Ben's Story: Surviving Birth Trauma - A Dad's Perspective

by Brita Johnson

Photo courtesy of Ben B.

Photo courtesy of Ben B.

For Ben and his wife Lauren, the path from their son’s birth in January, 2017 to Father’s Day, 2017 was a rocky road marked by medical trauma, parenting challenges, emotional struggles, and, finally, healing. Ben recalls that first Father’s Day as the time when things started to normalize and they began to enjoy the kind of family moments he’d expected from the start.

Things had felt easy in the beginning. With nothing more serious than the slight nausea and fatigue that you’d expect, Lauren’s had been a textbook pregnancy. When they went into the hospital for an induction a few days past Lauren’s due date, they anticipated a similarly easy labor and delivery. Instead, Ben says, “we walked out forever changed.”

It was while on the operating table for a routine c-section that everything went sideways. Once the baby was delivered, Lauren started bleeding profusely. Ben was rushed out of the operating room while the surgeons scrambled to stanch the bleeding. He spent 15-30 minutes in an adjacent room, not knowing if Lauren would live or die. “It was the most profound loneliness I’ve ever experienced,” Ben says of those moments.

Once the hemorrhage was under control, Ben spent the next three days at Lauren’s side in the intensive care unit, focused wholly on her survival. No part of the story of their first three days as parents is about meeting their son, looking into his eyes, counting fingers and toes, and marveling at his tiny perfection. The baby, who would be named Sully, entered the picture only on day four, when their doctor had to push for an exception to the rules to allow Sully into the ICU to meet his mother.

Ben, Lauren, and Sully headed home from the hospital not long after, to settle into their new life as a family of three. But, “the course of what I thought parenthood was going to be was completely altered,” says Ben. Medical struggles, ongoing physical impacts from Lauren’s hemorrhage, severe colic, and the emotional fallout from their trauma consumed them for the next four months. Lauren experienced a bout of postpartum depression; Ben focused on supporting her through that. As she began to resurface, he took a dive into depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

During those months, Ben lived in a swirl of fear (“Would things ever be normal again? What if this was a mistake and we never reclaim our identity? What if we never get to surf or travel or do the things we love?”) and anger (“why us?”).

“It honestly took 8 months to…I won’t say ‘recover’… but to get back to neutral,” Ben says. What helped? A flood of family and friend support; research into paternal postpartum experience, PTSD, and trauma recovery; an awareness, shared with Lauren, about the need to heal; a subsequent therapy journey. And, support from Bridgetown Baby.

Friends recommended Bridgetown Baby, and soon postpartum doula support became an integral part of Ben’s, Lauren’s, and Sully’s early weeks as a family. “Merriah came into our home when everything was at its worst,” says Ben. Doula support was powerful for Ben and Lauren in ways both simple and profound. “Just to have the energy of someone who’d seen what we’d gone through, and could support us in learning to be parents… In the moments where the four of us could sit down together and talk, Merriah really listened and always gave thoughtful advice.”

Then there was the magical frittata (“I still remember how good it tasted”), and the gift of sleep: “For me, it was having Merriah walk through the door and look at me and say, ‘just go to bed.’ All the riches in the world weren’t as valuable as getting to lie down in the guest room and sleep uninterrupted.”

For Ben, postpartum doula support was something he didn’t know they needed until they needed it. Ben says, “it's unimaginable that we could have gotten through what we did without doula care.”

Looking back, Ben can (almost) chuckle at some of the fears he experienced in those early months. Sully is now a happy, verbal toddler—Ben’s face glows with joy as he describes Sully’s newest abilities and capers. As they approach Father’s Day 2018, Ben marvels at the difference a year makes. “Last year, we were still navigating the crisis, we were in survival mode. Right now, life is chaotic…but life is full, in a good way. We’re able to focus on each other in a different way, and enjoy ourselves as a family.”

With the perspective he’s gained, Ben now feels a drive to share the struggle he went through: if his experience can make it just one or two clicks easier for someone else to find the resources they need, he feels it’s worth telling his story.

For all dads, Ben would like to recognize the tumultuous feelings they might have: “[having a new baby is] a really intense experience, and it’s not easy. And it’s not easy for everybody, not just the mom. The dad’s emotions and reactions are not an outlier—they’re part of the equation. I didn’t think that way walking into it.”

For dads who’ve “gone through something with childbirth, or raising a kid, whether it’s [a crisis of some kind or whether it’s] as simple as you’ve had a completely normal experience but it’s just hard to raise a kid…I hope it can help to know that there’s someone else who’s gone through it and is willing to talk it through.”

His biggest take-home is that it’s okay to feel the feelings you have. ”You owe it to yourself first,” Ben says, “and your family second, to get in there with those feelings, to recognize them, and work through them.”

Find more information on the Bridgetown Baby blog about dads' varying experiences, including tips and resources to make your job as a dad easier and more fun!

C.V.’s Story: Double Twins Dad!

by Kari Hastings

Photo credit: Nicole Wasko Photography

Photo credit: Nicole Wasko Photography

Stay-at-home dad C.V. already had 4-year-old twins (the bigs) when his second set of twins, boys Carlyle and Sebastian (the littles), were born in fall of 2015. He had forgotten what it was like to have two babies at once, but reality hit full force those first few months. And this time, the infants’ round-the-clock needs were compounded by having two other young children.

“Having twins, again, for me as a Dad … was overwhelming,” says C.V., who quit his job as a pastor to stay home after his first twins, a boy and girl, were born. “In my fuzzy memory, it was as though I was reliving a bad dream.”

Overnight, life turned into an endless rotation of diapering, swaddling, feeding, sleeping and bottle-washing. Competing with these demands were C.V.’s older children, who needed to be fed, entertained, bathed and parented. The sleep deprivation was brutal. The mental exhaustion was punishing. C.V. knew he and his wife, Stacy, needed help.

Stacy’s friend referred them to Bridgetown Baby, and a Go Fund Me account helped them purchase 36 overnights over a six-month period. The help, in the form of postpartum doulas Merriah Fairchild and Emily Darley Hill, brought a measure of sanity back to the household.

The North Portland father says although well-meaning family and friends tried to help, the complex feeding system and efforts to sync the twins’ feeding and napping schedules was difficult to navigate. But when he explained everything to Bridgetown Baby’s doulas, they not only got it, they helped him achieve his goals with professional guidance and seamless care.

“We continue to be in over our heads,” C.V. says, laughing. “But I look back on those overnights with such a sense of gratitude. They made me feel like I could keep going. I really don’t know what we would have done without them.”

What would he tell other parents about to welcome twins into their families?

“Know that you will get to the end of yourself,” C.V. says. “You need to prepare yourself to ask and to receive help. With Bridgetown Baby, you can trust your babies will be well taken care of. It’s a very significant release to be able to hand them over with peace of mind. Just know that when you are at your end, Bridgetown Baby is hope and support … and sleep.”