Professor Marian Knight from Oxford University speaking about her new research reveals that “pregnancy complications…can have long-term effects on mental and physical health, as well as on family relationships.”
Of course Mum experiences the pain and worry of childbirth, but it would be incredibly naive to assume that it is a walk in the park for the partner. The birth partner (often the father to be) witnesses the person they love in pain and are powerless to stop it. Yes they may be given ideas of how to help during labour but they cannot stop the pain and they have to watch hour upon hour of it without any idea of when it will end or indeed how it will end … and those are just the straightforward births.
Add to this those practitioners who treat partners with impatience, indifference and/or a general lack of respect and you have individuals feeling totally inadequate and traumatised by the whole experience. For those suddenly excluded from theatre if an emergency arises requiring a caesarean (it is not uncommon for the partner to be left in the corridor alone with no news of mum and baby for considerable time periods) there is a particular risk of trauma and flashbacks.
When I interviewed dads for the book Caesarean Birth: A positive approach to preparation and recovery I repeatedly came across descriptions of events where they felt completely out of control, horrified and unprepared. Some described months of nightmares afterwards, others confessed they hoped not to have more children and still others revealed that they were relieved their wife had a caesarean. One father contacted me begging me to convince his wife to have a caesarean as he could not face a third natural birth.
It is wonderful that partners are encouraged to participate in birth but they too require support and understanding in order to remain effective during the birth and beyond.
While I believe that it is entirely reasonable for Mum to be focused inward during pregnancy and particularly birth this should not be to the total exclusion of the partner and their feelings.
In an ideal world antenatal education would encourage families to recognise the needs of everyone involved in the birth. For the sake of family relationships going forward it is crucial both parties are helped to recognise the long term effect on relationships where partners have been excluded, emasculated and traumatised. For these families far greater support is needed postnatally than is currently available.