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Conditions that threaten women’s lives in childbirth & pregnancy

Family life

A life-threatening emergency in childbirth not only affects the parents but it can have a significant effect on their children (for relationships with partners and other relatives see ‘Relationships with partners and family’). The women and men we spoke to had a range of views. Some felt that their emergency had had a profound effect on their children, others felt that it had not impacted their children much at all, or even improved their relationships with them.

Several felt that what they had to cope with in the early weeks and months affected how they were as parents.
 

Hannah felt very tired for the first year after her near miss, and was perhaps more “cross” than...

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
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And has it had any impact on the children at all, do you think?
 
Only I think in that, for the first year afterwards, I was very tired. And very cross, just because I was tired. Normal levels of you know, new baby crossness, not depressed. But just physically very tired a lot of the time. And I think it makes you a worst parent doesn’t it? So, but not I would say… overwhelmingly, but you can’t tell, can you, it affects some children. You think you’re going to escape things and then they might turn round when they are 25 and say, “You, you really ruined me with that six months where you were…” I don’t know. I don’t think so though. 
 
 

Lisa said that she and her partner were in such a bad way in the early months, they thought about...

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 35
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And we even, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we even thought about giving her up for adoption when we, after a month or so of having her, because we were so in a state. [Partner] couldn’t look at me. He was breaking down all the time. I was breaking down all the time. It didn’t feel like she was mine. I was in agony, I didn’t know if I was ever going to get over what had happened to me. And I just thought look at us, this isn’t the family I wanted for her. This is not the environment I wanted for her. Her parents can’t talk. Her parents can’t hug. He’s in shock. I was in shock. We were on our own with nobody else. And I thought she needs a happy family. She needs a family that are going to be able to give her what she needs. Are going to be able to make her happy, secure, and she needs a parent she can fall back on. And when I’ve been at my lowest, lowest ebb. I thought she can’t fall back on me, she can’t fall back on him. Because we’re wrecked. It felt like we’d broken really. Because we’d been through a lot, before we moved up here, that’s why we moved up here. Because we had terrible neighbour disputes down south, horrible neighbours that used to threaten us. So we’ve been through stress enough. And this was it. This was what really did it. It’s just, the doctors were worried about us. They really were. 
 
My GP sees me weekly, checks to make sure I’m still alive. Which isn’t very nice. But like I say I’m really getting there now. It’s like I say it’s my faith in God that makes me get through it.
 
Some felt the impact had lasted well beyond the immediate emergency and time in hospital.
 

Alison T feels that her illness had a huge impact on her children. Although they were 'amazing',...

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Age at interview: 44
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 42
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And how was that for your family. I mean when they first saw you like that?
 
The children were amazing. My brother brought them up to the hospital for the first time to see me. I think they’d seen the baby, and said, “Your Mum’s your Mum, but she doesn’t look like your Mum at the moment.” I was very puffed up as well with all the drugs. And he said, “You know, she is your Mum. But she doesn’t look like your Mum at the moment.” And not one of them said anything to me. And how my next youngest who was eight at the time, how she didn’t say anything I don’t know, but they all gave me cuddles and never said a word. So… full credit to them [laughs].
 
The whole thing? Huge, huge impact. It was very, very scary for the children. My 19 year old daughter said when I had the baby; they knew something was wrong, because they weren’t told the seriousness of it at all. They had a grandparent and an aunty staying here, looking after them. Weren’t told how serious it was, but obviously they’re old enough to know it must have been serious, because they couldn’t understand why they weren’t taken up the hospital to see us. And see their new baby sister. I think also they were picking up bits and pieces with phone calls. So they knew that it was serious, but not how serious. My mother in law and aunt done their best obviously to try and keep things normal, but they were dealing with their own feelings and upset, because I wasn’t expected to pull through and at one stage, I believe the baby wasn’t expected to pull through either. So it was sort of double. And hardest of all for my poor husband.
 
And do you think this whole experience has affected them, does it still affects them now? Or has it affected them…?
 
I think it affected all of them but in different ways. One of my sons doesn’t mention it at all. My other son, [son], is under the CAMS team which is the mental health team. He broke down at school and it seemed to be this all stemmed from it.
 
How old was he when that happened?
 
He’s 16 now, so he was coming up for 15 when it happened yes.
 
And what about your other daughter?
 
I think it had a big impact on the 19 year old. I suppose her being that much older. Her and I are very close as well and she came to a lot of hospital appointments with me, and, and she was with me once when I went up, and they ended up keeping me in, and you know, she was there a lot of the time when these things happened, because she used to come to a lot of appointments with me. So she was very much involved. So yes, very upsetting for her. Well for all of them.
 
 
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Rob had two young daughters at home while his wife was in Intensive Care after her near miss....

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Age at interview: 34
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 29
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So [first daughter] worries every times she goes into hospital because for that period of time, I know she was only little, but you know, she remembers that Mum wasn’t there, and then when she came home, Mum couldn’t pick her up. And you know, because she couldn’t lift her at all, because of all the surgery that she’d had done. So [first daughter] is now, she’s terrified if her Mother’s goes into hospital. If she goes away for a night, to stay at her Mum’s or whatever, [first daughter] is just hysterical. She has to sleep with an item of her clothing. You know, she’s just beside herself, you just can’t. You know, and that’s even now.
 
