‘If I die, will I know I’ve died and feel it?’
Nothing quite prepares you for hearing those words from the woman you love, when doctors inform your partner that she and your unborn baby could die during childbirth.
My emotional rock bottom was watching her sign forms giving doctors authority to conduct an emergency c-section operation and permission for them to donate her organs should the worst happen.
But I had to be a beacon of positivity and calmness, reassuring and providing support to our families during this seismic moment. I knew I would be forgiven for showing vulnerability, since the fragility of life was ever more apparent, but I chose to be selfless not selfish.
Emotionally inside, I was a complete and utter mess, consumed by overwhelming fear, heartache, and anxiety. The two most important people in my world were at risk of being taken away from me and all I wanted to do was cry while hugging her and the bump tightly, not letting go.
I kept those true feelings to myself, but at what cost?
Lauren and I met six years ago through a mutual friend and immediately sparked a rapport with shared interests and humour. This progressed into a stable, happy and committed relationship.
We had spoken about having children and it was extremely important to us to have a family at some point years down the line in the future, but things never go to plan right? 18 May 2019, 2:30pm, I received the text message that would change my world: ‘OMG babe, I’ve just done a test, I’m pregnant’.
Feelings of excitement, confidence, joy, love and responsibility were instant. I want to be the perfect dad since I grew up without one. These positive affirmations swiftly provoked thoughts of my childhood and doubt quickly ensued.
All the dormant feelings of abandonment, isolation, disappointment, and vulnerabilities came flooding back like a tsunami, and I was back to being six years old again. I was going to be a dad, and I had no male figure to mirror or manifest any positive feelings of what a dad is.
I had to quickly rid myself of these doubts. I was determined not to let my dad affect the brilliant father I intended to be. I vowed I would never make my child feel like I did, and I would give them everything I didn’t have – stability, presence, male encouragement, discipline, time and most importantly, love.
My partner had the perfect start to pregnancy (no morning sickness or fatigue) and we attended every neonatal meeting, check-ups, and scans with everything going beyond well.
Being passive was not an option for me, I wanted to give Lauren all the support in the world and to be actively involved.
However, at the seven month stage of pregnancy, things began to take a turn for the worse as we neared the end of our babymoon trip to Amsterdam.
After a lovely evening at a restaurant, Lauren started feeling pain in her right rib, which progressively got worse. Her feet, hands and face were swollen, and she was suffering from nausea and headaches, matching virtually all the symptoms associated with pre-eclampsia.
Known as a silent killer, pre-eclampsia is a condition that affects some pregnant women, usually during the second half of pregnancy (from 20 weeks) or soon after their baby is delivered.
It is caused by a defect in the placenta, which joins the mother and baby, supplying the baby with nutrients and oxygen from the mother’s blood. The earlier pre-eclampsia is diagnosed and monitored, the better the outlook for mother and baby.
We proceeded to frantically race back home to London and straight to the hospital, where our fears were confirmed by doctors.
Worse yet, the diagnosis was HELLP Syndrome, a severe complication of pre-eclampsia – a rare liver and blood clotting disorder, where the only method to treat the condition is to deliver the baby immediately. That’s when we found out that our baby would have to come into the world by emergency c-section within the following few days.
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The pit of my stomach was doing summersaults as I watched the woman I love carrying our first baby in so much agony. I felt truly helpless, offering only a brave face and comforting words of reassurance.
Being unable to control a situation and outcome left me vulnerable and exposed. The fear of wanting something so much and the risk of it being taken away was too much to contemplate. So I suppressed and compartmentalised those thoughts and emotions. The truth is, I was running away – not confronting my feelings.
I felt pressure with the self-imposed expectation to be the strong male patriarch of the family. It was an innate calling, steeped in pride and almost defined my value as a man: to protect in the most traditional and primal sense.
Thankfully mother and the baby made it through, though my son was born seven weeks premature and spent significant time in intensive care. He was then transferred to the special care neonatal unit, suffering from many of the associated issues that preterm babies have.
When I saw my son, I felt instant surges of happiness, immense pride and emotive feelings of relief, but also a sense of apprehension. I knew I was about to enter a new voyage of fatherhood and that the dynamics of my life had just changed forever, which was both exhilarating and yet terrifying in equal measure.
In the following months, though the major fears had subsided, I clearly hadn’t dealt with the emotional trauma I was left with, and my mum and sister were noticing changes in my personality. I was getting snappier and more aggressive, wasn’t looking after my physical health and always tired.
It was only when I started writing a book that I started unpacking some of the emotional rocks that I had been carrying around. The book is a journey through pregnancy, pre-eclampsia and fatherhood, while shining a spotlight on narratives and themes such as gender, mental and paternal health, race, stigma, discrimination, representation, masculinity and so much more, making it relatable to all.
To say that I could never have envisioned writing a book is more than an understatement but having gone through this cathartic exploration of self-reflection and discovery, it became apparent that I was truly destined to write it.
I started to slowly deal with what had happened by revisiting it. But it also made me confront chapters from my childhood that have informed the decisions I make today, and how I deal with situations.
As a Black man, the cultural tropes and stigmas we carry from upbringing we need to unpackage and break some of these cycles that suppress our voices to communicate emotively.
Ultimately we all go through similar things in life and have more in common than we do apart, so we need to connect and provide safe and supportive environments for men.
It’s only when we share our feelings on a deeper level that true bonds and rapport can be built – bonds that have a meaningful impact, create lasting relationships and promote positive narratives around men and fatherhood. I hope my lived experience can inspire others to tell theirs.
Today, Lauren and our son Hunter Maverick, are doing wonderfully well. While the experience has left us with scars – emotional and some physical – the outcome is the most beautiful story of inspiration, hope and love.
I am hoping the book raises more awareness around pre-eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome and I will keep working with the remarkable charity APEC, ‘Action On Pre-eclampsia’, to keep fighting the good fight for women who suffer from this silent killer.
My book will be a timeless acknowledgment to all the survivors and to those who sadly are no longer with us.
You can find Paul’s book here
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