My favorite thing about working in maternal/child health has always been and continues to be watching all of the fathers’ reactions to the entire experience. Of course I love welcoming beautiful babies into the world and helping mothers get through their labor, but the dads’ reactions is where it’s at. I love watching a father as he falls in love and becomes completely infatuated with his newborn baby. I love being witness to a husband’s new love and adoration for his wife after giving birth to their baby. The way a new dad looks at his wife and child is priceless. I love knowing that someday that will be MY husband looking at me and our child the same way….actually better because it’s all MINE. I won’t be the witness, I’ll be the recipient. I’m a bit of a daydreamer.
Unfortunately, labor and delivery isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. In my short time as a labor and delivery nurse I’ve seen plenty of terrified fathers too. Sometimes it’s not so bad. Sometimes he’s simply afraid of his newfound responsibility of a little life that is completely dependent upon him. Sometimes he is scared because he feels helpless while his wife is enduring the pains of labor. Sometimes it is complete terror. Terror as person after person rushes into the room, surround his wife’s bed, and begin performing task after task without a word. They’re nurses, doctors, and CRNAs. Nobody is introducing themselves and nobody is really explaining what’s happening. They’re all know their role and they’re talking amongst themselves, but none of it makes sense to the father. He has no idea what’s going on and there is nothing he can do to help except stay out-of-the-way. There’s terror as his wife and soon to be born child are rushed out of the room and down the hall en-route to an emergency c-section. I’ve seen too many of these fathers which thankfully isn’t all that many, but still too many. There are many faces of terror, but one particular father sticks out in my mind. Perhaps it was because I bonded with this family more than others. Maybe it’s because this was their 3rd baby and the other 2 ended in uncomplicated & un-medicated vaginal deliveries. Maybe it’s because the mother made it all the way to 10cm without any pain medication when the emergency arose. This father knew what labor and delivery was supposed to look like; he’d seen his wife do it perfectly 2 times before. This letter is to that father and all of the fathers who experience the helplessness and terror that consumes them as their wives are being whisked away. I will never forget this father’s face.
To the terrified father,
I wanted so desperately to stop what I was doing and run over to you. I wanted to freeze that moment in time and explain everything that was happening and to reassure you that everything was going to be okay. I wanted to tell you your wife and precious baby were going to be okay. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. Because it’s not always okay. Most of the time it’s okay, but sometimes it’s not. I didn’t say a single word to you because more than I wanted to TELL you that everything was going to be okay, I wanted everything TO BE OKAY. I couldn’t stop and tell you that everything was going to be okay because I had to do my part to make sure that is was okay. I didn’t want to be rushing your wife out the door and down the hall. I wanted your wife to deliver her third baby just like she had the first two. I’m glad everything was okay, but I’m sorry you had to endure those moments of terror. I’m sorry you were pushed aside as nurses and doctors and the CRNA rushed about turning your wife, putting oxygen on your wife, starting a second IV on your wife, giving your wife medications, checking your wife’s cervix, on and on and on. So many things happening at once with little explanation. I’m sorry you had to stand in that room by yourself as we raced your wife and child to the OR. It all happened in less than 10 minutes. I was surprised too. It certainly didn’t feel like 10 minutes. It felt like an eternity and I’m sorry you had to experience it. Everything was okay. Your wife did wonderfully and your beautiful baby thrived. But just as the image of your terrified face will always be imprinted on my mind I know those moments of terror will always be with you as well and I’m sorry.