This is the story of Mark and his experience of his wife’s birth trauma and seriously ill son Dexter.

It is so moving and really shows the impact of poor care, cruel words and the struggle to find answers after a difficult birth.

Please be aware that some stories may trigger difficult memories and emotions so remember your own self-care as everyone will be at different stages of healing.

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The writing was already on the wall regarding our Maternity care. During our first pregnancy, our GP was so blasé, so cold and completely and utterly devoid of any kind of empathy when she informed us that my wife’s HCG levels were not increasing as they should and it was unlikely the pregnancy was viable. I always remember the phrase “not viable” and whenever I hear it now, I can’t help but visualise her emotionless resting bitch face. I was surprised at the time of my wife’s resilience and strength, a side of her I’d never seen before, and a side she would be needing more than either of us could ever have known in the coming months and years.

For our second pregnancy, our new GP had recommended an OB who was said to be pro-natural birth. During our first consultation, he’d explained that he was due to go on holiday during our pregnancy and that in the highly unlikely event of my wife going into labour during this time, he worked with a stand-in OB who would be looking after us. His holiday was 5 or 6 weeks before our due date, and we were not unduly concerned. He had a bit of a dig about my weight, and how that would preclude me from certain aspects of being a Father, which annoyed me, not because I’m sensitive about being overweight, I’m sensitive about people thinking I’m a bad person or Father for not doing anything about it. Despite this OB/Dietician/Fitness Instructor, we left his rooms feeling very positive about our pregnancy and labour.

I worked an 8/6 FIFO roster at the time and flights back to Perth were 4 or 5 a day Monday to Friday. I’d always said to my wife we are OK as long as you don’t go into labour on a Friday after 4 pm. So yeah, you guessed it, while our OB was away on holiday 5 weeks before our due date, at 4:30 pm on a Friday afternoon, I got the phone call.

I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I got that phone call, regrettably, I did not take it well. My wife, had been to see the stand-in OB in the morning as she’d been told to, he’d sent her to the hospital to be monitored, we’d spoken on the phone and I asked if I should come home that day, she said no don’t be daft, it’s precautionary. To my eternal shame, when she called me for the second time, I flew off the handle, berating her for not telling me to come back when I had the chance. Annoyance at the sheer bad luck of it all, and frustration that I couldn’t be there for her and that I may now miss the birth of my first child, obscured the fact that my wife was alone in a country we were not that familiar with, with no family or friends with her, and who had just been told by a Dr she had never met,  that he was cutting her open and taking our baby out of her, for “her and the baby’s good” and “whether your husband is here or not”. Very early the next morning, my superintendent drove me 200km into Newman. I made it back to Perth for our baby’s birth by about an hour.

I know everyone has different experiences and some people have had amazing births of all types and experienced the greatest of care and professionalism from their OBs,  this is my story and we didn’t experience any of that, so forgive my impartiality. If I ever saw the OB who treated my wife with such disrespect and arrogance, who did what he did with absolutely zero medical justification and for no reason other than his Saturday morning golf game got cancelled and he had a few spare hours, I’d be asking him a few searching questions. I’m a responsible parent now and I’d never break the law but I think if he was unlucky enough to meet me, I’d quite like to string him up by his stupid little bow tie and watch the life drain out of him. Reading that back, in the cold light of day, a death threat seems a bit harsh, sorry, not sorry.