And how old is she now?
 
She’s eight now.
 
She’s eight now. So she was three?
 
Yes. And you know, I know that’s only little, but you know, prior to that, no problem, no problem, but after that, it began from there. Just getting worse and worse. It’s terrible. It’s terrible. So it’s impacted her a lot. More than, more than I probably know. More than I’ll probably ever know. More than I’ll probably ever know. But I know it has a lot. And that’s not fair on her either, you see, because you know, it’s not fair on her. It’s not her fault and she hasn’t got any part to play in this scenario. It’s my wife and I that have gone through it, and [third daughter] as well, actually. 
 
But you know, it does it affects the whole family in a big way. You know, and it does affect her, you know, but… we just deal with it. We get on with it.
 
Belinda had a very difficult birth with her first child. She feels her life threatening emergency “triggered all of the post-natal depression, I have no doubt. And it’s also damaged my relationship with my daughter.” Jo felt that her placental abruption (the placenta separates from the lining of the womb) and son’s emergency delivery affected the way they bonded.
 

Rachel lost her baby, and had a hysterectomy. Her older son was five at the time and they had...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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And that was when I started running. And I started running in this summer I did my first long run. I mean I ran before then, but I never did kind of serious running. And we… went for a holiday to Italy on that summer and [son] was 5 at the time. Five and a half. Said something like in the airport in Bologna on the way out to holiday, “If you won’t buy me these sweets I’ll kill myself.” And that’s when I thought we’d better go for some therapy. 
 
And we did. We went to about seven sessions or something, supposedly on the back of what [son] was experiencing, but actually we both needed it very much as well. And, we also had some bereavement counselling before then, when I was still at home. Those three month of being home, in December, January, February. 
 
And would you say it’s had an ongoing effect on, on him?
 
It’s a very good question. I often wondered about it. He definitely remembers it. He definitely really wanted to have a brother. When we adopted the twins eventually we had the two girls. He was very nice to them. He had had a long wait. I mean he was seven by the time they appeared on the scene so… three years or so… he had a lot on his shoulders, because we were two very doting parents and that in itself is hard for a single child to have these two adults. And he’s a very healthy, mentally healthy young teenager now and knock on wood doing really well academically, extremely well socially. And excelling in everything he touches. He, you know, he’s good at sports, he’s a prefect, he’s this and that. So you can’t see anything very clearly, evidently but he has his sensitivities. I can’t put my finger on it, and I’m probably too involved to be able to analyse my own child. 
 
 
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Jo felt that she bonded differently with her son after his emergency birth than she did with her...

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Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 30
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And what about the impact on your relationship and family?
 
I think my husband has been frustrated at times with my relationship with our son, because I always felt like their relationship was very easy, but I wonder whether it’s because [husband] held him first, and [husband] spent that first hour with him and I didn’t and its always like [husband] seems to know more of what [son] needs. He responds to his needs much better than I do. But now I think may be its just because he’s male, and [son]’s male and I don’t necessarily get boys’ stuff. You know, whereas with my daughter I completely, oh you want to do that, oh I can understand that. So maybe I’ve attributed things to the, the, the birth event that maybe I shouldn’t have done. But yes, I must say [husband] has been at times frustrated with how I deal with [son]. And also he was, after [daughter] was born and I was very honest, with him, and I said, “I don’t, I don’t feel for [son], what I feel for her. It doesn’t physically feel the same.” And he found that very hurtful. And he said, you know, “Yes, I’ve noticed this issue with [son]. With you and him.” Well it’s a lot better now, its lots better, but it just, it was very, very, apparent to me, in those few weeks after I’d had her that I just felt so differently. It was awful. And I felt I should be honest with him. And you know, it was a different experience. Yes, I think he found that hard.
 
Your daughter is 15 months old, is it improving?
 
Yes. Oh yes, yes. If I don’t feel like it, I think apparently again it was the few weeks after she was born, because my hormones were probably all rife at the time. But no, I don’t feel, it’s not as acute now. I think, like I said, it’s more of a gender thing or I think you just parent your children differently anyway because they’re different people. So their needs are going to be different and the way you respond to them is going to be different. And I perceive that now. But at the time I couldn’t see that so clearly. 
 
Other parents did not feel that their life-threatening emergency had much of an effect on their children. Farkhanda felt that although her older sons were affected by her illness and long hospital stay, as soon as she was home, they forgot about it. Alex felt similarly that any impact was short term.
 

Alex felt that her separation from her two year old while she was in hospital “hurt me more than...

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 36
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And how was it coping with your daughter when she was coming to see you in hospital?
 
It was awful. It was absolutely awful, saying goodbye to her. That first night I was just [laughs] she was so little, she was only two still, and I can remember walking back and just being in floods of tears, and again the same lovely midwife just say, “Oh you know, it’s so hard to be a Mum.” So…
 
Okay.
 
