01 May

Karen’s birth story

Pete is Karen’s partner of innumerable years. They live in sin.

I was woken at about 5am on a Friday morning. Karen was delicately whispering in my ear “Pete. Pete. Pete.” I grunted to acknowledge that I was listening. “My waters have just broken.”

I didn’t know what to make of this. I generally don’t know what to make of things when woken at 5am. Especially not back then. In fact, I think that might have only been the second time in my life that I had been woken at 5am (the first such incident being a fire alarm in a hotel in Swindon). Of course, since that day, I have become somewhat more accustomed to being woken at that merciless hour, or other comparably merciless ones.

Big deal, or not a big deal? I couldn’t decide. So we phoned the maternity unit at Heatherwood and asked them what they thought. Their consensus: no rush, come in in a few hours and we’ll see what gives. We went back to bed for a while, then had breakfast. All very leisurely. Nothing that we hadn’t anticipated.

In the hospital, we were quite surprised by the enthusiasm of the midwifes. I suppose we had been expecting weary, jaded, another-baby-whoop-de-doo sourpusses, but ended up finding ourselves surrounded by a small group who seemed even more excited than us! If there had been something remarkable about our case, then I could have understood that, but as far as I could see: so far, so textbook. It’s not a complaint, not in the slightest.

So they sent us back home for a little while. We didn’t know how long we’d be waiting, and I work fairly close to home, so I went into the office.

At about 1pm I got the phone call. A succinct “come home now.” Message received and understood. When I arrived back at the house, I found Karen and a friend (conveniently visiting for lunch that day) calmly drinking tea. Contractions were timed at 5 minutes apart, and though somewhat incapacitating for Karen, they didn’t seem to be killing her. My head briefly filled with the thought “well, fuck me, this is easy!” before I berated myself for being such a dumb, naive, optimistic idiot.

We phoned the hospital and they invited us in straight away. No rush, mind. No rush at all.

We were in the hospital at about 2:30pm. We established HQ and put on a CD. Over the first couple of hours the pain starts to increase, so we start applying countermeasures. We start with the TENS machine which is a real hit, and it gives me a great sense of purpose to be in control of the dials, setting the intensity according to what I perceived to be working for her. She also had some Entonox, which seemed effective, but after about half an hour was leaving her feeling dizzy and spaced-out, so she adjusted by taking smaller gulps until she found her equilibrium.

After that first couple of hours, we cautiously requested an examination. We were worried that she’d be barely dilated, but the midwife told us that it was 7cm. Fantastic, we thought, we’re almost done already! Half an hour later (now at 5pm, for those of you who have lost track) things started to kick into gear. Time for the final showdown. Game on. Or, in birthing parlance, “fetch a midwife, Pete.”

After about another half hour, I could see the top of the baby’s head with each push, but progress was very slow. With each contraction Karen was getting more and more tired, and I could sense that she was starting to despair. She wanted to get the job finished, but lacked the energy to do so. I knew that we couldn’t leave the baby in there and try again tomorrow, so I would have to do something drastic to focus her, Eye Of The Tiger style. So I leaned in and bit off her ear. She didn’t notice. She hasn’t noticed to this day. Strange, that.

Somehow, after about 45 minutes of this stalemate, we found hidden reserves and a little baby slipped out. And then it wasn’t a birthing story any more. More of a “watch Pete cry like a girl” story.