While preparing for the impending birth of our new baby, our most pressing administrative chore was working out how to get rid of our existing child. Probably not on a permanent basis, but certainly for the period immediately prior to delivery, during the expulsion, and in light of the projection that said ‘newby’ would have to be observed in the hospital for 48 hours, a little bit after as well. We anticipated the giddy involvement of The Grandparents but didn’t quite get it. On one side there’s my mother-in-law who has lived alone for 20 years and whom I don’t entirely trust to make toast successfully, let alone keep a 3 year old alive. On the other side, there is the more practically inclined option of my own parents. Our big problem was that they were now, proud owners of a recently acquired caravan, and as it was approaching the end of their first season as ‘vaners’ it was sort of felt they could not comfortably commit without a firm date and time of commencement of their emergency care taking duties. Now, they only live about 40 minutes away in one direction, but the caravan is 1 hour away in the other, on the Cymru side of the Welsh border. There was a whiff of agreeability, but not the ebullient cascade of enthusiasm we’d hoped for. And so, my wife’s school friend and mother of child #1’s twin best friends was gratefully lined up to relinquish us of parental responsibility when the time came.
So, with that detail pinned down, we were freed up to worry about the less practical side of the new guy coming. We knew it was a boy, not through any sense of impatience, but to give us a finger hold on his identity as my wife suffered three, relatively early miscarriages the year before. I don’t know why I feel I have to qualify that, but I’ve found people who “simply have to” find out the gender tend to be impatient control freaks, and it feels a bit like cheating. Everyone always talks about it “being a surprise”, but more often than not it goes one way or the other. A genuine surprise would really set the cat amongst the pigeons, not that I’m suggesting at any point we were expecting a cat, nor indeed pigeons, just a regular human baby, fingers crossed.
I encouraged the argument in favour of finding out because I realised we kept using non-committal language such as “if” and “hopefully” way past the point of the ‘take each day as it comes/not counting your eggs’ time-frame. We seemed to be maintaining a protective barrier between us and further ‘inevitable’ heartbreak. When you lose a baby, at whatever stage, you also lose a whole lifetime of getting to know that baby and watching them grow into a fully fledged person. However, I could see the delusion that we could sustain a distance between our emotional welfare and tragedy was counterproductive, no matter how faux-comforting it seemed. Once we’d resolved that issue and allowed ourselves to get excited, into the gap of panic fell the repeated concern at mummy’s fundal height measurement.
The hospital’s due date, calculated from the first day of Expectant Mother’s last period, didn’t change after the dating scan. I, however, did NOT impregnate my wife on the day that they said. If SOMEONE had, then well done them, because neither I, nor the Mrs, noticed it happening. So as effective and potent as the other fella must have been, his ‘skills’ clearly left a lot to be desired. As far as we were concerned, the date we HAD done that thing was different, and I assured the midwife that on THEIR date, there was no Barry White on the Hi-Fi, and the silk sheets were very much still in the airing cupboard for at least another week or two!
The due date they give you seems to be for measuring purposes and tracking growth, but at one point that had us 6 weeks behind, and lead to a hastily arranged emergency growth scan. Now to be entirely fair to our midwife, who is incredible and wonderful, this measurement still somehow fell just within the realms of ‘normal’. The appointment was more for reassurance based on the colour my wife went when she got the measurement, rather than a grave level of concern. Appointment dutifully attended and everything was fine, with baby scanned, and measuring normally; this whole routine played out 3 times, which reignited my ire at them picking their own date and not asking us for our sexy diary entries!
Our biggest problem with medical professionals having to stick so rigidly to their dates was that our baby might still be cooking when the hospital decided it was overdue, which leads to them making moves to ‘force’ mum into being induced. Induction brings on labour before your body might be ready to do so, and can make things more intense and more painful than if nature were left to work her magic. Now obviously they’ve got mum and baby’s best interests at heart, but it can start to feel a bit like the balance of whose expecting what from whom gets a bit screwy. It’s supposed to be medical back up supporting mothers to have their child, but starts to sound like you’re there to provide them with a baby, and they can start getting a bit impatient. So it was with this in mind that my wife went ‘overdue’ – but according to our dates, there was at least another week or so in it. Officially we were at 40 weeks plus 9 days, so an appointment was booked and at around that time they started talking as if they were going to send someone in to extract the bambino! That’s when the twinges started.