And I just felt I missed out on so much. You know, when I got home, just in those few weeks, oh ten weeks, she’d grown up so much, and I so wanted to spend some time with her and do some nice things before the baby came and we didn’t do any of that so … and just little things. She got glasses while I was in hospital. You know, I made my husband pick up samples and bring them in so that I could approve them [laughs]. But it’s things like that, just, just everyday life really. But, you know, she was amazing. I’m so proud of her. Even though she just really on the whole, didn’t, didn’t drop stride and … afterwards, I think, you know, even now she’ll sometimes make some comment, I would have thought by now, it’s such a long time ago, that it might have, but she still remembers it quite clearly about, you know, which is your hospital and, and I think when I had my six week check with the GP, I left her with my neighbour just while I went down, and I said, “I’m just going to the doctor. I’ll be back … You know, and I’ll be back. You stay here with [name] and play.” And she just lost it. “No.” 
 
Because we’d explained things in very simplistic terms. So I had to explain to her, “I’m not going to hospital.” She said to me, “You promised you wouldn’t go back to the hospital.” And … you know, so that was, and we explained things very basically, so when [second daughter] was born and we’d said to her, “Mummy has to be in hospital until the baby comes out of mummy’s tummy and all the rest of it.” And so as soon as [second daughter] was born, she said, “Well, why aren’t you home? Come on.” [Laughs]. And you think oh gosh. 
 
And we had, when [second daughter] came out of special care, we had to stay over again, and trying to explain to her, that I had to go back in, even though it would only be a short … I mean, she got so upset, she just screamed and screamed and gave herself a nosebleed in the hospital [laughs]. 
 
It was just, but you know, I mean they’re resilient and, I think to be honest it hurt me more than it hurt her [laughs]. I think.
 
 

Farkhanda's oldest son was not doing well at school while she was in hospital, but as soon as she...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
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And what about the boys, how do you think the whole thing affected them?
 
I think they got over it as soon as I come, as soon as I walked through the door, it was like okay she’s back now. I think they completely forgot about it.
 
Great. 
 
Yes, completely forgot about it, yes. I contacted the school once I came home. We got a letter saying that [Name] is not doing well. My son is highly academic, the eldest and he started to slack, so the teachers noticed this lack of interest and I phone them and I said, “I’ve just come home from hospital and had the baby and I want to arrange a meeting because I’m worried about my son.” And said, “Why were you in hospital?” And I said, “We told you, my sister informed the school that you need to take, be aware that [Name] is dealing with his trauma at home because I’m in ICU…” Oh we didn’t know. No one passed the message, filtered the message through to his teachers… So the school apologised straight away, but little things like that that you wouldn’t think. I made sure that one of the things on my list was the schools know about my condition, so the children, just in case it affects they children they know why and then can deal with it. The younger children had support from their teachers. ”Don’t worry Mum, we’ll be okay.” Or yes, “Are you looking forward to the baby?” adapted them to the baby. And Mum not being around for so long. But the eldest didn’t get that support at school. And they didn’t even know, and then when they found out they were very comforting towards him. But it had passed, you see for him, it was just a relief that he didn’t talk about it.
 
Mark’s wife had a placental abruption and emergency caesarean section 4 years ago and he felt it was no longer an issue, “for me it's in the past, its’ done”. Clare, who had a deep vein thrombosis (DVT or blood clot) after her second child was born thinks it must have been hard on her older daughter for a while when she couldn’t be an active parent, but now, “I don’t think she notices that much actually.”
 
Some reflected on how their life-threatening emergency had improved their relationship with their children, both those born at the time and older siblings.
 

Karen’s older son was 16 at the time of her haemorrhage (heavy uncontrolled bleeding) and...

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Age at interview: 44
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 42
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How has it affected them do you think?
 
Well I think [son]’s none the wiser. [Eldest son] my eldest, he came to see me when I was in ICU and he, he was quite shocked, you know, he, he was quite upset by it, to see me in such a state, he said I looked very old [laughs]. That’s nice. But he’s been very good actually. We’ve got a very, very good close relationship and actually he’s one of the few people now that I can talk to about it and he’ll listen and he doesn’t judge me. He actually offers me quite good sage advice for someone, you know, I wouldn’t say so young, because 18’s not young now, but he was obviously 16 at the time. But yes, he kind of offers me quite good sage advice and he always says things like, “Chin up Mum.” [Laughs]. So he’s great. He’s a good lad. But again he’s moved on so…
 
 

Cara had a haemorrhage and hysterectomy after her first daughter was born. They have a great...

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 29
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I think I honestly feel that it hasn’t. I was fortunate. I felt like I bonded with her really quick and I know some people can have bonding problems. I don’t remember having any issues and if they were, they must have been very fleeting. And you know, it was her and me. Particularly, obviously becoming a single parent, she was my, you know, my little side kick really. And you know, she remained my only child for seven years, and we have great relationship. We’re really close. Yes, I just, I’m fortunate, you know, that hasn’t been something. 



Last reviewed April 2016.
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