppose.
Age at interview:
Age at diagnosis:
Sally is a prison governor. She and her partner Amy were expecting their first child. White British.
Amy' Because it was the blood vessel as well as just the kind of, the uterus bleeding. So I suppose they were trying to find the source of the bleeding, but I don’t really …
Sally' No, I mean I remember the anaesthetist was…
Amy' She was great.
Sally' She was absolutely she was really calm.
Amy' And she was very assertive with them.
Sally' She was very assertive with the team so when Amy started to kind of come unresponsive and I was like “what the hell’s going on?” She was, you know, this is normal, she’s got pain relief. And she didn’t want to panic, but she was really clear with them about, “You’ve got to stop this now, you’ve got to stop the bleeding and get her sewn up.” You know, they put a drain in so if there was any kind of, so they could check.
Amy' They did turf you out.
Sally' Yes, she took control. But then I started to get quite upset because obviously Amy was kind of. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I didn’t know. You know, all I knew was suddenly the room was full of people. You know, absolutely rightly no one was talking to me about what was going on apart from the anaesthetist and so they said, “Perhaps you should leave.”
And of course, I think whilst they say that that’s probably the right thing for me to do, but of course I was starting to think, well why are you asking me to leave? What the hell is going on?
So I took, the midwife that had been with us, put [daughter] in the kind of cot, incubator thing and she was fine throughout. She was, she was kind of, they weren’t at all worried about her, or anything. And I kind of sat in the corridor. You know, just outside while they gave you a blood transfusion. While they were giving her blood, and but in the meantime Amy’s Mum who sat in the kind of reception area could hear them ordering blood for someone and knew… Because we’d been in there a couple of hours by this point. You were in theatre for almost three hours.
Amy' Three and a bit hours yes.
Sally' And she was, they kind of were talking about this thing going on and she sat there, so nobody had kind of gone to her and said, so she knew her daughter was in trouble you know, and that was, I think from her point of view she found that quite difficult.
Amy' Yes, I think they just forgot I suppose. You know, when they’re busy and stuff they sort of forget that there might be a relative or someone sat there and they were all, she was sat right by in the sort of nurse’s station or whatever they call it, so …
Sally' She used to be a nurse and it didn’t help because she understood a lot of the terminology that they were using [laughs]. So…
Amy' And then I think, and then I don’t really, I sort of vaguely remember being transferred onto a trolley and saying to them, “Just leave me alone.” I remember getting quite cross with them. I was like, “Stop touching me. Just go away and leave me alone.” And then being taken to the high dependency unit.
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John, a postal worker, has one daughter with his partner. White British.
And then [name] went as pale as you can imagine. It was like a ghost, and I thought, what’s up with her? I said, “Are you feeling all right?” You said, “No, I’m feeling bit dizzy.” And then your head fell back a bit. I said, “What’s up with her?” Then they pushed me out the way, they done a few bits of work, and then they said, “Right get her to theatre.” So there was this massive rush, alarms going everywhere, rush, shooting off and everything and they said, “Well you stay there.” And I’m thinking, what’s going on, you know, no one was telling me.
And this is the bit I don’t like telling [name], is I was left there with blood everywhere, all over me, all over the floor, and they left me there for about three to four hours before…
About four hours. I can’t be exactly sure, but I’m sure it was about four hours and then they come back and they said, “Right [name]’s had a major bleed we didn’t have to take the womb, and you can go and see her in a minute.”
So I thought, oh God, it’s all over and done with then. So, by then they had just brought [daughter] back in to see me, and they said I could go into resus. So I went in there to see [name], and I said, “Cor, you gave us all a shock.” And we had a little chat. And suddenly it all happened again.
While you were there?
Yes, yes, I was in resus. I said, “What’s going on? She’s going the same colour as what she did?” It was just like a, this really horrible grey colour. And I said what’s going on. They said, “Oh God, she’s bleeding again, she’s bleed again.” So they took her to the other side of the room literally, to where the operating theatre was, and then that’s when I could hear [name] saying, “Look, get him out, get him out.” I thought oh God, what’s going on? So they pushed me out the door and obviously they didn’t have time, chance to say anything. So I was sort of left wandering around the hospital for another two or three hours. And then they said, “Right, we think we’ve stopped the bleeding now. Do you want to come and see her? I said, “Yes, fine, okay then.”
