Fathers Traumatised By Childbirth
Being at a traumatic birth can be devastating to everyone. Sometimes a woman can feel alright about her birth experience, but the father may have been so blown out he isn’t sure he wants another baby, feels alienated from both his newborn and partner.
Other times the woman is left with the trauma and the father sometimes doesn’t know what she’s upset about. In reality, there is infinitely more focus on whether a new mother is left with TABS (trauma after birth syndrome) than whether a new father is. And this lack of awareness of how birth can negatively impact men, fathers, husbands/partners just bleeds into the belief ‘men don’t show emotion’. How can they? How can men explain that birth left them traumatized when the woman did all the work?
There are so many reasons for a traumatic birth and the after-effects. No one would want either of you to be traumatized by the birth of your baby nor do your loved ones want you to remain traumatized for years. You might believe that every birth you have from now on will be traumatic. That’s just not true.
Before we talk about birth skills
Every birth is different and there is no way you can predetermine that the next birth will be like any more than you could have anticipated being left traumatized by this recent birth. So many personal and political issues surround childbirth that’s really easy to blame yourself or others. Sometimes you just believe whatever Higher Power you turn to has pre-determined this traumatic experience.
A traumatic birth can be caused by a fore-known unfortunate outcome but most of the TABS experienced by mothers and fathers have nothing to do with the outcome of the birth but how the birth was experienced or what happens to and around the birth.
Skills reduce, prevent and heal traumatic birth
Often the difference between having a traumatic experience and being traumatized has much more to do with what skills you use than what happens at the birth … even when you anticipated a challenging outcome.
The most effective way to produce a positive birth experience is to learn coaching skills during pregnancy. As a man, you may have gone to childbirth classes and learned a lot of information that actually had nothing to do with giving birth. Learning birth skills such as Directed Breathing, The Pelvic Clock and Deep Touch Relaxation are not that common.
People often feel that learning birth skills are about having a ‘natural birth’. Well, that’s true. Everything about birth is natural or normal. But that doesn’t mean that ‘natural’ means good, easy, with a successful outcome or make people happy.
There are so many factors around childbirth that we cannot control. However, the one thing we can control is our ability to respond to any situation. The more skilled we have, the more able we are to respond, rather than react, or to feel swept along by events. Often people feel fine after traumatic experiences if they have been able to use their own set of skills to navigate through the experience. This is the one huge benefit for you as a man, you can learn how to coach at birth and these skills can be used in absolutely any type of birth.
What researchers have learned
The majority of research done on post-traumatic stress has much to do with the ability to respond even if you didn’t see the event coming. Humans like being skilled, men in particular. Men often feel less manly when they move out of their skill range. Childbirth skills have not been part of most men’s upbringing, this can change.
Feeling competent and capable is one of our great desires. We want to be skilled so strongly, that learning new things often affects our self-esteem until the skills become second nature. Helping a woman cope with childbirth is always a challenge. Labour can be very painful and all the medical care in the world can leave a father feeling like a third arm but not if he has good coaching skills.
Coaching skills don’t come naturally. They must be learned and practiced for several weeks before the birth. From 24 weeks of pregnancy onward, a woman’s body is preparing for birth.
Coaching skills come in two forms. The first is learning a set of techniques. The danger of just learning a series of techniques comes when the woman has trouble using them. This leads to her defaulting to stressful behaviours that lead to feeling traumatized.
On the other hand, if you learn a set of birth skills that come from our human behaviors then you can both share these skills and use them together. This sharing is so important during birth.
Learning coaching skills based on our human body and behaviours, means you can truly understand how we breathe, what causes our breathing to change and how to use the breath to produce the greatest relaxation. Understanding how and why means that you can use the skills when they are necessary they will never fail when they are used.
Childbirth may be full of potentially traumatic experiences but if you have, and use your coaching skills by choice, will power and through determination then you are less likely to feel traumatized.
Empowered or powerless
Feeling powerless is a statement of lack of skills. This feeling of powerlessness affects both women and men. We must remember that there are many things that happen in our lives that we have absolutely no control over. When we have skills then we can manage the experience even if we don’t like it. Thankfully there are many families who have wonderful birth experiences even though they were difficult or with less preferred outcomes. They achieved this by working together and whether they knew it or not, having skills to do so.
If you have been traumatized by a previous birth, now is the time to learn birth skills, even if your partner is not pregnant. Heal the past so you can meet the future with better skills then you’ll use those skills as birth unfolds.
Never expect anyone to give you or do something for you like your bottom line. No one can make us be happy or sad or angry or calm. These are things we have to do for ourselves in whatever situation. It’s the same with birth coaching skills. Once learned, birth coaching skills are yours forever and are applicable for many other situations in life, believe it or not. Knowing how to use relaxed breathing comes in handy many times in life.
As a Dad who has experienced a previous traumatic birth please know that there is much you can do to heal your partner and yourself. You are not alone.
Often the difference between having a traumatic experience and being traumatized has much more to do with what skills you use than what happens.
All Birthing Better skills have been developed by hundreds of dads and moms, are housed in Common Knowledge Trust and available via online birth classes.