For the last 10 months, every one of Gem’s light-footed twilight attempts to get to the bathroom without waking me up had prompted the same, sleepy sounding question: “You ok babe?”. To which, the answer changed as little as the question: “Yeah, fine thanks”. So when, on Saturday morning at 1:30am my regular enquiry was met with an extended reply of “Yeah fine thanks. It’s just my waters breaking”, it took me a few seconds to process the fact that we were now firmly ensconced in the final furlong.
Rather than relay every minor detail of the 26 hours from this point until our little one finally appeared I want to share some of the things that were going through my head and try to convey the bizarre combination of absolute elation and sheer terror that oscillated constantly throughout the day and into the early hours.
Screeching tyres, a screaming fiancée, speed camera flash bulbs popping in the rear view. This was how I’d imagined the mercy dash to the hospital whenever I had contemplated how we would get to the delivery suite when the time finally came. In reality it was very different. The pain hadn’t fully kicked in at this point and we were able to calmly make our way into town, singing along to Never Forget by Take That (Gem is the fan I must add) as we successfully avoided all the what-ifs we had previously pondered – flat tyres, traffic jams, baby popping out in 10 minutes flat, etc.
Once we had arrived at the hospital and had been checked in, it wasn’t long until we were moved to our own room. Due to being 12 days overdue at this point the decision was taken that there wasn’t much point in sending us home although contractions were still relatively infrequent. (For those of you who end up going on or around your due date, be prepared for a lot of to and fro with your local hospital until things really start to get moving). This is when it really started to dawn on us that we were nearing the end of this stage of our journey. The sun was out and the serenity of the room had a calming effect on our fraying nerves.
View from our delivery room
We were advised to go for a wander to try to increase the amount of contractions and actually did this a couple of times over the next few hours as our stubborn baby was just too comfy and settled inside what we’d come to refer to as the “baby cave”. Upon returning to the suite, and after another exam, it was time for the next step and the all-important decision about pain relief. This, I might add was a welcome discussion for me, as seeing my beautiful girl in more pain than I had ever witnessed before was so mentally draining. I am under no illusion about the fact that us guys get an easier ride than the fairer sex when it comes to creating a family, but to discount the emotional anguish that this process puts us through is to do us a huge disservice. To have to sit there and watch the one you love endure so much without being able to do a single useful thing about it is frustrating, upsetting and soul-destroying.
From the start my opinion was set. I very much wanted Gem to go for the epidural but equally as strongly I wanted that to be her decision rather than mine. So, I walked the tightrope between outlining the benefits, and persuasion. Luckily she decided to go for it of her own accord. After the choice had been made, the midwife concurred that she would not have even considered doing an induced labour without an epidural (by induced in this instance I mean that Gem was going to be put on a hormone drip to speed up the contractions due to baby being so overdue. This makes the process a lot quicker but the down side is that because the contractions come on a lot faster it is a lot more painful).
If you describe the process of inserting an epidural and explain exactly what it is, it sounds horrendous – like something out of a Saw movie. Hopefully it will allay a few fears to learn that it seemed to be a relatively painless process. As with most of the things Gem had to go through that night it was the fear of the unknown that was harder to deal with. Having no frame of reference in which to quantify the impending pain makes it all the more nerve-wracking.
So by this point my lovely lady was hooked up to what seemed like a hundred different wires, tubes and machines (in reality it was the canula to administer fluids and hormones, the epidural, monitors for heart rate for mum and baby, pulse and blood pressure), yet she still appeared as radiant as ever.
The next few hours were spent flitting between periods of calm reflection and moments of heightened anxiety as my eyes became firmly fixed on the heart rate monitor, willing it with all my might to stay in the safe zone. I would strongly recommend not doing this. Let the midwives worry about the ever changing numbers. It is what they are there to do – and they do it so amazingly well. With every small decrease in heart rate my own pulse responded doubly in the opposite direction and the anxiety and frustration of not being able to effect a change began to grow.
Baby’s heart rate – yellow / Gem’s pulse – blue (bottom right) / Contraction pressure – green
After several hours of the hormone drip doing its work, we heard the magical words “Your cervix has gone”. Translation: it’s showtime. In actuality we were given a little time to let things progress naturally, but after about 45 minutes came the instruction we had been waiting to hear. It was time to start pushing. Due to the epidural it is a lot more difficult to know when to push as the intense sensations of contractions have been drastically lessened for obvious reasons. So now the green number in the top right became the focus of my gaze. This measures contraction pressure so each time one is coming the number rises rapidly.
The last hour before our little one finally arrived was was also very different to what I had expected. There was no screaming, no profane language directed my way and the skin on the back of my hands remained unpunctured by the desperate clutches of my good lady. As is the Dad’s duty, I combined my brow-mopping and cheek-stroking with a masterclass in stating the obvious… “Push babe…. keep going…. breathe….”. Gem did exactly that for the next hour or more without fuss or complaint and I couldn’t be more proud of her.
It was then that I almost slipped into panic mode. Baby’s heart rate had been dipping a little too frequently and what seemed like suddenly there was more than just our designated midwife in the room. The terms “doctor”, “consultant”, “second opinion”, and “concerned” were banded about. The last of which really challenged me to keep up that calm, collected exterior – a show I had been putting on for hours for Gem’s benefit. The room was getting busy.
The doctor was firm but kind with us and told Gem that she didn’t have any time for crying as if this baby didn’t come out soon we would be rushing down the corridor to theatre. That was a show which neither of us wanted tickets for. It took them mere moments to attach the Ventouse and after two more contractions our baby was finally with us. In all the excitement, we forgot for a few seconds that we didn’t know whether it was a boy or a girl, and after a quick glance I was able to share the amazing news with Gem that it was indeed Thea that had arrived.
She was briefly popped up onto Gem’s chest and after a quick check by the paediatrician to ensure everything was where it was supposed to be, she was placed in my arms. I spent the next 20 minutes just staring deep into her eyes, lost in amazement of what had just happened. But, it is when she is in Gem’s arms that I am truly blown away. Every parent will tell you that you just don’t understand the feelings and emotions that you get when you bring a baby into the world. I always thought I had a pretty good idea, but having seen it from both sides now I know they were right. Suddenly all those things that were “important” yesterday seem irrelevant. Your priorities shift on their axis in an instant. Natures instincts kick in without a second’s thought.
The whole experience of accompanying your partner through labour is so unique and no two journeys will follow the exact same path. What I can promise you though is that it will at times be the most incredibly euphoric experience of your life, combined with a stress and anxiety you will likely not endure elsewhere. There will certainly be moments where you tell yourself you’re never doing this again, that you couldn’t possibly cope with an encore. And you will keep vehemently repeating this over and over in your head… right up until your first cuddle. When that gentle breath grazes the side of your neck and their tiny little fingers clasp around yours, holding on for dear life, it will suddenly all seem worth it.