Fathers suffering from birth trauma

A student at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia has found that after a traumatic birth, 11.5% of fathers experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It seems to be a small piece of research – an online survey of 87 fathers, and interviews with seven fathers – but interesting, nonetheless.

If there’s widespread resistance to the idea that women can suffer PTSD after giving birth, then the idea that men can suffer from it too is sometimes met with incomprehension or ridicule. A Daily Mail article on the subject begins in gently mocking tones: “The claim may win little sympathy from those who not only have to do the giving birth bit but also put up with months of morning sickness, swollen ankles and worse.”

The examples it goes on to give, however, show that this is no joking matter. They include a man whose wife almost died in childbirth and another who thought his baby had died.

It’s not really surprising that men can suffer PTSD in these circumstances. PTSD is defined as a condition that can arise either from having been through an extremely traumatic event (particularly one in which the sufferer nearly dies) or from having witnessed someone else dying or near death. A man who has seen his wife lose several pints of blood, or an apparently lifeless baby taken to intensive care, is clearly a potential candidate for PTSD.

What is interesting, both about the Oxford University research that the Daily Mail article is based on, and the new Australian research, is that a lack of communication during the birth was a common factor in the trauma. Christian Inglis, the Australian student, said: “It didn’t seem to matter how it was happening. If the fathers were communicated to before, during or after, the fathers were okay. If they weren’t, there was a feeling of marginalization.”

Similarly, the Oxford University researchers said that the men “told a common tale of being left alone in hospital corridors with little clue of what was happening, fearing for the lives of both mother and baby.”

Research on mothers suffering from birth trauma have shown time and time again that lack of proper communication by professionals during birth can create to feelings of helplessness that then play a role in the subsequent birth trauma. Now it seems that the same applies to fathers. How long will it take before the idea that health professionals should talk to women and their partners about what is happening is given the respect it deserves?

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