Given this is a blog about shared parental leave and therefore by its very nature is linked to parenting and my children, I thought I’d better set out my experiences at the births of my three kids. It will also act as a bit of a memory bank for me and the kids when they’re older, and might also help an expectant first time dad figure out what to expect and pass on some tips!
Number 1 – Tessa: 2012 – tales of the unexpected
“When the labour comes on, think about opening some champagne and have a glass with your partner to toast the imminent arrival of your new baby“
So said our NCT lady in the final couple of sessions (she was big into mediaeval reinactments, though I’m not sure how these two points are linked!). Great, I thought – this whole birth marlarkee sounds very civilised indeed. The NCT itself had been a roller-coaster of emotions. At only the second session (of an 8 week course), when the Dads were still primed to crack funnies and were still settling in, we were told that the first baby in the group had been born! Never have you seen the colour drain from a group of grown men so quickly, though the domino effect of jaws dropping one after the other must have been a sight to behold! As it was, another baby was born early in week 4 and my mind soon became a lot more focussed. Squeaky bum time indeed. I was reading books (What to expect when you’re expecting) and we (I use the royal ‘we’ here but basically it was my wife, Karen) were packing and checking the birth bag at regular intervals. Dad tip no.1 – babies and births are not like trains and do not run to schedule (arguably they are therefore like trains…depending on your Train line service).
Anyway, fast forward to when the birth began. We were already 8 days over Tessa’s due date and had just had a hot chilli tea and were sat watching Coronation Street. Karen was sitting on our new sofa, nicely perched on the towel I had set out to protect our new brown leather showpiece in case of her waters going (I’m nothing if not thoughtful). She went to the loo and let out a yelp – her waters had gone! “Do I crack open the champagne now or later” was my immediate thought – not! I was giddy as a kipper – what happens next? Have we got everything? Will I ever sleep properly again?! She rang the hospital and they asked a few questions – “How much water was there?” “I don’t know it went in the toilet“, said Karen. Anyway, the upshot was we had to sit and wait for the contractions to increase. This could take a long time. Anti-climax. So it was the second episode of Corrie then we eventually went to bed to try and get some rest for what was to come. Dad tip no.2 – breaking waters doesn’t mean a baby will pop out in the next 5 minutes – you may have to wait quite a bit longer (disclaimer – although I understand that the birth can happen quickly after waters have broken, so best be prepared for anything!).
Karen’s contractions began to get stronger around midnight and more so about 2am. She was able to rest in the earlier stages and we had the tens machine on as they became a bit more intense and the birthing ball out which she used to help manage the contractions. From 2ish we were timing them more so and just before 4am we decided to head to the hospital. Dad tip no.3 – travelling to hospital at 4am allows a general clear run with little or no traffic. Result. Although if you need to go to hospital sooner I’d suggest going, rather than waiting ’til 4am!
Once we arrived at Stepping Hill Hospital, car all parked up (maternity parking pass safely displayed in the window to avoid bankruptcy), the wait went on: examinations (had it been busier or not very early morning I think they may have sent us home as Karen was only slightly dilated), more contractions, just getting through the next few hours. It was hot, so I was glad I had packed shorts … and flip flops, snacks and frozen water (to keep it nice and cool for longer) – well worth sorting these out into the birth bag – need to keep both your strength up. Also updating family and friends that we were on and a new addition would soon (hopefully) be here! Dad tip no.4 – pack shorts and comfortable clothes along with sweets, snacks and drinks to keep both your energy levels up.
After quite a few hours and as time went on and the contractions became stronger, Karen was allowed into the birthing pool. This was good and was what we had wanted in our birthing plan and helped her a lot to manage the pain, alongside gas and air. I helped during the contractions with her breathing (also kept me calm and in check!) and rubbed a tennis ball on her lower back which also helped a lot apparently. Motivational pep talks were occasionally required too (which helped me and for which I was grateful to the midwives!), as well as providing a hand to be squeezed within an inch of its life and to take a volley of foul-mouthed abuse without answering back, but we were getting there and something magical was about to happen! Dad tip no.5 – don’t be surprised at your partner’s behaviour during birth – animal instincts abound in this most animalistic human act! Expect the unexpected, including a potty mouth!
So now we were expecting a pool birth as we had hoped in our birthing plan. However, Karen had a little bleed in the pool and they were struggling to find the baby’s heartbeat. They had to get Karen out and she became really distressed. They were still searching for the heartbeat, there was blood, Karen was exhausted and all I could do was sit by, watch and wait. I felt unable to do anything to help. This was a scary moment and I was massively concerned about Karen and the baby. All I could do was to trust the midwives and staff and support Karen as best I could. They found the heartbeat and then gave Karen pethadine which made her drowsy and a bit out of it – we wouldn’t recommend it from our experience. In hindsight we were told Karen may have got in the pool a little too soon and it slowed down the labour. Have your partner/wife hold off a little if you can. But we were close now and we were taken down to the delivery ward. Dad tip no.6 – have great faith and trust in the amazing NHS mid-wives and doctors. They are incredible!
So now it was early afternoon (don’t forget Karen’s waters went early evening the night before and we went to the hospital around 4am) and Karen was on a bed in the hospital’s delivery suite with doctors checking on her and midwives monitoring everything. Karen was goosed and I was not much better, but my only thought was we have to get through this. It’s important to stay positive and encourage the Mum as much as possible. Karen said the encouragement did help her a lot. We then reached the pushing stage, which seemed to last quite a while. Karen called the baby an elephant (amongst other things) and I manfully decided to stay at the top end of the bed to support Karen. After some time and some amazing effort by Karen and the team of midwives, at 2:45pm our baby was born. We didn’t know what we were having and I was expecting a moment like you see in films where the baby is held aloft and you are told “it’s a boy”, or “it’s a girl!”. None of that here. I had to say “what is it?” and the midwife lifted the baby up and said “have a look”. I soon established it was a little girl (or a boy with a very very small penis). We were a little shocked as we had thought it might be a boy (I was one of 3 boys and we have a long line of men on my Dad’s side of the family). My Mum was so convinced it was going to be a boy she’d bought a baby boy card! Well, here was a beautiful little girl and I couldn’t have been happier… or prouder of Karen. What an absolute trooper! In the name choosing stage pre-birth this little girl had always been ‘Poppy’, but a late runner took the lead in the last few weeks and our first daughter: Tessa Isabelle was here. How I loved her from the first moment she popped her slightly scrunched up little face into the world! Dad tip no.7 – your baby’s sex will not always be announced like in films, with the baby held aloft to be presented Rafiki style from the Lion King. You may need to ask or look yourself.
And here she is:
And that is the story of the birth of my first child. Karen and Tess stayed in for a couple of nights, amongst a heatwave in May. I managed to get a couple of half decent nights’ sleep ready for them coming home. That stood me in good stead and then I spent most of the days with them with family and friends visiting. When they came home a couple of days later, it was great and this whole parenting journey began to pick up pace. And I’ve loved it ever since.
Thanks for reading!
Follow me on Instagram – @bethedaddy