05 May

Graybo’s birth story

Graybo has six and a quarter years’ experience of being a dad. He is still learning

It’s strange, but after six-and-a-quarter years, most of what happened is still fresh in my mind…

Having almost got to due date with nothing happening, we decided to push matters along a bit and do something proactive to get things going. H (my wife) had been uncomfortable for a while – the bump was huge and was happily turning her over in bed without her say-so. Consequently, she was lacking sleep. She’d also had a few “funny turns” during pregnancy (as well as issues related to underlying health conditions) and we were already regular visitors to the maternity unit, both at the hospital where our baby was to be born and at the nearby cottage hospital.

So, to try and push things along, we did some of the things that the books don’t tell you. We went for a walk over fields, stiles and streams and followed that with a spicy curry. (We did something else too, but I’ll spare you the details).

By bedtime, things were starting to move and H’s waters broke. The contractions had started, which H found pretty uncomfortable. We phoned the maternity unit and, as it was pretty late in the evening, they suggested we went to them as the community midwife wouldn’t be able to get to us until morning. Plus, as H was considered a “mature mother”, they felt that a hospital birth would be preferred to home birth (and, before people argue about that, we agreed – sometimes, being in hospital provides comfort and assurance).

So we gathered the kit together (two bags – one for H, one for baby – all ready prepared) and got in the car. I think we were pretty tense. Being a Sunday night and approaching midnight, there was no traffic. I drove with some haste (we are 15 miles – more than half an hour – from the hospital, all on country roads and narrow lanes) and, for the first and only time in my life, jumped a red light.

As it turned out, the midwife team were pretty relaxed. Things had started but not much was going to happen imminently. However, H was finding the contractions pretty painful, so they suggested she stayed with them whilst I went back home for some sleep. As the midwife put it: “you’ll need your sleep, tomorrow is going to be pretty hectic”.

H was given some pethidine. We knew about this stuff from the ante-natal classes that the midwife team ran (and which were excellent) and knew what the risks and benefits were. So, with that, I drove back home (stopping for the red light), got back into bed and had a restless night trying to sleep with a cat on my head. (We normally shut the cats in the kitchen overnight, but that night I left the door open. Cats *know* (as any cat owner will tell you), so one sat behind my knees and the other, literally, on my head. I didn’t get much sleep).

At 5.30am, the phone rang. It was the midwife. “Hello, graybo. You’d better come in. H is back downstairs with us”. (The wards were upstairs, the birthing suite downstairs). So, I quickly dressed, fed the cats and drove the 30 minutes back to the hospital.

When I got there, after loading £200 in pound coins into the parking meter, I went straight to the birthing suite. H told me what had happened in the night. She hadn’t been able to sleep (the contractions kept her awake) and the nurses were of the opinion that she wasn’t coping well with pain or anxiety, so she’d been sitting in bed, chatting with the ward sister who was about to go off duty – sometimes company and chat are as effective as pills and rest. Just as the sister got up to leave, H threw up all over her – which was just about the only effect that the pethidine had on her (it’s a common side effect). The sister was very kind, under the circumstances, but H was mortified.

At the time I arrived, the midwife team were changing shifts. As no births were imminent, the current team were going home and the new team were coming on duty. H was rather keen on the midwife who had been with her, so she was sorry to see her go, but she made a point of coming and saying goodbye to us before she left. The new midwife promised us that she’d now stay until the baby arrived.

That turned out to be rather a long time.

One of things I spotted in the hospital was that the midwives sort the dads into three groups – those that are likely to be a liability (and friend’s partner passed out and had to be resuscitated when their baby was born), those who are good for hand-holding and those who can be asked to do something useful and will be trusted to get on with it. I’m not sure what the criteria are (attendance at ante-natal classes is probably a factor), but they put me in the last category. I was in charge of dials, monitors, sensors and general paraphernalia, which gave me a great sense of self-importance and allows me to take all the credit for standing there for 12 hours doing that, whilst H laid back in regal comfort on the bed. (Obviously, sitting in that position with her feet in stirrups was perfectly comfortable).