With my wife’s first labour she’d had contractions for a full 3 days before we went into business properly, and being overdue we scuttled back and forth from the hospital every other day for monitoring and “sweeps”, as well as a bit of strong-arming about booking us in for induction. We held firm and were happy to keep things as natural as possible, mostly because my wife was absolutely terrified of any intervention!
Being so far overdue, every night when we went to bed I’d be saying a little prayer to give me one last decent sleep before decanting Uno into someone else’s house and racing off to the hospital. I was also anticipating the long slog of a full day and night of being attentive, supportive, and present… because as you know I’m a legend and very humble. My humility is one of my greatest strengths, I’m so goddamn humile!
Thankfully, after a nervous hour, her ladyship announced that she didn’t think we were “in business” and the Sleep Gods heard my pleading, and granted me a reprieve. Not so much the other half, she was roused regularly through the night with twinges, but somehow I managed to cope.
When morning rolled around we figured it was time to shift the first born out of the way in anticipation of things getting real. He happily went off for a sleepover with his two little best mates and off we trundled to the hospital. As The Pregonaut wasn’t in any serious discomfort we presumed it safe to leave all of the labour kit in the car and travel light up to the delivery suite to be inspected and appraised. Buzzing in and pausing in the waiting area of the place we met our first baby was a weirdly comforting experience, even with the vague threat of potential horrors ahead. Then in no time at all, we were summoned in by a lovely, young, female healthcare assistant with a Florence Nightingale aura, and an Amy Winehouse ‘beehive’. I say ‘beehive’ because I don’t think anyone has ever gone to their hairdresser and actually asked for a rat’s nest…but as I say, she was lovely.
And so at 2-3cm dilation, ‘we’ were monitored, and as baby was happy ‘we’ booked in for the following day. The conundrum now was what to do next. Do we tell people at the risk of the increasing flurry of ‘Any news?’ texts, in place of the ‘How are you?’s. Plus there was a bit of denial that this was going to be a quick experience and first, at the very least, we deserved a toasted teacake and a brew. Fed and hydrated, and with nothing dramatic appearing to be in progress, we fully expected to be treading water for at least a day and opted to go for a little walk.
The massive walk we’d had the day before was a great idea, and largely the motivating factor that had probably managed to move things along in the right direction. THIS walk was less of a stroke of genius, and although the first bit was fine, the constant pausing to allow her to regain her composure REALLY should have been a bit of a prompt that walking away from the car was not our best option. Ruddy cheeks and some hefty breathlessness prompted me into a panicked sprint back to the car. WHICH WOULD HAVE BEEN FINE, if some idiots hadn’t caused a crash and the police to block off the road, swapping the last 100 yards of my run for a detour of an additional mile!
Car and Pregonator collected, she wanted to go home so as not to inevitably slow things down by going to the hospital too early. So, straight in through the front door, I went directly to the bathroom to run a bath, somehow managed to hodge-podge the shower pole over the window with a towel to make it darker, and ran around shutting all the curtains turning the house into a dark little cave for mama to do her mammalian duty. I thought as things seemed to be shimmying along, I’d drop the maternity ward a line with a progress report on her bathing status, and our plans to see how she got on under her own steam. Paracetamol, water and avocado on toast were duly administered.
Now with herself soaking and numero uno out of the way, I was a bit lost. I was rampaging with adrenaline but with nowhere to direct it. To project and promote the illusion of serenity, my thoughts turned to music, as is usually the case with me. I figured the smoothest way to bridge the ensuing hours of waiting was to DJ my way through it. As you may or may not know, DJ-ing is an ‘ancient’ (depending on your reference points) battle between the ‘Artist’ wanting to delight and satisfy the ‘crowd’, but also to educate and inform. I’d vaguely planned my ‘set’, the idea was to keep it light and ethereal, emotionally warm yet without engaging sadness. My big problem is that my audience, now periodically groaning and half submerged in water, has a distasteful proclivity for Queen and Morrissey. Requests had been garnered ahead of me dropping my set, which leaned heavily on the supportive wafflings of Maggie Howell, and her visualisations of vulvas opening like flowers, and what I can only refer to as ‘Spa-core’. Now I love panpipes as much as the next panpipe tolerator, but there is a time and a place for such traditional folk exercises, and that is typically in a Peruvian village when I’m not there, or at the very least wearing headphones. My plan was leaning a bit more on the Sigur Ros, The National, and MUNA end of things, but it’s all about balance. That balance was struck about three songs in and promptly swerved into a ditch marked ’50 Yoga Meditations mix’ – oh well, one can but try, nevertheless the set was lined up and ready to go.
