“Too often dads are sidelined, left wondering how best to help”
It seemed that every one of my worst nightmares and premonitions had come true. In the middle of my complicated pregnancy, my husband Jonathan was in New York at the time I was wheeled into Labor & Delivery in Chicago. Despite all the planning – and we had done plenty of it – more complications arose than even we had anticipated.
Maybe there should be more and better information about a father’s potential active role in childbirth. Too often men are sidelined, left wondering how best to help. We had searched and found little information on this ourselves, and so we had to make up the answers – a move that greatly improved our lives.
Of course, my placenta previa and other factors had complicated my pregnancy and put us on the alert to do some planning. It is because of that planning that, rather than accept bystander status, Jonathan was able to step into the fore as a key player. He is decidedly a stats guy, but was glad he paid attention to my premonitions and not relied solely on his calculations this time. It’s good to trust your gut sometimes.
From the time I “coded” – flatlined – in the middle of delivering our son, then was kept on life support in a protective coma for the ensuing 6 days, until I finally stabilized and re-awoke, Jonathan was…everything. He was the dad. He was the mom. He was my advocate to the superb medical team on my case. He fed the baby. He saw to my needs. He moved quickly and decisively. He was the lynchpin in my recovery plan. He persevered and persisted. All the premonitions I had had during my pregnancy, right up to the dream of dying while delivering our son, which also came true, came back to haunt Jonathan as he went about assuring quality care to revive me. Things might have turned out much differently, had we not talked it out beforehand and prepared.
How did we prepare? Among other things, we uncomplicated matters when I signed a written statement giving Jonathan power of attorney – complete, unconditional health power. With that document in place, negotiations and decisions about my care – often split-second, life and death ones – were handled expeditiously. It’s understandable that the excitement and preoccupation of anticipating birth leaves so little time and attention for other matters like legalities, yet they can weigh heavily in outcomes.
Here’s a piece of advice from Jonathan for health care professionals (no one in particular). When you speak with a patient’s loved ones about events in the operating room, expect that they will immediately “google” what you say. It would therefore be better to state any devastating facts directly and promptly to avoid confusion and build trust.
I remember waking after 6 days in that coma, seeing my bloated body (not knowing it was caused by the life-saving follow-up treatment), and asking him if I still hadn’t delivered the baby. I was shocked when Jonathan told me that no, I had delivered a healthy son 6 days earlier.
In a future article, I will invite Jonathan to share more about how our lives, instincts and other planning actions had all come together to grant us the life we now have: healthy, fully recovered, and grateful for a second chance. Recognizing that I am among the lucky few, we are now both motivated to share our lessons, give voice to other people’s stories, and lend our active support to people and organizations who are also dedicated to improving maternal and newborn outcomes.
Please don’t neglect the importance of having Dad actively involved.
Have you had the benefit of an involved father in your child’s birth? Has it changed your life? I’d love to hear your stories. Leave a comment here. Thanks!
(*Join a Tweetchat with me and Jonathan Jan 9 at noon EST (hashtag: #AFENOW)