So when I went back to see her, suddenly they said, “Look, before you go in there, we’ve got to warn you about all these pipes, and everything.” And I went, “Yes, yes, no problem.” I’ve seen Casualty, no problem. So I walked in there for the biggest shock of my life. She had a pipe out of every single hole of her body, every hole, and then she had these like, what I call like, swimming pool airbeds all over her, which was to keep her body temperature and it was such a shock to see her. I couldn’t actually get right to her, because there were so many machines around. And that’s when I fell apart. I did fall apart then, and they put into a waiting room, to take her up to intensive care. And then they said, “Right she’s all fine now and everything. What you need to do is go and get some sleep.” So I said, “Right, okay.”
So I drove home. The second I drove home, I phoned the hospital up again, they said, “Yes, she’s fine, she’s awake and she’s feeding [daughter].” I thought oh that’s amazing. Anyway I put the phone down, put the kettle on to make a cup of tea. Phone went again. “Look [name] has just another major bleed. We don’t know what’s going. You’re going to have to phone next of kin and get here as quickly as possible, because we don’t know if she&
Sarah was in intensive care after she haemorrhaged. She described how her husband, found it “very hard to cope with the fact that the nurses brought him in and he had to say goodbye before they transferred me, when I was sort of in this coma. And it was a complete shock to him, he had no idea that this could happen… he was so unprepared.”
Rob is now a house-husband, and lives with his wife and three daughters. White British.
So her Dad came down with us, you know, and she kept saying, you know, and she kept saying, she said stuff, and you know, and she was saying goodbye and all this. And I’m like, here don’t be bloody daft you know. You know, I was worried, you know, I’m not, I wasn’t like. I wasn’t oblivious to the fact that there wasn’t, you know, that it wasn’t going to be complicated, you know, I wasn’t going in, oh yes, it’s lovely …. You know, I knew some fact it was potentially going to happen, but you know, nothing, nothing prepared.
But because obviously I wasn’t thinking that it could be as bad as that, bearing in mind how quickly they’d, the other two had gone, about ten, eleven minutes or whatever. Start to finish. I think half an hour had gone by and no-one had come out and I didn’t even, I wasn’t even worried. Because I though well obviously you’ve got this grade four. You know, I’ve never seen a placenta. I don’t know, you know, it might be quite tough to get through. And he might have to tie up some vessels. Who knows what? You know.
So I didn’t worry, and then, and then it got to an hour she’d been in there, and I still hadn’t seen anybody. Because I was in like recovery. Pacing up and down. And so then after about an hour I was getting worried then, and you know, and I lie, I had seen a couple of nurses come in, “How are you, blah, blah, blah.” I said, “How’s things?” “Oh yes, it’s going all right. A few complications.” You know, but again that sort of made me think, well that’s of what we expected anyway so.
Yes, then it got to an hour and I started to get a bit twitchy with an hour, you know, because I hadn’t had any real information. You know, saying there’s been a few complications, but you know, that’s not telling me anything is it, not really. .So, and then so it was an hour, may be an hour and ten, twenty, whatever. It had just gone over the hour and then a bloody nurse and a doctor came pounding into the room, and they was white, they was white. And I remember they were stood there and they both come up to me, and the nurse kind of come and stood next to me, all a little bit too close. I don’t like people standing too close to me. So she got in my zone and I wasn’t comfortable with that. And then they were both pale, you know, and he said, “ Something to ask you, I’ve got something to ask you Mr [name].” I said, “Well, what is it?” He says, “Yes, we’ve had some complications.” “Oh yeah.” You know. “And… baby’s all right, but we’re going to have to give your wife a hysterectomy. Because we can’t stop the bleeding.” With that the nurse touched me and so I kind of … you know, no thanks. “But we are going to have to do a hysterectomy to stop the bleeding, because we can’t stop it.” And I remember as clear as day, I said, “Well what you are stood here for then. Just go, just go and do it.” You know, he said, “Well we have to ask your permission…” I said, “Stop talking to me.” Do you know, none of this “We have to ask your permission.” You know, “Yes, I can understand why, you don’t want me suing you afterwards for doing it, when I didn’t say. But for goodness, sake, you know, if you know, if you’ve got to stop her bleeding, you just whip it out don’t you?”
