I’ve written a lot recently about my children’s development and how they’re getting older. Toddler Adams is, well, just that; a toddler who is out of nappies, can run, jump and knows the basics of using an iPhone. As for her sister, she’s a fully-fledged school girl; literate, numerate and only around 30cms shorter than her mother.
In other words, this family has progressed. We’re no longer dealing with the really early-years stuff. In some ways this is sad, but there’s no point getting moist-eyed about it. It’s inevitable and as we leave one phase behind, we move on to the next set of challenges as the children grow older and their needs change.
Hold your horses there cowboy/girl (delete as applicable). While I totally get that we have progressed to new things, there’s one job I feel I have to do before moving on; write about the birth of my kids. I’ve written about theses experiences before, but either form an advice for men perspective or a why maternity services should be more inclusive of dads perspective. I’ve never told the stories without an agenda.
In addition to this, memories fade. It seems correct to make a record of my memories before I forget salient details.
The two births were entirely different in terms of medical intervention and recovery time. I think they make an interesting comparison and so I’m going to do this over two blog posts. This week I’m going to give you the story of Helen’s birth. Next week, I’ll tell you what happened when Toddler Adams was born. Buckle up and hold tight. Here’s the story of how Helen came into the world.
I was woken at about 0530hrs. Gill was stood in the doorway of our bedroom, her arms outstretched.
“John, I think my waters have broken,” she said.
Turns out it happened half an hour previously but she’d decided to let me have a lie in. Yes, that last statement is true. I couldn’t quite believe it myself when she told me.
I rapidly cleared my bleary eyes, threw the hospital bag into the car and emailed work to explain my paternity leave had just begun (these were the days when you received paternity leave and not shared parental leave).
We went to the maternity unit. Needless to say, we were far, far too early. A midwife gave Gill the once-over and confirmed labour had begun. I vividly recall her telling Gill to “enjoy” the labour and said we should come back later.
I was amazed at how incredibly unflustered Gill was. Then again, she isn’t one who likes a fuss in these situations.
By now the shops were open. What do you do in the early stages of labour and have a few hours to kill? You go window shopping for curtains, that’s what.
I think we were in the homeware section of Marks and Spencer when we told the shop assistant Gill was in labour. She couldn’t quite believe it (hold that thought, we revisit M&S at the end of this tale as well!).
Lunch time came round surprisingly quickly. There weren’t many options and so we found ourselves at Nandos of all places. I think we chose the place because it was a gloriously sunny day and it had seats outside. Immediately in front of us was a grim car park but just over the road were fields and it provided a marvellous view.
At this point I had a small mishap. After ordering the food I walked back to the table with a bottle of salad dressing. It was huge, holding about a litre of liquid. It was on a tray but I was, understandably, a bit nervous and tense. My hands were shaking and the bottle fell off the tray and smashed on the floor sending the slimy, oily contents everywhere. It’s a moment I’ll never forget!
With lunch out of the way, not to mention a few bad jokes from the restaurant’s staff about my clumsiness, we returned home. All was peaceful until around sunset. It was then the contractions started getting serious.
We tried a tens machine, but my wife declared it did nothing. I couldn’t understand how she came to this conclusion because she only used it for a few minutes. This was hardly the time to question her logic so the tens machine was simply switched off.
I called the hospital when the contractions were regular and just a few minutes apart. I was told we should come in.
We got into the car. By now Gill was deeply uncomfortable. In her own words “she was trying to climb out of the sunroof” it was so painful. I got us to the hospital as quickly as I could, sometimes even adhering to the speed limit.
When we got on to the ward, Gill was given gas and air at first. The midwives seemed to want to keep her on this but a couple of female consultants came in. One of them was French and with amazing, joyful Gallic hand gestures suggested Gill have an epidural.
Gill was very tense and not having any fun whatsoever at this point. There was a bit of a delay but eventually an anaesthetist arrived. I watched the epidural being administered. It would be ungentlemanly to describe the procedure so I shall merely skip forward and say it bought her considerable, but not total, relief.
This is just as well because the labour went on all through the night. It doesn’t seem entirely appropriate to talk about my wife’s cervix, but it is an essential part of the story. It opened a little, but nowhere near 10cm. Having moved so far, it refused to go any further.