The ‘chooons’ didn’t drop straight after the bath, my initial apres-soak move was to try and add to the inter yoga breath gaps with some hopefully therapeutic mirth. My beloved can usually, in most situations, find an opportunity to inject a quote from Alan Partridge, so I thought we could hopefully chuckle this baby out. Alas, only a couple of episodes in and my concentration was derailed by periodic heavy breathing. The moment I knew I was onto a loser was when Partridge put his foot on a spike and not a titter was heard. Hence we moved onto the Pregno-Disco ahead of schedule. The other prompt was that the deep breaths had started to be accompanied by some groans, a lot of fidgeting, and a couple of other ‘cleansing movements’. I remembered from our last go around the labour tree, that from about the time that these ‘motions’ occurred things started to get a little more real.
An update to the hospital for them to fill the kettle and gather the towels was made and I stated my observations of mummy’s current state to the delivery suite midwife on phone duty. “Can I have a quick word with Mum?” I passed the phone to my wife, now bent double over the sofa, red-faced, breathing hard and slightly delirious, who then proceeded to hold a perfectly reasonable conversation with the medical professional. Apparently, the instruction was to have a couple more paracetamol, and maybe run another bath; they weren’t expecting to see us any time soon. I took back the phone and hung up as my treasured love vanished back into the sweaty mist of her ‘surges’.
Now, the weird thing about my Mrs is that when she stubs her toe, tectonic plates shift and house prices go down in direct correlation with her turning the air blue with screams of pain and indignation. Her pain threshold is typically as low, as her poor handling of any disruption to her level of comfort is high. So the fact that she managed to give birth the first time around with but a dip in the pool, a LOT of ‘Golden Thread’ breaths, and only a couple of warehouses worth of gas and air canisters was a miracle to observe, the story of which I shared in my first post for TWF. That being said, we both presumed her initial performance was an anomaly and fully expected the pain management cabinet to be left ajar for the duration of this labour.
As happy as I was to defer to a professional with significantly more babies born under her watch than mine, I wasn’t entirely confident her instincts were correct with this particular patient. I kept an eye on my wife’s progress quietly a little longer, by this time I’ve no idea what was spilling out of the jukebox, and likely destroying my carefully crafted illusion of Pitchforkian hipness portrayed by my Spotify profile. I carefully suggested we pop into the hospital for a look-see, just to make sure things hadn’t been horribly underestimated and I’d be left LITERALLY holding the baby. With minimal discussion, her ladyship announced she just wanted a quick wee before we go, and in accordance with human rights legislation, I graciously allowed it.
I put everything into the car; the birthing ball, the cool bag with the carefully strategized snack and drinks menu, the oils, the spray, the spritz, and for good measure, a few bits for the baby.
We were set.
More surprisingly, I hadn’t had 800 emergency nervous wees myself, and didn’t even need to go before we left. I was on fire!
While I was musing over whether there was any point in putting the baby carrier into the car a soul-shredding groan tore through the house.
I ran upstairs to the bathroom to find mama, trousers off, gripping the sink, and the door frame, breathing hard.
“It’s too late, I need to push.”
I carefully retrousered and eased her down the stairs assuring her there was plenty of time to get the hospital, and that, no, she wouldn’t have to have the baby next to the A5300. Unconvinced, she crumpled down on to the couch, for another session of huffing and puffing, and demanded I call 999.
“Emergency Services, which service do you require?”
I was then placed in a queue with a recorded message informing me that owing to a high volume of calls there could be a delay. Brilliant.
Thankfully I wasn’t waiting long before I was put through to a call handler. I gave her the lowdown and either the tone of my voice or the murder noises in the background informed her of the situation and its urgency.
I was told to get the patient onto the floor, on her back, and remove all the clothing below her waist, and so with my wife’s dignity suitably disposed of, we continued our care.
“Has the baby started to crown?”
