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Conditions that threaten women’s lives in childbirth & pregnancy

Relationships with partners and family

We asked women and their partners how they felt their life threatening experiences in childbirth had affected their relationships with each other, and other family members. Many said that although it had been a very difficult and traumatic time, their experiences had made them stronger and brought them closer together.
 

Alex said she is in awe of how her husband coped during the 8 weeks she was in hospital before...

Alex said she is in awe of how her husband coped during the 8 weeks she was in hospital before...

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 36
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It’s a bit like throwing a stone in a pond and the ripples just, the initial ripples are quite strong and then they sort of dissipate. But from time to, time to time, you know, you’re still getting a few little, you know. I think it’s been incredibly hard on my husband. I mean I don’t think anyone, prioritised him as much as perhaps he ought to have been. I was always very conscious. But you know, he was trying to hold down a very demanding full time job. He had his Mother in law living in his house for months on end. He was looking after his daughter. He was, you know, incredibly worried that, you know, his worst nightmare was to lose both of us. And then be left to raise [first daughter] on his own. And I think, men aren’t so good at talking about things, and I also think when it’s over. We are, don’t get me wrong, so grateful. People think oh well it’s done now. Everything’s back and everything’s worked out in the end di da di da di da. And I don’t think that, you know, they acknowledge how difficult it was or how, how far reaching. You know, and both of us, if we watch something on the telly about a premature baby you know, ohhh and you think there, but for the grace of God, with a lot of them, you know, and so, you know, I am in awe of my husband and of my daughter really.

Several people described how the experience of life-threatening illness, though frightening, had made them appreciate each other more. It had enabled them to put more trivial things into perspective and they felt very grateful.
 
Women often commented how strong and supportive their partners were through the emergency and as they recovered. Often partners were on their own for hours or days while their wife or partner was unconscious, fighting for her life. Alison T 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 in intensive care for several days and felt it was almost worse for her husband than for her. “I didn’t know what was happening. He had to witness it all”. Her husband received invaluable support from her brother and sister in law during the emergency. In many cases the women felt they did not realise how hard it had been on their partners until the emergency was over.
 

While she was in hospital with septicaemia (blood poisoning) after her second daughter was born,...

While she was in hospital with septicaemia (blood poisoning) after her second daughter was born,...

Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 33
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I think I was so focused on [first daughter] and my own situation, at that point that he was sort of carrying me along. I didn’t really ever, I didn’t have time to think about how he was feeling until afterwards and I reflected back on it. He seemed to be very strong to me at the time, but my Mum saw him, she saw the cracks when he wasn’t with me. And when he phoned my parents to tell them, each night when he left the hospital, he took that week off work, he would phone them with update and she saw a different side to him. She saw someone very anxious and traumatised by what I was going through and he’s not easily made anxious or traumatised. He’s a very laid back, optimistic person who he’s very strong, he’s, he’s been through difficult situations and sort of weathered the storm very well. His Mother died when he was 19, his brother died when he was 14. He’s been through a lot, he’s a very strong man and he kept that façade up but I think probably was really struggling underneath it all and my Mum certainly feels that it was a very difficult time for him, yes.

Alison said that her experience of haemorrhage and a hysterectomy had brought her and her husband closer. “We don’t take each other for granted as you sometimes start to do after years together.” Sarah also had a hysterectomy and felt that she and her husband were “just one of the lucky ones that have stayed together” through the “toughness” of having a new baby and all the trauma and upset.
 

Kate said that her partner was brilliant while she and their baby were in hospital after she...

Kate said that her partner was brilliant while she and their baby were in hospital after she...

Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
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And what about your partner how did he cope while you were in hospital, and…?
 
Well he was brilliant, actually. You don’t know what people are made of until they’re put in a position like that. He was still going to work. Still visiting the baby in neonatal. Still coming over to see me in Intensive Care and High Dependency, you know, bringing me books and sweets and things that I’d never ate, and never read. But it was the thought that counted, you know. He did all the practical stuff. You know, he cancelled all my appointments. He phoned people. He let people know. He just rallied people together and actually his parents were amazing, because they cleaned the house. So I got back, you know, the vacuuming had been done, and well there was no washing up in the sink to come home to, and… Yes. It’s what you need. 
 
Well I think it’s made us closer. Its only when you lose something or you know what you could have lost. It sounds like such a cliché doesn’t it, but it’s true. I mean like I used to call my parents once a week, you know, just to let them know I was still alive and check in with them. Now it’s every couple of days. Just, you know, silly nonspecific things. I mean I was so grateful to my partner for, for what he did. You know, the practical support. He’s not, good with words, but the practical side of things, he showed me how important I am to him. It does make you value things more. Things that you may have once taken for granted. 
 
And then in your tired moments, when you’ve been up with the baby, you know, four times in the night, and people aren’t asking about you any more, you think, come on, you know, I’ve been really ill. I need some more attention. But you do need a strong family, friends base to help you.
 