The labour was very long – in total, 17 hours from the time we arrived at the hospital to the time baby emerged. It was not all comfortable, in spite of epidural and “gas and air”. There was also periods when nothing happened (when H was too exhausted to push), when the midwife and I could leave H in the care of the junior nurse and grab a quick sandwich and fresh air.

H’s parents arrived around lunch time. I’d left a quick message to let them know that things were kicking off, and we had told them that the hospital had a strict mother+1 policy (the birthing suite was small – where would everyone go if a party descended?), but still they turned up. H’s mother was most put out that she couldn’t be in the room, and I ended up persuading them to go home, as the staff were getting a bit frustrated by bodies cluttering the place (although they would never let that show). It seems a little harsh, in retrospect, but actually I can totally understand it from the midwife’s point of view.

At one point , I stepped out for five minutes fresh air whilst H took a nap. My phone rang. A customer. Before I could say anything, he launched into a long ramble about some problem he had, whilst I kept saying “er” “um” “excuse me” in order to get him to stop. Eventually he paused for breath, so I said “can’t help you, I’m outside the maternity unit where my first child is being born right now. Bye!” Some people.

It was becoming clear that baby was not enthusiastic to leave his warm and comfy abode. The pushing had exhausted H and the midwife was pretty frazzled too (though exuding utter calm). Then things speeded up. The midwife was becoming concerned that both mother and baby were getting distressed. In addition, the umbilical cord was wrapped around baby’s head. On top of that, the baby was just huge. So she called a time out (as much as you can in these situations) and told us that she recommended an episiotomy, but that the decision was ours. Thankfully, the ante-natal classes had prepared us for this. The midwife clearly explained *why* she was recommending it and we told her (well, mostly I told her – H was just exhausted) that we understood the implications of the decision but she should go ahead.

So she carried out the episiotomy, loosened the cord and got H onto major pushing, with every ounce she could muster. It was always “one more push, please”. It was clear that baby needed to get out and soon.

This bit all became rather a blur. I know it was actually more than an hour long, but it seemed to happen quite quickly for me. Eventually, head emerged. Shoulders were a problem, and then hips and then “one more push, please” (for the umpteenth time) and baby literally flew out. The midwife caught him with a style that Jonny Wilkinson would have been proud of. Blood and goo literally flooded across the floor. And the midwife rushed out the door, carrying baby and yelling “THEATRE!! NOW!!!” at the top of her voice.

Cripes, I’m welling up just typing this.

We had no idea what was happening. The midwife had been alone with us at this point (three other births were going on in the unit at the same time, so midwives were working alone with a nurse moving between rooms to check and help), so once she ran out, we had no idea what was happening. H was utterly exhausted, gasping for breath and in some pain. I was bewildered. And then we realised that we were alone, baby was gone and so was midwife. What the hell was happening?

I think this period maybe lasted 20 seconds. Hardly any time at all. But it felt like an eternity and it was suddenly very quiet.

But then the nurse ran into the room, held the door open and said “Listen! Hear that?” – we could hear a baby screaming for all it was worth. “That’s your baby. He’s fine, he’s going to be ok.” Then she had to run and we were left alone again.

No more than a minute later, the midwife came back. She was clearly exhausted, covered in goo, but smiling. “Your baby wasn’t breathing, so we took him straight to theatre and got him onto a ventilator. He’s ok now, he’s the right colour and he’s breathing. You were lucky that you are in the room next to theatre and nobody else was in there.”

“Oh, and congratulations. You have a baby boy.”

I’m just about to leave my desk to walk to school to pick him up. We have a parent-teacher consultation this afternoon – he’s doing well at school, sitting at the top table with the brightest girls (the only boy at that table). He’s the tallest child in his class (he was 9lb 8oz – 4.31kg – at birth and is expected to grow to 6ft 6in – 2 metres). He wants to be trilingual (English, French and Dutch). He loves the countryside. He loves calamari. And, one day, perhaps, he’ll go through the same experience with his own first child.