So he came to ask my permission to do it. And I thought you know, the first bit of information I’ve had is a guy asking me if he can do… So I just said, “Why are you talking to me, just go and do it.&
Age at interview:
Age at diagnosis:
Rob is now a house-husband, and lives with his wife and three daughters. White British.
But my wife’s care on the other hand couldn’t have been any further from it, you know, so. So blimey. So I went back down in the end. Well when I say in the end I was upstairs for a bit, and then I went down to find out what was going on. And that moment was the beginning of the end. Because further down the line, jump a bit, I did have a breakdown, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, which prior to having it, I didn’t actually believe was a real thing. You know, and I had depression as well and agoraphobia. A few little things you know.
But, but the… but the beginning of the end, you know, the beginning of that coming, was when I went back down to see, and find out what was going on, they said, well they’d finished everything they could do here, they’d got to take her over to Intensive Care. Because they just haven’t got the facilities that they need here, and they just can’t… They managed to stop the bleeding but they had to ring a surgeon who was in surgery, in the main hospital, get him out of that surgery and get him over here to sort my wife out and he used some special packing stuff which they use on the battle front, some special stuff to stop the soldiers bleeding. I don’t know what it’s made from, but that’s what they used on my wife, because they said it was like, you know, like a gun wound or whatever, you know, the bleeding, they couldn’t stop. So they did this stuff with this surgeon who was, you know, they called him out of another operation to come over. So that again told me you know, how serious, you know, again thinking back to all the conversations, we don’t induce women just because they’re tired. You know, we’re not doing that for this, you know. We’ll let you go two weeks overdue, and here I am getting all this news. Do you know what I mean?
Two weeks, if, you know, two weeks over, we asked about two or three weeks before, you know, five weeks ago, all this could have been prevented, you know, however much the placenta grew in, five weeks is a long time in baby growth. Because [name] had even had the injection to make her lungs ready to be born before the due date, they had even done that, and the doctor still said, “No.”
You know, so I was thinking five, you know, we could have, we didn’t even need, we didn’t even need to be here, didn’t need to be here at all. So anyway…. and then they said, “Do you want to go and see her, before we get the ambulance to take her over?” And I said, “Yes.”
And then it came [laughs], the nurse said, “Right you can come in but bear in mind she’s got lots of wires and tubes and things. So obviously because she’s had this emergency surgery. And when you go in there,” she said. “Just remember that the hearing is the last thing to go.” And then shut the door behind me.
And I’m in the room alone and this nurse just said, “The hearing is the last thing to go.” You know, and… she had like, I would say about ten or fifteen wires in her. I mean she had about ten coming out of her neck, and machines and everything. And you know what I mean, it’s just, you know, it doesn’t look nothing like it does in Casualty. Do you know what I mean? [Laughs]. No. But honestly it was horrific, absolutely horrific. And… and I couldn’t speak, not a word came out, not anything. I stood there just dumbstruck at what I was looking at. You know, my beautiful wife just, you know, dead. Because of the nurse, you know, hearing is the last thing to go. You know, what else are you going to, what else are you going to think, you know. And she wasn’t dead, thank goodness. But
Dean’s wife had amniotic fluid embolism (AFE), a very rare complication of pregnancy in which amniotic fluid, fetal skin or other cells enter the woman’s blood stream and trigger an allergic reaction, and was critically ill. He described going down to see her in the Intensive Care Unit. It was like a “space ship” – “she was like on the bed and it looked like a hundred doctors around her and she was swollen… and I just took one look and I just come back out because I couldn’t face seeing her like that.” Not knowing whether their wives were alive or dead, as Simon said, “Fearing the worst”, was very distressing. Craig was also very upset by seeing his wife in Intensive Care.
