It’s 1 week postpartum. I try to talk about what happened, I’m still numb. “You’re both here. That’s all that matters.” He quickly interjects. I feel as if he is dismissing my experience. I realize later that for him, this is what matters most. He didn’t think we would all be here. Repeating what he needs to make sense of the chaos of our new normal.
It’s 3 months postpartum. “You’re not listening to me. You never listen to me.” He’s staring at me. I’m sitting on the couch and he’s across from me in the kitchen making coffee. I’m lost in a sea of obsessive thoughts and flashbacks. I surface back to reality for a moment. He’s angry with me. He’s right, I’m not here for him but he’s not here for me. Stop demanding so much from me. Can’t you see I’m struggling? My trauma symptoms are peaking. “I’m sorry, I’m just thinking” I say sheepishly. I don’t notice the way he internally mirrors my thoughts.
It’s 6 months postpartum. “You don’t understand! You got her when she was born!” I shoot back. We’re arguing about it. My life still revolves around the haste, the fear, the devastation.
“I didn’t know if you were coming home. No one told me. No one told me anything. I’m sitting there holding our baby without you. Maybe never with you!” He fires at me as I see the pain ripple out for the first time.
I stop. It’s the first time I’m hearing this. I realize I’ve been so angry with him. I was ripped and torn and he didn’t save me. I never bothered to ask how it was for him. But here’s the thing, he had to see it and it’s not that he didn’t save me, he couldn’t. He was as powerless as I was in those moments. He had to watch them pound and pull. He saw faceless bodies putting their weight into me with such force that the only thing he says to anyone the next day is, “they were on the table pounding on her” while avoiding eye contact, walking away, and burying the pain of what he witnessed. For the first time ever, I feel as if we were in this together. For the first time ever, I realize how selfish I have been. For the first time ever, my heart aches for someone other than myself in that day. For the first time ever, I realize I can’t save him from this. We now walk ground zero together.
It’s 2 years later, we’re sitting on the couch watching a show after the kids are in bed for the night. On the screen is a scene of a husband sitting beside his wife’s bed in the perinatal ward after receiving difficult news. I’m unbothered by this quiet scene. I know I’m not radiating emotions like I would be during an OR or emergency scene.
“Aren’t you glad you never have to worry like that again?” he says breaking the silence.
It takes me a moment but then I realize I don’t think he’s necessarily talking to me. Rhythmic breathing fills the space and after moment I look at him and I respond with ease, “yes”. His body relaxes.
It’s easy to forget your partner when you’re drowning in trauma. My world was about me. I took up all the space when it came to that day. I was angry and resentful. I was broken and alone. It was my body ripped and torn. It was me alone without my husband and baby.
It’s hard to remember that when I was alone, so was he. When I was ripped and torn, so was he.
I forgot about my husband that day. But he’ll never forget it was him holding our newborn baby girl in a quiet NICU, unsure of where his wife was or if she would ever be coming.
It was 2 years before we openly spoke about what happened from both points of view. Similarly to a children’s connect the dots, we moved from point A to point B creating an image of what happened and how we got there. I couldn’t see the whole picture before. I wasn’t using all the dots. It was the same day, but two completely different experiences and accepting that both sides create our story has helped tremendously. Does it mean we have it all figured out? No. We still have days when we struggle to see eye to eye. But is there more empathy and patience? Yes.
It’s easy to forget partners, but that needs to change. Many partners do not speak up if they are feeling the effects of a traumatic birth, one of the reasons being that they don’t want to overshadow the birthing partner’s experience, after all it didn’t happen to them. Other times, they want to appear strong for their loved ones. No matter the case, we cannot forget to ask partners about their experiences as well. And sometimes, partners aren’t the best support for each other in the early wake of birth trauma. Our ability to connect, dissect and create the images and complete our story also came from extensive trauma therapy. Check out resources available to partners here. There are mental health professionals that support partners of birth trauma as well.
As a postpartum doula, I can help support the family as a whole as you recover from a traumatic birth. You all deserve healing. This is simply our story and our path. I am not a mental health professional and I would encourage anyone who is living with trauma to seek support.