Teaching resources

Support for partners/fathers

We interviewed ten father’s whose wives/partners experienced a near miss event in childbirth, or shortly afterwards, and one lesbian partner.
 
Key Learning Points
  • All the partners/fathers we spoke to have been deeply affected by their partner’s life threatening experiences, for some it has a profound impact on their long-term mental health
  • In situations where an emergency delivery might be anticipated, such as when a women has placenta praevia, explanation of what might happen really helps partners prepare and cope subsequently.
  • Frequent updates during the emergency help partners/fathers feel less isolated and anxious
  • Personal touches of support from individual staff make a real difference to how partner’s cope
  • Partners remember more about events than the woman who is ill, but still appreciate repeated explanations
  • Partners/fathers can find seeing their partner in high dependency or intensive care very traumatic, and may need support from staff and family members to:

             - enable them to visit their partner

             - understand that the situation is not hopeless' their partner may recover

             - come to terms with what has happened 

  • Long-term mental health problems in partners/fathers after a near-miss experience may have a big impact financially, practically and emotionally and families may need additional support in this event
  • Partners/fathers who experience mental health symptoms do not necessarily seek help, although they do feel that counselling, if offered, could be beneficial.
Watching a wife or partner going through a life-threatening emergency in childbirth was very frightening and stressful for the men (and one lesbian partner) we interviewed. They feared losing their wife, baby and family life. Our interviews with fathers/partners indicated that they appreciated clear communication and support in hospital, and potentially support once their wives/partners are home.
 
In Hospital: Communication matters
Maternal near miss events can unfold in different ways. In some cases, clinicians will have time to explain to the woman and her partner what is happening and the likely course of treatment.
In other instances, the emergency does not allow time for explanations. While the men we spoke to understood the priority was the safety of mother and baby, several were left for hours without knowing whether their wife and baby were alive or dead. This was a very distressing time for them and small updates would have made it easier for them.
 
Mark’s wife was rushed to hospital in an ambulance and had an emergency caesarean after a placental abruption. While he has not felt traumatised by what he witnessed, he feels doctors could have taken a few minutes to explain to him what had happened and made sure that he was OK. 
Others were unprepared for the emergency, and wished they had known that it might happen.  Mandy developed acute fatty liver and haemorrhaged after her son was born. She wishes now her husband had been better prepared for what might have gone wrong. 
Some women had to be sent to intensive care for a few hours or days. Their husbands/partners were shocked to see their loved ones with so many wires and tubes.
Some hospitals made sure that fathers had support, from other family members or friends, during the emergency. This made a real difference. Dean had his sister and brother in law with him while his wife was in ITU, Simon had his mum.
 
Personal touches made a real difference
In the midst of the emergency, several partners mentioned personal touches of support and empathy from staff that made a real difference. Sally’s partner, Amy, had a post-partum haemorrhage after their first daughter was born. She was sent out of the operating theatre while the doctors stablised Amy.
Impact and support after mother and baby are home
“It just impacted on us like, in every single part of our lives”
 
The people we interviewed said that seeing their wife or partner in a life-threatening emergency took time to recover from. Often they felt that health professionals did not consider the effect the near miss might have on the fathers/partners. Sarah had a haemorrhage and hysterectomy after delivering her third daughter. Her husband was devastated; “nobody else asked how he was, how he was coping. And he didn’t cope very well.”
 
Impact on mental health
Although the partners we spoke to have all been deeply affected by their partner’s life threatening experiences, for some it has had a profound impact on their long-term mental health, including experiencing depression, flashbacks, a breakdown or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the months/years since the emergency. Craig’s wife nearly died while delivering their twins. His twins were eight months old at the time of the interview, but he described the experience as the “most stress I’ve ever been under”. He had already had a vasectomy to make sure that they have no more children and didn’t have to go through childbirth again.
Dean’s wife had amniotic fluid embolism after their fourth child was born. He tries not to show his feelings, but two and a half years on he still has flashbacks.
Tom’s wife had a pulmonary embolism and haemorrhage after their second daughter’s birth. As his wife said, “there’s a lot to contend with. He had to say goodbye to me twice and that’s not an easy thing to do anyway is it?” He found the stress of that period overwhelming. 
Rob’s wife, had placenta praevia and a hysterectomy five years ago. He has found his wife’s emergency has had a huge impact on his mental health. 
Several men described how isolated they felt as they tried to come to terms with the near miss, and in Mike’s case the loss of his daughter also. It was hard to find people to talk to, and GPs were sometimes not sympathetic.

A near miss can also have a profound effect on family life. While many have moved on and don’t think about it too much, for some it has had a more lasting impact. Some men/partners had to take several weeks off work, which had a financial impact. Tom felt he was passed over for promotion during that time.  Rob has not been able to go back to his previous job. While some felt unsupported by their GP, others did find the help they needed. A year after the birth of their daughter and his wife’s emergency hysterectomy, John felt able to say, “I believe we are on the turn now… the counsellor, all I can say really, she’s fantastic.” 

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