Craig is a software engineer, married with twins. White British.
So you were telling me about going over to see her in the Intensive Care.
Yes, so I walked in, and there was a young nurse and she was playing around with [wife]’s hand. All I saw was tubes out of [wife] and, and I was trying to understand what was going on, and they were taking her rings off her fingers. Or trying to. I was trying not to be hurt about it. Because nobody explained why they were taking the rings off. And I was thinking, is this it? What’s going on?
And then some head of turned up and there was a bed and I was standing on one side and they were like surrounded on the other side. And they said, “Oh have you got any questions?” And then I just stood there, and I was saying to them, “What went on? What, what brought us to this?” And they’re saying, “Oh it’s only a little problem. It was only this. It was only that.” And I’m, do you know, when they’re talking and you’re not hearing, because I was trying to stop myself thinking bad things and trying to listen what they were saying. I just couldn’t understand what they were saying to me, and I remember they spoke for about two minutes each, and then said, “Oh if you’ve got any other questions, just ask for us.”
And then they, they went off. I just stood there. I just, I honest to God couldn’t understand how we got from a joyful experience, having children, being induced, I don’t know if that’s enjoyable for [wife], but, for me, it’s sort of bringing new life in the world. It was a thing to be, you know, in amazement to, and this sounds awful, but I don’t care about the children, what about my wife? You know. You know.
And all going through my mind was how am I going to cope without [wife]? Because I actually thought she was dead. And they were, you know, just holding her on a life support machine until such time. Because nobody turned round and said, “Oh she’ll be okay shortly or…” And you know, and… I just stood there, probably for about an hour. Just stroking her hands.
And then a nice nurse came in and said, “I think it would be nice to take some pictures of the babies. We’ll put them around her bed. So you know, I’ll print them off and I’ll put them round the bed. With your permission. Would you like to come and see your children, and take some pictures.” I went, “Yes. Yes. I think so.”
So we took some pictures and put them on the bed, at the end of her bed so when she, when she woke up, she’d see them. And of course I thought they were just doing for, you know, some other reason. And I can’t even remember what the reason was, because for me [wife] was in major trouble. You know, it’s awful.
Several men described the support they had during the emergency from either relatives or medical staff. Simon was glad he had his Mum there, Sarah made sure her father was with her husband, during her operation, and Alison described how staff made sure her husband had someone with him. Small acts of support from medical staff during the emergency could really help men cope.
Mike and his wife, Joanna (Interview 07), lost their baby after an internal haemorrhage. His wife begged him not to leave her, and so he refused to leave her side. The anaesthetist put her arm around him when he was holding his stillborn baby and his wife – a simple act but one which made a difference to him.
Mike is a police officer, married with one daughter. His wife was expecting their second daughter. White British.
Terrifying to be honest. Because I knew that we’d lost our daughter, but I could tell, I was there for the Caesarean of our first daughter, and there were slight complications in that as well. But I knew the way Joanna was in that first operation, how she was deteriorating, and I could see it happening again. So I was just looking at Joanna really. You know, and although the hassle that was going on around us, I remember we were just kind of looking at each other weren’t we? I know Joanna was kind of saying quite a lot about looking after our first daughter and things like that.
The one thing she said to me was, “Don’t leave me.” And it was the anaesthetist consultant that came round and I said, “I’m coming in with you.” She was like, “Yes, that’s fine, that’s fine. It’s not a problem.” And then they kind prepped Joanna ready for theatre, and before we came out the anaesthetist wanted to speak to me. So she pulled me up. She said, “When I said you could come in, you are going to come in, but then you’re going out. So Joanna thinks you’re going to be there, but when she falls asleep you’re going to come out of the theatre.” And I remember my exact words to her were, “Then you’d better call security because nothing is going to drag me out of the theatre.” And she went, “All right, okay.” She said, “Well…” She said, “Well it’s not going to be very nice.” And I said, “I’m not leaving Joanna.” I said, “I’ve already lost my daughter. I’m not losing my wife.” And… it was a good five minutes or so, while they were just sort of getting a conversation between the consultants, and they agreed that I could come in, but they would put a big screen up. And I said, “I don’t really care what you do. I just want to be there for Joanna, because I couldn’t look her in the eyes, after it, and her saying, how was it and everything else. And also yes, I’ve lost my daughter. I know she’s no longer with us, but I didn’t like the idea of my daughter being born and no one being with her.”
