When you announce that you've had a baby, everyone asks about the baby's sex, weight, amount of hair and time of birth, yet the actual details of the birth are largely ignored. Yet in many ways the birth of a baby is an unforgettable experience, not the simple five minutes of screaming and telling to push as seen in films and on the television. Both of my children's' births have been among the longest days of my life.
When my first child, my son, was born this was shortly after we had moved house. We had moved from Southampton to live in Eastleigh, half way between Winchester and Southampton. We had moved there from Southampton when my wife was pregnant, and as she had started attending ante-natal classes and had a Southampton midwife, we continued going to Southampton for everything including the birth, even though as we now lived in Eastleigh we would normally be expected to go to Winchester. I was also in the middle of changing job and I asked my new employers if I could delay my start-date by a month as if I was employed by them I would not be entitled to any paternity leave, and they were kind enough to agree. So even though I had handed in my resignation I still was given 2 weeks paternity and 2 weeks holiday from my old employers at the bank, which worked out quite nicely. As this was quite a cold, damp March and my wife didn't feel like walking about a lot, I remember we spent much of our time indoors when not going for walks to encourage the baby. At this time I bought a copy of the classic computer game 'Theme Hospital' for £1 and played that a bit whilst waiting for the baby.
My son came on his due date. I remember being shaken awake at 1am and being told, bleary eyed, that my wife's waters had broken. A frantic phone call for a taxi ensued, followed by a never-ending wait and finally the taxi arrived, only for the driver to take the most circuitous route possible to the hospital, driving around the block a couple of times to increase the cost. Being in a hospital when you are half asleep and have spent too much time playing Theme Hospital is a very bizarre experience—I kept expecting to see an onrush of patients suffering from Bloaty Head or Slack Tongue...
On arrival at the hospital my wife was poked and prodded, and promptly sent home. We tried to say that all things considered, it being late at night, freezing cold and as all the pavements and roads were fairly icy, having a pregnant woman wandering around outside a hospital to the taxi rank was not the best idea and we would rather stay, yet we were evicted and sent away. We got to the taxi rank, shivering, and got a cab home, waited half an hour, called another taxi and then went back to the hospital, where we were now allowed to stay. I'm sure it's a conspiracy to keep cab drivers employed.
So, £75 out of pocket to taxi drivers, we finally arrived at the hospital (again). This was Southampton's Princess Anne Maternity Hospital, famous for now hosting 'One Born Every Minute' a television series where a camera crew, assisted by students studying film and video courses at Southampton Solent University, film women giving birth and zoom in on them screaming and in pain in the name of education. And so the moving from ward to ward began. At 7.30pm, after many changes of room and ward and level of the hospital, constantly going up and down in the lift, as well as a degree of screaming, pushing, birth pool, panic, worry and joy my son was finally born after a 18 and a half hour labour. Sadly this was by emergency cæsarian section as my son had got stuck during labour.
Cæsarians have gained a reputation of being an easy option for those 'too posh to push', yet this does not reflect the agony and worry that this major operation causes, nor that in many ways it isn't an easy option. My wife did not recover fully from this operation for at least 18 months and still to this day gets twinges of pain from where the scar was. Seeing my wife cut open and a baby removed is surely one of the strangest moments of my life, with the conflict of emotions between worrying about her and hoping that she would be fine mixed with seeing my son for the first time, and more importantly, before my wife did.
In the books about pregnancy that my wife read there are chapters dedicated to how, after the birth of your child, you get to bond and become life long friends with the women in your ward. My wife had been quite looking forward to this, yet sadly it was not to be. Every few hours someone would come in, wheel her out of the ward she was in and take her to another floor and a completely different ward. Whenever I went out for lunch or came back after a night at home I had to ask which floor and ward she had been taken to. It was also unusual for her to be in the same ward as anyone else who spoke English, so alas, no life-long friendships were begun then.
My second child, my daughter (known affectionately on h2g2 in Lil's Atelier as BBB, Baby BlueBottle), was born in the labour ward in Winchester. Sadly I was not changing jobs at the time so I would not have as much time off as previously, although I had saved up all my holiday days so I could get as much time off as possible. As long as she wasn't late I would be entitled to some holiday as well as paternity leave.
