Conditions that threaten women’s lives in childbirth & pregnancy

Father's/partner's emotional recovery

We spoke to eleven partners or husbands of women who had had a severe obstetric emergency in childbirth – ten men and one same sex partner. We asked them about how they were affected by their partners’ near death experiences, and what their emotional recovery had been like. When talking about her husband, Alison T explained, “it was a very difficult time for him, obviously differently difficult compared to how it was for me… I think it was very hard for him, knowing that he could have gone into hospital and come home with a child, but have lost a wife.”
The people we spoke to said that seeing their partner in a life threatening emergency took time to recover from. Craig, who thought his wife had died when he saw her in intensive care said that although he was trying to put it behind him and move on, it “still manifests itself sometimes.” Talking about her husband, Alison T said that two years after her 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, “every so often it hit him”. James’s wife also had amniotic fluid embolism and their daughter is now 3 ½. Moving house just after the birth meant he did not have a lot of time to think about it.
Simon’s wife had a uterine rupture (a tear opening the womb directly into the abdominal cavity) and was in intensive care after the birth of their daughter, but looking back, he felt that despite their traumatic experience their first year was a very happy time.
Mark’s wife was rushed to hospital in an ambulance and had an emergency caesarean after a placental abruption (the placenta separates from the lining of the womb). He has not felt traumatised by what he witnessed, but feels doctors could have taken a few minutes to explain to him what had happened and made sure that he was OK.
Some partners felt that the emergency affected how they were able to bond with their new baby. Michael’s baby was delivered early when his wife developed HELLP syndrome (a combined liver and blood clotting disorder). He felt it took him a while to bond with his son, maybe because of the shock. It was only when they were able to bring him home from neonatal intensive care unit that the “shock had sort of worn off… well we got over that and then it was a lot more enjoyable.”
 
Although the partners we spoke to have all been deeply affected by their partner’s life threatening experiences, for some it has had a profound impact on their long-term health, including experiencing depression, flashbacks, a breakdown or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the months/years since the emergency. Craig’s wife nearly died while delivering their twins. His twins were eight months old at the time of the interview, but he described the experience as the “most stress I’ve ever been under”. He has already had a vasectomy to make sure that they have no more children and don’t have to go through childbirth again.
Dean’s wife had amniotic fluid embolism after their fourth child was born. He tries not to show his feelings, but two and a half years on he still has flashbacks.
Tom’s wife had a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the main artery of the lung) and haemorrhage (heavy uncontrolled bleeding) after their second daughter’s birth. As his wife said, “there’s a lot to contend with. He had to say goodbye to me twice and that’s not an easy thing to do anyway is it?” He found the stress of that period overwhelming.
Rob’s wife, had placenta praevia (a condition where the placenta is in the wrong position and blocking the birth canal) and a hysterectomy five years ago. He has found his wife’s emergency has had a huge impact on his mental health.
Some partners who had looked for support described how they had found it difficult to get acknowledgement of their distress and help for their depression or flashbacks. Tom felt, that although he was able to access counselling privately, there was very little support available for him or his wife. Rob finally plucked up courage to go and see the GP to ask for help but felt he did not receive much sympathy. He felt the message he got was, “‘your wife is the one who went through the trauma… you need to pull yourself together and be there for your wife’. And that was it for me; I fell into a pit of despair from there.”
Mike’s wife had a haemorrhage and their second daughter was stillborn. He has not sought counselling but found dealing with their trauma very isolating. While it has been possible for his wife to get emotional support from talking to her friends, he has found it hard to talk to anyone about their loss.
Others had found the support they needed. John was able to find a counsellor who “really does understand where I’m coming from”. A year after the birth of their daughter and his wife’s emergency hysterectomy, he felt able to say, “I believe we are on the turn now… the counsellor, all I can say really, she’s fantastic.”

Last reviewed April 2016.

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