Fathers’ reactions to traumatic births, in their own words (Australia)

traumatic birth

A study in Sydney Australia, involving 17 interviews with fathers who had been present at a traumatic birth, has provided moving testimonies about the experience.

The terror

“The sheer number of people in the room and the look on the faces scared me….Where the hell did this come from?“ (Daniel)

“During the delivery my wife started to tear. The baby came out like she was fully immersed in a bucket of red paint. She looked like a little devil offspring, decidedly satanic looking. That image is already burned into my memory….I remember doing my best, almost on autopilot, to follow the instructions of the midwife.” (Liam)

“It was a very scary experience, because you don’t know what’s going on.” (Ahmad)

“Everything went through my head…I didn’t know if she was going to die…..You feel so helpless and alone.” (Nelson)

“Just fear, helplessness. I was totally distraught…I’d just been crying basically the whole night, I was completely beside myself……I honestly thought I was going to lose her.” (Matt)

Communication with midwives – good experiences and not so good

[A couple who hired a privately practising midwife.] “We talked for hours about what we had gone through.…There was a lot of communication.” (Nelson)

“As the male I was excluded from the process and also felt that I had to defend my partner and our daughter from the hospital to some extent.” (Danni)

“I felt excluded….If it had been a couple of days that would have been fine. For two weeks it’s traumatic.” (Aaron)

“Up until that stage, they were helpful. They were explaining what was going on, when my son was crowning….But then…the mood changed and they were just focussed on fixing that, which was good……It would’ve been nice to know what was going on.” (Ahmad)

“You’re forever at the mercy of the shift cycle, but no individual midwife is there long enough or consistently enough.” (Nelson)

Reactions to stress after the event

“It would be like a sneeze. Suddenly, the trauma would start to come out and I’d just break down in tears, and it would last maybe 10 seconds and then it’d be gone…A few seconds, just uncontrollable, and then absolutely fine again.” (Nelson)

“Yes parts have been positive, but there are just so many negative things that have happened that chip away at the gloss of it all….leaving me feeling useless, emasculated, rejected, embarrassed, angry, bitterly disappointed, irritated at my wife, the baby and the world.” (Liam)

An enhanced caring role – “fatherly duties” – joy and stress

“She was recovering from two major surgeries…Actually I loved it, it was just the best time. We went round to the local cafes and had coffees and brunches. It was just really a wonderful time.” (Matt)

“Once we were all home I felt a lot more useful and I was able to be supportive through the night time breastfeeds as well.” (Aaron)

“I do my best to settle her, to do what a father should, to include myself in fatherly duties as a good father does. To take the load off my wife, give her a break…..I had to attend to just about every one of my baby’s needs, and somehow help with minding or settling the baby. I was out of my mind with stress and fatigue. All these things and my seemingly slow ability to adjust to fatherhood meant that I eventually felt I had been robbed of a massively and overwhelmingly positive experience.” (Liam)

Impact on couple relationships – making and breaking

“We’d been together for quite some time and then we had the struggles in actually falling pregnant. So if anything that process probably brought us together. Then the traumatic pregnancy and my trying to look after her then. So the birth experience itself probably just reinforced that.” (Paul)

“I think she probably felt like she became more of a carer than a wife. We were unable to talk about the birth.” (John)

“We find it very difficult at times to remain open and communicative. We both feel so tired all the time, and she is the bubbly one and I am the introverted one….This causes friction, and we have found ourselves with silent stares and disappointment.” (Liam)

Lack of support

“Especially the stress afterwards, don’t have the support network in our culture and often seen as a sign of weakness, definitely a taboo subject….You cannot speak up because it is seen as a sign of weakness.” (Omar)

The researchers emphasise the need to support fathers in their role of supporting the mother. The key support person is the midwife and good communication should be the focus.


Elmir R & Schmied V (2021), A qualitative study of the impact of adverse birth experiences on fathers, Women and Birth

Header photo: Lucas Pettinati. Creative Commons.