Trigger warning: this article contains mention of traumatic birth.
“Code blue, code blue” blasts over the hospital intercom. At the time, I didn’t know the meaning of it, but I was still in shock from what was happening in front of me. This was the last thing I could have imagined leading up to this incredibly special day that everyone always talks about, the birth of your child! How beautiful it is, how amazing and wonderful everything is when you first see your child, blah blah blah. Well, folks, my story didn’t follow that narrative, and I hope that this can touch some of you who felt guilty after the birth, unconfident in your abilities to parent, irritable at the littlest things, and overwhelmed with anxiety that manifests in ways you never knew. Let this shed light and bring some awareness that the perception of birth can be traumatic to anyone, regardless of how it goes, and the aftermath of feeling broken and lost as a father/partner will challenge you as a parent to levels you never imagined.
I will spare the precise details of how the traumatic birth unfolded, as that is not the point of this story. What we thought would be a routine delivery because of how well the pregnancy went and because everyone was healthy, turned out to be the most terrifying experience of our lives. The epidural that was administered to my wife went too far into her spinal cavity with the paralytic medicine traveling to her lungs and heart, starting to shut down her body. What was told to me at the time as being “low blood pressure” was an actual attempt at saving her and our unborn child’s life. She had to undergo an emergency c-section to get the baby out in time, all the while being inundated and completely unconscious. She woke up forgetting she was pregnant while I had to bear witness to her almost dying in front of me.
Thank God this story has a happy ending where our daughter was born completely fine, and my wife was able to recover from this event. But does that negate everything that happened? Should I have been fine and grateful that we could be back together as a new family? How could I have let something like this happen to her? I’m supposed to be the rock, the man, the partner who supports and is there for my family. But why do I feel this way and how can I fix it? So many questions, so much uncertainty, and so few answers as to why this happened and how we move forward.
It’s these moments that can define us for how we keep going, break free of that story, and flip our perspective on life. Easier said than done though, especially when you are battling these overwhelming feelings of guilt for letting that happen, identity loss for who you are, lack of confidence in being the father/partner you imagined, and anxiety and worry about things that never affected you.
One moment at a time, one day at a time, and one more win at a time. This became a foundation for me in working through these feelings. If I can just improve a little bit each day to gain my identity back, strengthen my confidence, embrace my love for my family, and be grateful for life, then I can do this. How though?
It began with my health and my fitness. If I was going to try and make my mind better, I had to start with my body. While I have always been an athletic and “fit” person, I took my exercise and diet to a different level. With a structured schedule and routine of working out and eating healthy, I started to feel better about myself. This began to build my confidence back in being able to support my family and feel like the father I knew I could become.
Exercising showed me a different perspective on life. It taught me patience in delayed gratification. As much as we would all like a six-pack after a week at the gym, it takes dedicated hours which turn into weeks, which turn into months to start to feel and see a transformation. Exercising pushed me to do hard things, especially at a time when I didn’t feel like doing them. When you get up early in the morning and hit the gym or go for a run, you are following through on a promise you made to yourself and starting your day off with a win. I lived outside my comfort zone through exercising, which is the only place that we can grow and become better in life. These small moments when added up are massively beneficial to breaking free of that old story and creating the identity you dream of.
Delayed gratification for me has been one of the most powerful tools I utilize in life. When you can become patient waiting for something you truly want while putting in the work, the reward outweighs all the hard times it took to get there. Your character grows and you become stronger as an individual.
Self-awareness has been another practice that has helped me identify challenges, discover a way to work through them and reflect on what I have learned to better apply in the future. How do we develop self-awareness though, when it feels like we should be holding our emotions behind closed doors and bottling up things? Journaling, meditation, and breathing techniques. These three powerhouses of self-care tactics have opened my eyes to a world of working through some of the toughest times in life.
Journaling always seemed as silly to me as a “dear diary” book. Well, I was very wrong about that, and have multiple journals filled with anything and everything in my life. It took me time to get comfortable and sharpen my skills with journaling, but it has paid off. Starting every session with what I am grateful for that day has taught me the power of gratitude. Then going into an affirmation for what I will become or succeed at has shown me how effective visualization is. Writing about questions I have in life helps me untangle the mess of thoughts I have in my head into a stream of thought on paper which gives me clarity in finding a solution. I then finish every session with my financial affirmation and the goals I am working toward. This repetitive process becomes a subconscious workhorse that motivates me 24/7 and I love it.
Meditation has been something I hold close to my heart and when I practice this in the morning, I can begin my day with equanimity. “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” -Viktor E. Frankl, M.D., Ph.D. I may not be close to this famous statement, but with meditation, I continually work towards it and feel the effects of having that mental control over life’s uncharted journey.
Breathing techniques have given me a quick fix to get out of a stressful situation. It is so easy to overlook and forget about the power and life that our breath gives us. Without it, we wouldn’t exist. When we take the time to focus on our breath, it has such a strong influence on grounding us and slowing down whatever stressful situation we may be involved in. I love taking six deep breaths in through my nostrils, holding it for a couple of seconds, and then breathing out through my mouth like I had a straw, taking my time. It only takes 30 seconds and allows me to push the reset button on what I am being challenged with at the moment.
While this may not be a complete blueprint for everyone on overcoming the trauma from birth or working through postpartum mood disorders, I hope it can be a step in the right direction to feeling like yourself again. I felt alone, lost, confused, guilty, and just angry at the world for what happened, but I knew this wasn’t me. It takes time, but with discipline, consistency, and faith you will overcome your challenges and break free of that old story. Somebody once told me, “Parenting is the hardest job you’ll ever love.” It’s true, but the most rewarding and loving job too. Your being here already shows you want to become the best partner/father you can be. Keep working, keep pushing through, I promise you it will happen.