 

Debbie had a uterine rupture during the birth of her second daughter. She feels that although...

Debbie had a uterine rupture during the birth of her second daughter. She feels that although...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 29
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And what about your relationship with your husband?
 
I think we’ve gone through just about everything really we could. I think we’re stronger than ever because of it probably. You know, he was so strong throughout it all and he had a lot to deal with as well. I mean I hadn’t realised half of it, until afterwards when we talked about it and he said, “Obviously when I was wheeled away.” With [first daughter] it was far calmer that was taken into the theatre. He was waiting outside, but then they brought him [first daughter] without me and said, “There’ve been complications.” And this was our first baby and we just didn’t expect that and he had to meet his family and my family in the wee corridor and let them see [first daughter] while I was still in theatre being patched up after the haemorrhage which he hadn’t known about at the time. So he had quite a traumatic experience the first time round, and I think I didn’t really give him credit for that because I was very focused on how I felt and how I wasn’t bonding with our baby, and but he bonded with her fantastic and he kind of pulled me through that, thank goodness. But he had a really big scare.
 
So the second time was important for him too, because he wanted things to be okay. He wanted to have a positive experience and he wanted me to have a positive experience and I think when it went so horribly wrong, it took a lot for him to get… I think he felt even stronger the second time. I don’t know again if it’s because we’d been through something awful before, it was quicker to get back up on our feet the second time emotionally, initially at least and not in the longer term for me, but initially it was for [husband]. But he was, he’s just always been so supportive with the whole thing. 
 
He’s accepting not having any more children quite easily, and he kind of jokes about it, “Well we don’t want more than two anyway, they’re a handful.”[Laughs]. And I think, well he doesn’t really talk about it upsetting him, and I don’t think it does particularly. I think he’s okay with that. Whereas I still have the, but what if you know if we ever wanted to. But we’re very strong thank goodness. We seen it all hopefully together.
 
Staying together after such a traumatic event was challenging at times. The first year had been the hardest for some couples. Some reflected on what a toll their emergency had had on them as a couple. Rob, whose wife had a hysterectomy, said “How our family’s here today I don’t know. Because it pulled us apart proper, it did. But we made it… The pain we’ve been through has been horrific, but we’ve come through together…”.
 

Mandy had a hysterectomy after her first son was born. Their first year as a family was tough -...

Mandy had a hysterectomy after her first son was born. Their first year as a family was tough -...

Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 28
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But yes, no it was tough and it was tough coming back because we had nothing ready, no nappies, no cot. I remember coming back on the Friday evening and him making up the cot, as we sat and had a cup of tea, because it wasn’t done, it still wasn’t done. By I think by that point I think the relief or the euphoria after it was immense, but obviously there’s a down side and I think for us as a family we’re very happy now, but I think there were times when I think it was still in the back of your mind always. so it was a very, the first year was probably quite a, I wouldn’t say a down year. We didn’t have more arguments or anything like that it was just very sort of mono, you just get through every day. But then you know, life has a way of just picking things up and we’ll probably after two, two and a half years things have picked up and once [son] started school we felt very much in a different place. But yes, I suppose emotionally even though you do get that sort over protectiveness. You know, we only have on child, but so do others. But I suppose there’s certain times when we’re probably more neurotic than normal if you know what I mean [laughs]. Very hard to judge but you know, there would be situations where oh no we don’t want [son] gong there because we don’t feel safe, or and [husband] also had that, which I felt was interesting. Because I thought it would be mainly me who was a bit more you know, can’t do this, but actually we both have that same sort of pattern. Not so much now, now we have to be sort of be aware, we’ve learned to let go and get on with things. But yes, I suppose for people that have gone through traumatic, you know, because it is that it’s the aftermath isn’t it. Just sort of picking up the pieces. Everything else is the same, no, we’re in this house, nothing has literally changed. It was, you know, just sort of life as it was, but I remember just feeling quite mono just not have any emotion really, not mad or happy or but now you know, you just sort of learn to go with the experiences and its fine now, but fortunately I didn’t dip into depression.
 
Did you worry about that do you think?
 
I think so. I really thought tomorrow I’m going to be depressed [laughs]. Because you know, it just, it just didn’t stack up that we’d been through all this. I’m very supportive and I suppose looking at the partnership between [husband] and myself I am the strong, you know, the strong confident one. And I almost feel guilty because I wasn’t there when he needed me. I was there, but I wasn’t you know, there, there. So that makes me feel oh you know, but he’s got a lot tougher so that’s a very good thing really.
 
 So from that point of view I think that was, that was the hardest. So once I started picking up on who I was again, I think it made things easier because then he could let go a little bit and not be the one who had to be the strong one, the tough one, you know. But yes, it was definitely interesting. It was a tough year, but then again a lot of parents have tough years as we know. Very lucky that we got through it, yes, a big argument’s sometimes on the way, but I suspect they would have happened anyway. 
 