Her due date was the 24th July. As long as she was born on time and before August I would be entitled to have some weeks off. Being born before August would also be better for her financially as under the change of Government, after 1st August the Child Trust Fund grant would be reduced from £250 to £50. However, I was confident that she would be born on time, if not before as I'd repeatedly heard that second babies are usually born early. I had even been out and bought a Labour-Tens machine. This is a device which pregnant women strap to their backs and allows them to zap themselves as a form of pain relief.
To help facilitate things I had asked my mother to move into our house, as my wife and I have no relatives that live in the same county as we do. We worried that if we had to go to hospital in the middle of the night, I would be forced to stay behind to look after my son and not be there for my wife. This would be the first time since I was 18 that I had lived in the same house as my mum, and now we would be living in the same, small, two bedroom flat. Would we be able to get on crammed into the house like this, with Mum having control over the only television in the flat and me having no access to the dining table when I got up for breakfast in the morning?
My daughter, meanwhile, was getting later and later, and the due date came and went. One day, two days, three days after the due date passed by and no baby. The doctors and nurses at the hospital kept trying to book my wife in for a cæsarean, which she was adamant she did not want after all the pain and problems from last time. They seemed quite surprised that she did not want one, yet no other options were available as they cannot induce babies after a cæsarean other than perform a membrane sweep, which my wife found to be unbearably painful. By now we were constantly going on long walks and my wife was well and truly fed up of the taste of curry; none of the other old wives' tales suggestions were having any effect.
Finally, ten days after her due date and on the 3rd August, something happened. We rushed to the hospital, the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester, at 6am (in a taxi, alas. Why is it that the taxi journey from Winchester to Eastleigh is £1 more than the journey from Eastleigh to Winchester?) and we were allowed to stay. Labour had well and truly begun, yet my wife had been strapped to so many monitors and other bits and bobs that there was no way she could operate the tens machine, and she had accidentally thrown the receipt away. If anyone wants a labour-tens machine that has never been used, let me know. When labour began my wife kept asking repeatedly for pain relief, every couple of minutes the same request. Yet, despite asking every couple of minutes for over 12 hours her requests were ignored, which she still is not happy about. Instead she was in such pain that at one point halfway through labour she accidentally grabbed my glasses, threw them across the room so hard that the lenses fell out, meaning that for the rest of labour I was unable to see.
About six hours into the labour we were told that she was sufficiently dilated to be transferred into the labour ward. We had imagined that this would involve lying on a bed and being wheeled over, but no, instead, I had to support her whilst wheeling a gas-and-air canister, stopping every minute while she went through another contraction, all without being able to see or know where we were going. Eventually we got to the labour ward and we had a room all to ourselves and the constant attention of two midwives, who kept telling my wife to push, which I had thought was my job. Time went very slowly for the next six hours, with my wife screaming for more powerful pain relief, screaming because of contractions and the midwives telling my wife to push while I was unable to see anything.
After roughly six hours of this it was decided that my wife needed assistance and pain relief. I was told to go to the changing rooms down the corridor and change into scrubs while my wife was prepared for theatre, and I do not mean Shakespeare. Making my way to the changing rooms, finding the coveralls, hat and shoe bags and making my way back to the right labour ward while still being unable to see was an adventure in itself but somehow I made it.
In theatre my wife finally was given the pain relief she had been requesting all day, much to her delight, and after a forceps delivery, our daughter was born. We were able to hold her straight away in theatre. When my wife was sewn back up I wheeled my newborn daughter in a large, plastic tub which is used in hospitals as a cot back to the labour room. After staying in hospital for a couple more hours, holding and cuddling our baby daughter and witnessing my wife hold and feed our new baby, it was time for me to leave. I phoned for a taxi, but did not have enough money for the entire journey home so ended up going to the end of our estate, where the amount of money I had with me ran out, forcing me to shout "Stop!" to the taxi-driver and telling him that I lived right there, despite there being no houses in sight, and walking the rest of the way back without really being able to see but feeling on top of the world.
While my wife was in hospital after that point, for the entire time, she had the same bed and the same position in the ward. She also had half the ward to herself—in a ward designed for six mothers, only one other mother was there, which meant that it was much more relaxing than our experience at Southampton's Princess Anne, and much easier to get to know and bond with our new baby daughter.
What happened next? Read Bluebottle's Baby Blog : Coming Soon!