I was thankful that we’d not yet reached the Coronation stage, but the throne room doors were certainly starting to strain.
“An ambulance team has been informed and is on its way, now get some towels and a blanket”.
With the phone wedged to my ear and a cat in each hand, I legged it upstairs and secured them away before heading to the hamper with all of the towels in. I flung the lid back and began to dig through to find some older towels; we might have been having a baby but I wasn’t about to let that get me in trouble for ruining the GOOD ones. Suitably tired-looking rags in hand I returned to the lounge doorway where my de-panted charge lay.
“On the next contraction lay your hand flat on your wife’s vagina and press firmly to slow baby’s arrival”.
My Queen’s chamber doors weren’t going to hold out much longer and I needed to be prepared. We weren’t quite there yet, but the carpet was definitely doomed. My composure gathered and ready for action my resolve was steeled when the angelic choirs of an ambulance siren drifted in from not too far away through the open front door.
The Grown Ups arrived at the theatre of battle, and I went up to the other end to provide more emotional support than I’d been capable of dispensing from down south.
Over the now blood curdling screams emanating from the patient, and my hand being crushed to a fine dust, I gave them the news that we were supposed to be at the hospital in order for antibiotics to be administered in line with the presumption of my wife having Strep B. It was likely too late for that to happen of course, and now it sounded like the on-call midwife was 10 miles away and probably not going to make it. But at least someone had some gas and air, so it wasn’t all bad.
I was dispensed for blankets and even encouraged to not worry so much about getting the wrong ones, but made it back just in time for the next bit. With the mouthpiece firmly gripped in her teeth, the cat’s scratch post in one hand, and ambulance driver’s leg in the other, mummy let rip a ground rumbling roar as a little astronaut, in his amniotic space helmet peaked out into the world. A full head of raven hair and long lashes were clearly visible smushed up against the inside of his hood, along with a squished nose and some crumpled ears. He was nearly here.
Someone nipped out to the ambulance for something important, and by the sound of it, met most of the street craning at the front door, summoned by the flashing lights and sounds of a massacre filling the air.
With a few more pushes and a lot of encouragement, our newest favourite human crept into the world, with the amniotic sac mostly intact and even with a tiny poo hanging out of his bum. Apparently that’s lucky, the sac that is, especially if you’re 8 miles away from the nearest hospital and the drugs that you’d need had the protective ‘waters’ gone.
He was here and now safely cuddled up with his mum.
A few concerned faces caught my eye however, suggesting that maybe we weren’t out of the woods just yet. Another ambulance arrived and a crew member with the darkened brow of experience ran a few checks. He was being a bit quiet, and they weren’t particularly happy with the nipper’s breathing. His blood sats were ok, but they kept fiddling until a squawk of disgruntlement seem to let everyone know it was all ok.
So that was it, sort of…all done and dusted by bedtime…And I was a bit lost…again.
I was offered a lift in the ambulance with mummy and baby boy, but I knew I’d need the car to drive back home when they were all checked in at the hospital, plus the place was a tip, and the cats needed feeding. So off they went, and for a brief moment I was at home, alone – apart from the cats obviously, but they seemed pretty numb to events. They were mostly concerned as to why the sofa had been flipped over to make room for all the equipment, the iron thick smell of blood in the air, and what in hell had been clawing at the scratch post?!?!?!?
I needed to phone someone, so I called our friend so I could tell our firstborn his much anticipated little brother had arrived, but it was way past his bedtime. I phoned my Mum but got unreasonably agitated that she wanted details when I really should be chasing a bloody ambulance. She thankfully said they’d collect #1 in the morning and keep him busy for a couple of days while we were at the hospital, but would bring him in tomorrow to reunite us and to introduce our ‘plus one’.
So off I went, trailing behind the flashing lights fading long into the distance.
I missed the bit when they got wheeled in, and when the “bath and Paracetamol” midwife’s chin hit the ground, but I got there in time to find out he weighed 8lb 1oz and to cut the cord, for the second time.
Most miraculously and unexpected of all, the carpet is absolutely fine.
Jamie Sadler is a retired actor, anxious stand-up comic, cat owning dog psychologist, with a Masters in screenwriting. He’s also a husband and father of 2 children. For more musings you can check out his blog Mohosapien.com