Some relationships did not survive the experience. Instead of drawing them together, for some the stress pulled them apart. Cara had a hysterectomy after her first daughter was born. She and her husband split up when her baby was just a few months old.
 
The women and men we spoke to also reflected on how their emergency in childbirth had impacted on their relationships with other family members such as parents and siblings. Almost losing a daughter or sister had brought them closer as a family.
 

Farkandha who was very ill with placenta percreta (a condition in which the placenta invades the...

Farkandha who was very ill with placenta percreta (a condition in which the placenta invades the...

Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
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And mentally the only impact that it’s had is that it’s made us stronger Our belief is stronger, we value our relationships more, not just me, others round me. My sisters they are forever saying, “We learnt the hard way. We learnt the hard way what it really means.” And my sisters, the way they rallied around. One of my sisters, the one I call PA, she spent most of her time in the hospital, before and after surgery. She left a three month old baby at home. She was breastfeeding her baby. And for me, for a Mother leave a three month old nursing baby at home to care for me. I mean how else can you show your love? There’s nothing more powerful than that. And the baby was then cared for by my sister. It may have been just three weeks, but within that three weeks, this baby had to stop breastfeeding, yes, you know, so it’s the powerful things like that, really you know, and you know, my husband can’t, he can’t stop saying enough times, he will just say, “If you died, I would have taken the boys and I would have moved away so far, where I’d never remember you because I wouldn’t be able to live with that pain.” I was thinking, oh God you work in mysterious ways. Thank goodness he didn’t do that, because my Mum would miss my boys [laughs]. And I wouldn’t have you know, no say in that, that was probably beyond [laughs].

 

Debbie feels that her experiences (she had a uterine rupture during the birth of her second...

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Debbie feels that her experiences (she had a uterine rupture during the birth of her second...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 29
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I think it’s made us closer and I’ve always been very close to my Mum and my sister, but I think after the fright we had with both, and certainly my Mum. I know when I was pregnant with [second daughter], my Mum was terrified the whole way through that something would go wrong, especially after the miscarriage. A lot of our family was on holiday when we lost the baby, but my Mum was the only one, my husband’s family was away and my sister was away. My Mum was the only one who was here and she was at every step and she was obviously really upset because again it was surgery and it was very difficult. So I think she was so frightened when we fell pregnant with [second daughter] that things were going to go wrong, and she tried not to show it, but ever since we’ve had [second daughter], she’s made a point of every now and again saying, “But you’ll never do that again. You can’t, you know you can’t do it again.” And I understand that. And I feel the same which is a good thing. 
 
So I think it’s put a lot of fear in them. You know, my Mum when I was pregnant with [first daughter] the first time, said to me, “Oh you’ll be fine. You’ll be the same as me.” She had my sister and I, natural deliveries, no pain relief, I think she had gas and air if that. You know no stitches. Everything was fine, and I remember her saying that through my pregnancy. “Oh you’ll be the same. You’ll be fine.” And I think after we had [first daughter] she thought goodness, it can go so badly wrong. And she hadn’t been aware of that, and then obviously with [second daughter] it went even worse. So I think yes, it has had an effect on them, and how they look at the girls and how close we are a family.
 
 

Ciara had a uterine infection and was in hospital after her first daughter was born. She recently...

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Ciara had a uterine infection and was in hospital after her first daughter was born. She recently...

Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 33
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Right, Mum and Dad have definitely been around an awful lot more as I think they probably are worried about my ability to, to cope with two certainly, which is difficult anyway. But they probably saw me struggling with [first daughter]. They saw an anxious Mum who, isn’t prone to being anxious for no reason at all, yes, I can be anxious, but you know, there needs to be a good reason for it. So the early days of motherhood for me, were just full of, of sort of feelings of anxiety and… probably a very mild case of post natal depression. I think it would have been mild. I think I was reasonably resilient to it. I know others who have suffered from it. I don’t think I had it badly, but I think it was definitely there to a degree or there was a risk of it getting worse, had I not had the support that I did have. So, I think that, yes, that’s affected the sort of family life. 
 
I suppose, I think probably my husband, I don’t know what he would have been like if it had been different, but he is a very hands on Dad and is very supportive of me, always. But he might have been like that anyway. I don’t know if that’s got anything to do with it. 
 
I think, yes, I don’t, it’s very difficult to know if it would have been different. I think it’s strengthened us in a sense. It’s strengthened our relationship in, in a sense, because I saw what, and he, he was really rock solid during that period, from my perspective. And that, that was really important to me. I suppose it made me feel more secure about everything.
 
Yes, so in some ways it has strengthened the links and made them all sort of create support around me, which would have been there, but may be not to the same extent otherwise.
 


Last reviewed April 2016.
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