So I kind of muscled my way in really and then, it was like, for a Caesarean really. My daughter was born. She was next to me. I was holding her. But at the same, because I could hear what was going on, knowing how poorly Joanna was, and it wasn’t until I was in that operation how close I was to losing her. Even they were surprised as to how much blood she’d lost. They didn’t have enough blood on standby, so you know, there was a massive kind of rush to get more blood in.
I, at some point in there, I obviously thought I’d be coming out of there and not only having to explain to my daughter that she hasn’t got a sister, but you know, she hasn’t got a mummy as well. And the realisation of it was just immense really. But as I say, the one person who took an interest there was that consultant anaesthetist. You know, I just remember this one kind of scene really. This one moment where I had my arm round Joanna. Obviously Joanna was out for the count, and I was holding my daughter, and I was just, you know, a mess basically and it was the anaesthetist who actually put her arm round me and she was stroking Joanna’s hair as well. I then ten minutes later we were out and it was kind of all changed. But the only thing I insisted as that my daughter stayed with us, and that was allowed. And she was kind of bathed and things like that, but again this was all when Joanna was asleep. And again that’s one of the things really that we’ll never ever get to experience really, is that one of those things where for our first daughter you did experience really,
Age at interview:
Age at diagnosis:
Michael is a website manager. He and his partner were expecting their first child. White Australian.
So at what point did you leave her, when she was put to sleep or …?
Yes. So I got dressed up in the blue outfit and got to go into the operating room and then stayed with her for… until about the point, you know, where she just sort of fell asleep and then I left and all the rest of the doctors all seemed to come in.
And there were a lot of doctors?
There seemed to be, yes, I was surprised, there seemed to be, when I left the room there seemed to be at least ten people in there, and I got the impression that you know, one or two more might be coming in as well, so I didn’t, that didn’t panic me, but I was sort of surprised that we needed to have that many doctors or medical staff in there for the actual operation.
And how long… where did you go during…?
I went back down the hallway to the preparation room that we’d been in for the previous four or five hours.
Okay and how long did you have to wait there?
It was probably, twenty, twenty five minutes and one of the doctors had come in and told me that everything was okay. He was a sweet old man, he’d offered to take a camera into the operating theatre to take some photos for the birth. So that was nice. So he came in, initially after may be 20 minutes and sort of said. “Everything seems to have gone okay.” And I think he brought me one photo. No he brought back my digital camera, that’s what he did. He brought back my digital camera so I got to have a look at a couple of photos of our boy on the back of the camera, and then, I think he went away again. And so I spent some time looking at those. He came back with a printed out photo of our boy. So I think they must have had another camera that they took a photo of, and then he went away again, and then he came back a third time. So this was probably getting close to 40 minutes after I’d left the operating room. He came 40 minutes later saying that there’s, the family down the hallway’s missing someone. So got to walk back down the hall way and went in to see my partner cuddling our baby boy. So…
Michael’s partner, Helen had HELLP syndrome (a combined liver and blood clotting disorder)and their baby was born early. He felt the communication from doctors during the emergency was very good, if overwhelming. “I think they did a wonderful job of trying to explain it in a way that a medical dummy like me could sort of understand things.” But other men we talked to did not feel the communication was good at all. Hannah said her husband, Simon, a couple of times “walked up to the doors and had been told to go away. I think that was just a horrible experience for him. He didn’t know anything, he thought I had died.” John felt he was not listened to during the early stages of his partner’s emergency, “a second class citizen”, and was left for three or four hours in the blood stained delivery suite before anyone came back to give him news. While it is difficult for staff to communicate when dealing with the emergency of saving their partner’s lives, when they did communicate with the father, it made a difference.
James is a counsellor. He lives with his partner and they were expecting their first daughter.
