My wife Nina and I were expecting our first baby in 2011 and we couldn’t wait. Nina had had a great pregnancy, and without the risking of using a cliché, glowed throughout. On the 27th May, 11 days past our due date, Nina started having contractions. We had already agreed if we had a boy he was going to be called Ralph, if we had a girl, well, we still wasn’t sure. I drove to the hospital with Nina and Nina’s Mum, Denise.
Labour started well and as expected, however over the next few hours Nina was becoming more and more tired. At 10pm, after 8 hours, the decision was made they would have to cut Nina to get baby out. I was becoming increasingly worried, I felt like it was happening to someone else and I was watching from far away. I tried to comfort Nina, telling her it was ok and that it wouldn’t be long. But she knew things were going wrong, despite the gas and air. Then time felt like it stood still, I could hear the clock ticking but wasn’t aware of what was happening around me. Next thing I knew the midwife jumped-up, shouted something and ran to the wall behind the bed and pressed the alarm. The room instantly filled with people in white jackets, looking concerned and serious. ‘What is happening?’ I asked, ‘what is wrong with our baby?’ I pleaded, but no one was talking to me. I couldn’t see what was happening, there was too many people. Nina was crying, asking where our baby was. I couldn’t answer her, my face stung with tears. Denise cuddled me, I couldn’t speak. Then I saw our baby, we had a little boy, he was out. I felt a pang of relief, ‘if he is out then he must be ok’. They took our baby straight to a machine with a heat lamp over it. He wasn’t crying, why wasn’t he crying, please cry. I could see them lift his tiny arm and it fall limply by his side. This wasn’t supposed to be happening, we were supposed to be taking pictures, holding our baby, smiling like everyone else. Three, four times they lifted his arm, nothing. He had been out for what felt like forever, although in reality is was about four minutes. I was crying, more tears then I knew possible, I was shaking I couldn’t do anything. I looked at Nina, her face pleading with me to help, to do something. I couldn’t do anything to help our baby, all I could whisper was ‘we have got a boy, Ralph is here’. Then I heard a cry, the smallest and loudest sound I had ever heard. Then they started moving the heat trolley he was on, ‘we are taking him to intensive care now’, was all I heard, then they were gone. I looked around, Nina was cuddling her Mum, the floor and bed was covered in blood and the alarm was still flashing.
Nina had to get in the shower and be stitched-up by the nurse, her mum stayed with her, I followed the doctors to intensive care. They transferred Ralph to a large plastic box full of tubes and pipes. He looked so helpless, so scared, I couldn’t even touch him.
During his birth, Ralph had started to get upset and did a poo in Nina’s womb, this is called meconium, babies first poo which is composed of materials ingested during the pregnancy and is very toxic. Ralph swallowed and ingested it during the birth. This caused Ralphs lung to collapse, his kidneys fail and septicaemia (blood poisoning). Ralph also stopped breathing for almost five minutes. When I asked the Drs what this meant, they couldn’t be sure, he was very poorly and lucky to be alive. When I asked about potential brain damage because of stopping breathing, they said again that they couldn’t be sure and he would undergo tests as he improved. I sat next to his incubator watching him, wanting to hold him, concentrating on his little chest moving up and down awkwardly. I went back to see Nina, she was in a wheelchair. I cuddled her and didn’t want to let go. I then looked her in the eye and said, ‘do you want to go and meet Ralph’.
Ralph spent the next seven days in NICU, he received round the clock care from the most fantastic consultants, doctors and nurses. They saved his life, I have no doubt of that. We visited him all day, every day. Going home only to shower, change clothes and sleep for a couple of hours. I would sit next to Ralph’s incubator every night and read him The Gruffalo, my favourite book. We would stay until the early hours, then call at 6 am the next morning to check on him and be there by 9am for the shift change. The week felt like a never ending cycle of cleaning my hands and drinking coffee. The constant beeping and smell of disinfectant kept me awake and served as an on-going reminder of where we were. After three days we were allowed to hold Ralph and after seven days we could take him home. We were so excited to finally get our boy home, but now what? Whilst we wanted to get out of NICU it was a security blanket, what if something went wrong when we got home? What if he stops breathing again?
As Ralph grew older I felt more and more distant, I couldn’t bond with him. I would make excuses to stay at work so I didn’t have to be at home, I became withdrawn. I couldn’t talk about Ralph’s birth, couldn’t even think about it. If people talked about it, I would leave the room. If a TV programme came on showing a baby or someone giving birth, I would leave the room. I felt myself not wanting to carry on with life, feeling more and more helpless. I was obsessed with me becoming a bad father and that I didn’t want Ralph growing up hating me, blaming me for what had happened, why hadn’t daddy helped? One evening in November 2011, I drove home from work through the forest, it was dark and the roads were quite. I was driving at 50mph and I closed my eyes. I hoped a deer was going to run out in front of me, wished it would. I kept doing it. Night after night, praying for a huge crash.
A few months later I had been getting worse and it was affecting my diabetes. I had to go for a medication review. I was with the nurse looking at my details when she said, ‘so Sam, how are you?’ I broke down. I cried and couldn’t stop talking about what had happened and how I didn’t want to be here anymore and that my family would be better off without me. The nurse called for the Dr who came in and saw me immediately, we chatted, I lost track of how long I had been there. The Dr diagnosed me with PTSD, anxiety and depression following the birth of my son and my inability to deal with it and was referred to a counsellor. At first I didn’t believe it, how could I have PTSD? That’s what soldiers suffer from, not people like me. Anyway, surely men do not suffer with it, shouldn’t it be the mum? We need to be strong for our families. I must be weak I thought, real men wouldn’t let this beat them. Real men do not cry.
Four years later I still take medication and find it hard watching the TV showing a baby being born. But I am stronger now, I know that it was a sign of strength me speaking up. I still hear that beeping from NICU in my dreams but now I can deal with it. I look at me beautiful healthy little Ralph and think how lucky we are to have our little miracle boy. I will always suffer with mental illness, that I accept, I will have good days and bad days, days where I want to smile and days where I want to cry. But what I have learnt is that we need to talk to each other and about our experiences. Just because we are men doesn’t mean it doesn’t effect us, yes we want to be strong for our families but what good are we doing by burying it away.
With thanks to Sam for sharing his story.
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