I guess if you're writing a blog about being a dad you might as well get started with the birth story. Seems like a good place to start.
People talk about childbirth as being torture, agony, all sorts of words like that that conjure up images of the fiery pits of hell. It's true. And I didn't even have to go through it myself! I was a helpless bystander.
Having done a hypnobirthing course and hoping for a 'natural' birth without pain relief, epidurals and so on, we had done a lot of preparation to hopefully make things easier on D Day. The big day approached and went, and it got to about four days overdue when suddenly I had a call from my wife. Too much protein in her urine; I needed to leave work and go to hospital where she was waiting.
And this is where it starts spiralling, folks. The hypnobirth was out of the window, the 5 star hotel-esque rooms of the newly built Cossham Hospital in Bristol would be a distant memory as we were told we would have to stay in Southmead Hospital instead, where they are able to cope with any form of complication as opposed to it being a midwife-led unit.
As baby was already overdue, we decided that it would be best if she was induced, now that word seems very inoffensive and peaceful but it's far from it. Inducing labour is actually a very painful process and can take days - she was offered a pessary, called a Propess, which caused H quite a bit of agony and stress over the next 24 hours.
Anyway, a whole day passes. Plenty of pain, fear, frustration, and high emotions. It was very sad that night as visitor hours were over and she cried and hugged me because I had to leave. Likewise, there was another couple in the same room going through exactly the same thing. So the two women were crying while the men consoled them. Looking back, it's kind of funny, but it was very emotional at the time. The lady next door was Swiss, and a long way from home.
So I went home, fed the cat, normal stuff like that, and went to bed. Phone rang at 4am - she's in labour - get here now! Got to the hospital, and it was dark, quiet, it's surreal, it's dark outside, you're shit scared, and there are hardly any lights on. It's sort of like a 4am booty call into someone's room at university and you knock on a window and a guard lets you in. I then rushed into her room where all hell was breaking loose. Loud animal noises, no nurse in sight, and to cop it all, there's that poor Swiss woman on the other side of the (very small) room while her roomie is in very loud labour. Mental.
H was on the bed, on all fours, with headphone wires all over the place, and loud moaning. I'll never forget it, I remember thinking how messy and out of context with the situation the headphones looked - but she was listening to calming music by Stephen Halpern that had been recommended by our legendary hypnobirthing tutor Katheryn. His album, Comfort Zone is a deeply chilled meander through time with gentle pianos and chimes, you sort of picture tranquil lagoons when you listen to it, so it definitely does the job! How useful that CD became over the next hours, I don't know what we would have done without it. It's funny though because any cynic out there would call this hippy new age music but we loved it and it really helped get her through the labour.
As her birth partner I needed to be on tip top form and be cool as a cucumber although it was crazy, on one half of the room the Swiss lady was wheeling her bed and possessions out of the door creating extremely loud and infuriating banging noises, meanwhile H was trying to concentrate on her breathing techniques to cope with the pain of the contractions and moaning like an elephant that has just been shot. I remember getting quite irate, and was about to go apesh*t about this woman's inability to move things without making really annoying noises, but thankfully it was over before I lost my rag.
On top of that, I was doing the typical man thing of trying to help, but failing on every level. Lots of cries of "don't touch me", followed by barked orders of "water", "flannel" and so on, but I could never seem to get the right thing at the right time, and at one point I helpfully turned the volume up of her music. Bad idea! Every time the nurse came in I was asking for us to get her to one of the delivery suites but there were various delays so my nerves were shot to pieces. When it finally happened we threw a blanket over H and wheeled her out on the bed through the hallways while she was still on all fours while she no doubt put the fear of god into every room we passed with her animalistic cries. I remember feeling really sorry for them and hoping it didn't wake them up as I helped push the bed.
Finally - into the delivery suite, H was coping very well with the contractions and I was slowly finding my feet at giving the right support or drink at the right time. Pretty difficult when you have homeopathic remedies to add into the mix - three different bottles of water with different healing effects (although again the cynics would have a field day with that!) I remember thinking how ridiculous it was with the three bottles, but they seemed to be doing the trick.
Then time flew by, a matter of hours, it seemed like we were one push away from meeting our baby C. It was unbelievable. She had been totally focused on her hypnobirthing breathing techniques and they were working! With no gas and air she was pushing our baby out magnificently, the midwives were smiling, you honestly thought this was going to be a happy ending. Sunlight was even starting to light the room up, it was like the universe was saying 'here is your perfect birth, in moments you will be holding your baby'. So I was even tweeting and texting people to update them, that I thought it was happening any time soon and H was doing fantastically well.