And then kind of being escorted out of the theatre with [daughter]. Was it [daughter], or was it one of those wheel along kind of things or… and me being taken to this room and being sat there with this nurse. And, it’s so funny, because this would have been really clear at one time. I just remember being in this room and then someone, I can’t even remember if it was the consultant or not. For some reason in my head, I’ve got a bloke and a woman both coming in and talking to me, and it might have been that a nurse came in and then the consultant. There was a female came in. Kind of saying a bit of what the problem was. I don’t remember what, what they said the problem, but I can remember me saying, I remember it being kind of you know, very vague medical speak, and I actually had to say at the end, “So there’s a chance she won’t make it?” I think I just wanted a meat and potatoes kind of conversation. I didn’t want some fancy words. I kind of, “What, so there’s a chance she won’t make it?” And, and they actually said, “Yes.” I can’t remember if I said, “What is the chance… the situation.” I remember, I mean my head, sort of it was 50/50 as if that was kind of what I’d been told. That wasn’t something I had worked out, because I didn’t have enough information for that, so I think they would have said, it’s sort of 50/50. But that, that information only came because I’ve asked for it.
Rob was horrified when he went to see his wife that the nurses implied she was dying; they told him she might be able to hear him because they said, “The hearing is the last thing to go”. When he went in to see her in the Intensive Care Unit, “I stood there just dumbstruck at what I was looking at. You know my beautiful wife, just you know, dead… you know what else are you going to think?” Mandy, who had a hysterectomy after developing acute fatty liver, also felt that communication with her husband could have been better. “So from the father’s point of view quite traumatic, and again you know, probably could have been handled better by myself, and the midwives and the staff, in that he should have been pulled aside and just said, ’look you know this could potentially be quite tricky.’” (For more see ‘Communication with health professional’).
The other aspect of the emergency that men found difficult was dealing with their newborn baby (see ‘Contact with newborn baby and bonding’ and ‘Baby in neonatal unit (NICU)’). For some there was the shock of discovering that their baby was ill and needed to be in neo-natal intensive care. But for others, there was the challenge of looking after their newborn while their mother was seriously ill. Men had different experiences in different hospitals. For Simon it was a frustration. He was not allowed to take his daughter home. She was looked after in the midwives’ station. John was not allowed to take his daughter home either, but he did care for her in the hospital. “I had a few days of intensive training on nappy changing and bathing and things… It was quite hard doing all that with no sleep.” James was allowed to take his new daughter home while his partner remained in hospital.
James is a counsellor. He lives with his partner and they were expecting their first daughter.
Yes, but it was a really sudden thing because they suddenly decided for [partner] to go into this isolation ward and they said, I was like, “Well what happens with [daughter]?” And they said, “Well she’ll go back down to the child thing.” And then suddenly they kind of said, “No she can’t go in there.” I think it turned out that there wasn’t room, but they also said, “It’s dangerous her being there, because she might catch something being in there.” I wasn’t sure if that was an excuse because they just didn’t have the capacity. But I remember within about half an hour they said, “You’re leaving the hospital.” And I remember thinking well I don’t even possess a bottle, or any milk, and I actually had to go out from the hospital and go to like one of these crummy little, you know, like a Tesco Metro thing and they happened to have some baby milk in, and then I had to go like to some other crummy little chemist. It wasn’t a main chemist or anything, and trying to like looking to see if they’d got any bottles and then got some bottles.
And I rang up a friend, and I kind of said, yes, because like my partner’s sisters were on sort of standby but they, you know, they, they live hours away, you know. Because I remember ringing my friend and I can’t remember if may be I had texted him over time, like sort of let him know what had happened, but I kind of said to him. I mean he’s got three children, and I remember saying to him, “I’m going to come home. I’ve not slept probably for three days, you know. My partners sisters are coming over tomorrow to kind of help look after her. Can you come to my house tonight to sort of do the night shift, you know, because I’m, I’m absolutely done in. You know, I can remember just having an almost. I remember taking sort of paracetamol every four hours because I just had a headache just from lack of sleep. So basically I bought this stuff.
