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A qualitative study of the impact of adverse birth experiences on fathers

Published:January 22, 2021DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2021.01.005

      Abstract

      Background

      Being present during labour and birth can, for some fathers, result in feelings of fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and helplessness. Witnessing birth complications or adverse events may cause immediate and long-term anxiety and stress. In turn, this experience can impact on men’s sense of self and identity as a man and father and can affect his relationship with his infant and partner. The aim of this study was to explore the immediate and longer-term impact of witnessing a complicated or adverse birth experiences on men in heterosexual relationships and their role as a father.

      Methods

      An interpretive qualitative approach informed the design of this study. A total of 17 fathers, one from New Zealand and sixteen from Australia participated through face to face, telephone and email interviews. The ages of the men were between 24 to 48 years, and the time since the adverse birth experience ranged from 4.5 months to 20.5 years.

      Findings

      Thematic analysis revealed three major themes representing men’s experiences of witnessing a complicated birth or adverse event; ‘Worst experience of my life’, ‘Negotiating my place: communicating with health professionals’ and ‘Growing stronger or falling apart’. Men were unprepared and feared for the lives of their infants and partners, they expected and wanted to be involved in the birth and the maternity care journey, instead they were pushed to the side and excluded from the labour and birth during times of emergency. Being excluded from part or all of the birth perpetuated worry and vulnerability as, at times, men were left not knowing anything about what was happening to their partners. Midwives and other health professionals’ support was important to the way fathers adjusted and processed the complications of the labour and birth event. This experience impacted on their own mental health and their relationship with their baby and partner.

      Conclusion

      Findings demonstrate that following a complicated or adverse birth experience, men questioned their role as a father, their place in the family and their role at the birth. There is a need to include and inform the expectant father that help is available if they experience negative feelings of hopelessness or despair. Maternity services and care providers need to involve fathers so that they feel part of the maternity care system and journey which may mitigate feelings of helplessness.

      Keywords

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