How wrong I was. There was obviously a bump in the road, little C couldn't quite turn the last corner, and that's when things screwballed. We had gone from a labour of only 4 hours into the most emotional day I'll ever recall. H was tiring, the pain was deepening, the adrenaline was wearing off and the midwives were looking concerned, they started to suggest gas and air, and it was accepted.
The next few hours passed, lots of jiggling around, position changes, gas sucking and a many more "nearly there's" but it got to a point where we knew all our encouragement was a false hope and it wasn't going to happen. It was hysterical at times as this wonderful midwife (who I think was Polish) had the most lovely accent and way about her, but every time it was "just one more push, come on H" she did it in this fantastically amusing, enthusiastic foreign way that was bordering on comic. As time went on though, I started to picture caesarians and all sorts at this point and would have been glad for that to happen as I was worried about the pain H was in and just wanted it to be over for her. I think I probably cried at this point too out of frustration for her and seeing her go through the hardship.
The next bit is a blur, it involves a doctor very matter of factly waving a barbaric implement of torture that looked more like an implement you'd use to skewer a sausage on a barbecue. "We're just going to take some blood from the baby's head now". I lost the plot and went bat-sh-t crazy. "You are going to f'ing do what?" My protective instincts kicked in. New dad syndrome. I went furious, normally I'm quite a placid guy but a red mist was pounding me and I was going ballistic, and four pairs of eyes looked on at me with absolute horror while the doctor calmly tried to explain what they needed to do. Purple rage, interspersed with sobbing from me and holding H's hand, I must have looked like a right nutter to them but all I can remember thinking is "you are not going to f'ing stab that thing in my baby's head".
I also damn well needed a cigarette. This was picked up on by our fantastic midwife Sasha who could clearly see I was getting agitated and a nervous wreck and she politely suggested I go outside. Thank Christ for that, I needed it. I came back inside and felt a lot calmer. It was time for H to have an epidural, which was something we really hoped we could avoid, but ended up being a godsend.
Now the epidural was one of the most surreal experiences of my life as throughout it all you have to picture the new age piano music of Stephen Halpern plinking away in the background on the CD player. I think everyone was grateful for it, including the anaesthetist. Now that is a hell of a job, it takes nerves of steel. They come in mid-way through a battle scene and are legally obliged to let you know that there is a chance the epidural can go horribly wrong, but ours had such a confident way about her, she was a consummate professional and commented "but there's no way that's happening on my watch", or words to that effect! But again, the fears and doubts and what-ifs creep into your mind and you just hope everything will be ok.
So the calm music totters on and our delightful Polish midwife comments on how calming it is and everyone laughs nervously while the anaesthetist does the business, standing as still as a statue, inserting what looks like a small clear tube into the base of H's spine, a process that takes about 10 minutes, that could result in paralysis, and I shudder for anyone who has been affected by that horribly unlucky event as this is a genuine risk of the epidural. I just could not believe how the anaesthetist was able to hold the needle so still as she punctured H's back and fed the tube in. Literally I think we were all standing there while H was having contractions too, and she was wonderful to keep so still while all this was going on, I felt these beautiful surges of pride, and love for her, she was so brave. Anyway what felt like half an hour passed, and there had been a complication or something hadn't gone right with the epidural so the process had to be repeated again. Nightmare.
From there, everything slipped into an opiate dream like state, almost. The pain subsided, H was able to rest, and actually have a little sleep, I made a coffee for everyone (and of course had a crafty cig) and about half an hour later, the labour. I looked at the clock. It was f'ing 7pm. Twelve hours had passed since we thought our baby was coming any second, and these hours honestly felt like it was only a few. H rested a bit more and I responded to the deluge of concerned text messages I was receiving, i.e. "where's the kid, you texted us at 7am saying he's nearly here, we are worried..." So I dealt with my dad admin and then H woke up.
Cue the encouraging Polish midwife again (god I loved her) - "Does your baby have a middle name?" "he doesn't deserve a middle name" said H. Everyone laughed hysterically. Except H. I waited a few moments and reassured them, yes he will have a middle name. It was this sort of bedside manner, care and professionalism that reminds me it's worth mentioning before I forget, that the staff at Southmead were all fantastic. Thank you for these nice moments in the middle of the storm.
Then from here I don't really want to talk about the graphic details, but yes there was blood, yes there were a few more barbaric implements, yes there was heroic bravery from H, and lots of tears and sobbing from me, and finally, our beautiful baby.
Hello, son... if you are ever reading these words one day, this is the story of how you came to be. Here you are, approximately a minute old. Full of mischief and promise of things to come, and everything we ever wished for.
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