My brother had visited and was in the hospital. I remember him helping me, you know, get [daughter] into the car. And then there was this weird journey. Because [daughter] had started to cry a bit in the car, because I think she was a bit hungry and I just thought oh God, I’m just going to get home, you know, and when I get there I can feed her and whatever, but I mean I’m just going to get home, you know. And, you know, just set off, and there was this journey with this child sort of intermittently crying and me sort of thinking oh God, you know, I hope I can park outside my house, because living in London that was a bit of nightmare and just managing to get home, get all the stuff in the house and then after about ten minutes my friend sort of turned up and it was you know, at least interesting to know that he’d got a lot of childcare experience and stuff and you know, there was this real mixture because I was, I was shattered. Obviously when my friend turned up, I partly felt obliged to talk to him. I just wanted to go to bed I think.
And also you know, when we’re together, we’re usually quite jovial, so there was kind of the, and he was also saying his wife thought it was quite amusing that there were these two men sort of looking after a new born baby, you know, in the house together and you know, we had a bit of a laugh and a joke while I was also shattered and everything, you know. And he sort of did the night shift, looking after [daughter] [laughs].
Age at interview:
Dean is a sheet metal worker. He is married with 5 children. White British.
And then I decided to take a walk down the corridor and go and see [daughter], you know, and she was pretty good. She was really good actually. I didn’t pick her up, actually, I didn’t want to pick her up. Not because I didn’t want to. It’s because they look so small, they’ve got tubes sticking out of them and little hat on all that shit on. And obviously I was touching her through the holes and everything.
But I wanted to get into a routine. So I was basically spending two or three hours with [daughter], back up at the hospital, back up the corridor to Intensive Care and just back and forth. They found me somewhere to sleep in Intensive Care obviously then. Because they were refurbishing the ward, what do you all it, where all the parents stay, or whatever they’re called. In the special care baby unit, I had a bed there. You know, and they were feeding me. They were looking after me. Letting me have showers, you know, it was great. It really was good.
I made friends with basically the whole hospital. And they found me like, not park benches, but somewhere no one comes down here. You know, you get some kip for a couple of hours. I was a vagrant, bags and everything. And like bags of food, they used to give me papers in the morning, you know. And they looked after obviously [wife].
And two days after [daughter] was born, and [wife] obviously had that, obviously the loss of blood and everything, she had to go back in and have another operation to remove the packing.
And to me that was worse, because they had to re-open, and because they had to re-open her, what they had to do was basically thicken her blood again, which is dangerous, because obviously that causes clots, you know, so that was that was really, really bad and that was 8 o’clock in the morning she was, she was going down for that. So my brother in law, [brother in law], with me, he turned up, we had something to drink, but I didn’t have something to drink,, and we waited for an hour and a half, [name],obviously she was the anaesthetist, she turned up and said she was perfect, she was good. They said they was a little bit worried because obviously they had opening her up, if it had been like a normal blood, and they obviously had to thicken it up a little bit, you know. Because Warfarin obviously thins your blood.
So she’s had some cuts herself, and it doesn’t stop bleeding. You know, so, yes, so.
Did they explain all that to you, all about the blood clotting and stuff, what was going on or did you …?
They explained quite clearly.
She was in Intensive Care.
You know, and that Intensive Care was something else. It’s like I said to you, it’s like a space ship. There was someone at the bed, or at the end of the bed all the time. And obviously buttons and God knows what else is behind her. They was just great people. They were just amazing people. That is the best hospital of all. It is, not just, obviously they saved [daughter], which I didn’t know until ten days later, that they’d kept from me, was that she was actually born with septicaemia.
I did ask questions after a few hours, why did she have like a drip in her arm. And they said, “That’s just normal standard practice, if they come in Intensive Care.” Which it probably is, but
Men (and lesbian partner) we talked to described how hard it was being pulled in two directions – joy at the arrival of their new baby and terrible fear for the health of the mother. James said, “I was very aware that kind of my head was being pulled in two different directions at the same time. Because there was this kind of, I’d got this daughter, I’d also got this unconscious partner.”
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