Dexter was born on 18th August 2012, and as you’d expect, I loved him like I’ve never loved anyone before. I was happier than I’ve ever been in my life, for about 5 minutes, until we were told he was sick, 24 hours later that became life-threateningly sick. It was like winning the lottery and 5 minutes later being told you are terminally ill. He spent his first three weeks in PMH NICU and SCN, and we experienced something that no parent ever should, we watched our son fighting for his life on a ventilator for 8 days. For 8 days he hardly opened his eyes, he didn’t cry and we couldn’t hold him. For 8 days we sat with him every day, willing him to keep going, to keep fighting, but powerless to do anything for him. I’ve been through some shit in my life, but this was, by a fair margin, the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I remember sitting there, feeling an absolute, total catastrophic failure as a human being, as a Father, completely powerless to ease my newborn son’s suffering, I’d passed on my suspect genes that had led to his birth defect, as a Husband, I’d allowed some Dr to cut my wife open, to take away her birth choice with nothing but blatant disregard for her wishes. I’d dragged her halfway around the world, away from her family, friends and support system and promised her I’d be all those things for her, and in her time of greatest need, I was chasing dollars in some Pilbara dustbowl. I’d failed as a provider, during this time I’d had a phone call to say I’d been made redundant and I was way behind schedule decorating and furnishing our new home, a home we’d got the keys to the day before Dexter was born.  I felt pretty shitty about myself, and it took me a good while to get past that.

We chose to be stubborn, to never give up, to fight on, to not let go because that’s how we roll in our family.

I remember about 5 or 6 days after Dexter was born, my wife was discharged from the private hospital in Subiaco, and yet another OB came into her room. I can’t remember his exact words, but he pointed out a bottle of flavoured mineral water that she had been drinking and informed us that it was full of sugar, that she was overweight and that was most likely the cause of Dexter’s birth defect and health problems. It was one of those situations where I was so dumbfounded, so utterly shocked at what I had just heard that it took me a few seconds to process it, to realize that yes, he did just say that. By the time that had happened, he had already left the room.

Being our son, Dexter was genetically predisposed to be stubborn, to never give up, to fight on, and to never let go. On the 9th day, we got to hold him, and after a short stay in SCN and Mother Craft, where I celebrated my 40th birthday and first Father’s Day with takeaway pizza and a cake brought in by one of our beautiful friends, 3 weeks after he was born, we finally got to take our little boy home. We’d won the battle, but the war was far from over.

In the 3 years between our two children being born, we searched for answers; we approached the private hospital in Subiaco where Dexter was born, where we went through medical notes with the head midwife and an administrator. Nobody could really tell us why we had been railroaded into a C-section, and why if it was an “emergency” she was scheduled for a C-section almost 24 hours later. Where was the medical evidence? We met with our original OB. We complained to APHRA, a total waste of time. Nobody had any kind of answer for us. We both really needed some closure and had no idea what form that would take or how to go about getting it.

After Dexter was born, my wife was diagnosed with PTSD, and anxiety and suffered from panic attacks. I was still working FIFO because If I didn’t we’d lose our house and my wife was at home, unable to work, looking after Dexter who was going through a series of what turned out to be 9 corrective surgeries and procedures. It was a hellish time. But we chose to be stubborn, to never give up, to fight on, to not let go because that’s how we roll in our family.

But there is hope. Just after midnight on 28th October, 11 days overdue. my wife went into labour at home with our next baby. I won’t go into too many details. It was 22 hours, to me it felt like about 4, probably not for everyone else involved. Just after 11 pm on 28th October Vivienne was born naturally at home. At that moment, in that very second, I felt like there was a whiteboard with all the shit that we’d been through as a family over the previous 4 years written on it, and someone had just rubbed it out, all of it. Every tearful phone call, every strained conversation, every moment of doubt, every panic attack, every time I’d looked down at Dexter in hospital after surgery and wished I could take his pain away, every time I’ve held my wife and told her it was going to be ok as she broke down, every time the rage wells up when I hear his name, every time our complaints and requests for answers were ignored, every time I’d felt like a catastrophic failure of a human being, erased, gone, closure.

As a short postscript to this story, because of her experiences in childbirth, My wife now volunteers with Birthrites WA who help parents who have had their first baby via c-section and sometimes in traumatic circumstances, make more informed choices regarding their subsequent births. She’s turned pretty much the worst thing that’s happened to her into a positive. When she talks to women about their traumatic childbirth, it must bring up so many emotions, so much negativity and anger for her, but she channels it into helping people. The strength of character it must take to do something like that astounds me and I couldn’t be prouder to be her husband.

The worst thing that had ever happened to me.

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