After a sleepless night, Gill declared she’d like a Caesarean section. All the medical staff ummed and ahhed and fluffed that one. They didn’t want to say “no” outright in case they had to do it. She had, after all, been in labour more than 24 hours by this point and was clearly very fatigued. Even so, it was blatantly a procedure they wished to avoid.
Medication was given to bring the labour along. It didn’t work. Around lunchtime a consultant came round. He explained that baby probably needed a helping hand. Ventouse was an option, but he preferred the idea of a forceps delivery.
Gill agreed and he was going to proceed in the delivery suite. I piped up and explained Gill had made clear to me she wanted to feel minimal pain in case it put her off having further children. Gill, rammed full of various medication and having been puffing on gas and air for hours, made a variety of hand gestures and head movements showing she agreed.
The consultant therefore decided to deliver Helen in theatre. The midwife in charge of Gill’s care gave me a discreet wink. Gill was wheeled round to theatre and I was asked to push the heart monitor. As I got to the door I pushed it open, looked down and was presented with a huge pair of feet wearing blue Crocs.
I steadily looked up and found myself looking at an individual in medical scrubs. Now I’m not short, but they towered over me. They weren’t bulky, but would have looked right at home on the wing of a rugby team. This individual had an incredibly kind, welcoming face. It was also a face wearing make-up and clip-on earrings; “Hello, my name’s Linda,” she said.
If you haven’t guessed it yet, Linda was obviously not the name this person was given at birth. I imagine Robert, Charles or Philip would have been closer the mark. It was a slightly surreal moment, although I largely put this down to 33 hours without sleep.
Regardless, Linda was fantastic. She put my mind at ease, was incredibly approachable and made the experience for me. Whenever Gill and I talk about the birth, her name comes up and she is remembered with the deepest fondness.
Gill was pumped full of yet more drugs. I whispered a few words of encouragement and love and then things got underway. A midwife sat immediately to my right told me with great excitement when the head was visible, making clear she expected me to have a look. Such was this midwife’s excitement, I half expected her to grab my head and force it between my wife’s legs.
The consultant was working with a junior doctor. The junior doctor was the one in control of the forceps and the look of concentration on her face was quite a sight.
Eventually baby was delivered and placed on mum’s chest. She cried, Gill cried and all was good. I confess I didn’t cry, a fact I’ve never been allowed to forget! To be honest, after such a long birth I was just relieved mum and baby were okay.
This medical team had a particular tradition. During the birth they put one of their iPods on shuffle mode. When baby was born, mum and dad would be told what song the child was born to. In Helen’s case it was Annie Lennox signing Whiter Shade of Pale although it was a close thing. She was nearly born to Simple Mind’s Belfast Child, much to the chagrin of one team member who was from Ulster.
I was asked if I’d like to cut the umbilical cord, which I did. Luckily I’m not squeamish, as this meant seeing things from the business end. I’ve heard it described as like “seeing your favourite pub burning down”. I don’t think that even comes close, but for the sake of my wife’s modesty I’m going to stop there.
After a bit of faffing, Helen was placed in my arms while Gill was taken care of. The midwife gave Helen to me, turned her back and walked off. The two of us spent 44 glorious, uninterrupted minutes together while mum received the aftercare she needed. I had heard of this happening to other guys, I.E.. new born baby is placed in dad’s arms and the midwife leaves immediately so he gets experience of being with his child. It’s probably the best thing any midwife could do.
At the time a photograph was taken of Helen and I. I was in medical scrubs with my baby in my arms. It was the first picture of the two of us together. I searched high and low for that image as I wanted to publish it with this post. Alas, it is long gone and I couldn’t find the memory card either. It’s a shame but such is life.
Thankfully Helen didn’t have any bruising as a result of the forceps. Gill was allowed home the next day.
She barely left the house for about a week and in total I think it took her about six weeks to recover. I had arranged to take a month off work so I was around for most of it and a glorious month it was too.
We even managed one or two day trips to the seaside (though not to swim in the sea). On one such occasion, Gill attempted to buy a couple of small, celebratory, 25cl bottles of Champagne from Marks and Spencer. Despite the fact Gill was almost 40 years of age, the shop assistant refused to serve her as she had no identification confirming her age! Gill was furious but I thought it was hilarious.
After my return to work, I vividly recall telling my boss I had discovered a whole new respect for women after witnessing the birth. He was a first time expectant dad and we had quite a few conversations about the birth process in the weeks that followed.
So there we have it, that was the story of how Helen came into the world. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Roll on Part Two!