It was Thursday 25 August, eight months into our first pregnancy and everything was going perfectly to plan.
We’d been in hospital the day before for our 36 week midwife appointment and all was well with the world. The baby was engaged and in the right position. We’d filled out our birth preferences in our maternity notes. And we’d even taken a tour of the amazing Birth Centre at Chelsea & Westminster hospital, thus cementing our grand plans for a natural, instrument and epidural-free water birth at some point in late-September.
We were getting organised at home too. We’d started practising a variety of relaxation techniques that we’d read about in our new hypnobirthing book (although we were still only half way through it). We had finally got round to buying our new car seat a few days earlier. To be on the safe side, we’d even leisurely packed our hospital bags, safe in the knowledge that we still had around four weeks to go until our little one’s arrival (your first baby is almost always late, right?).
Sure, we still had a to-do list as long as my arm of baby-related jobs. But as the 25 August was Rosie’s last day at work before her maternity leave started, we weren’t too worried. We had loads of time left to finish everything off…
So to celebrate her final day of paid employment for a year, we went out for an early supper to one of our all time favourite restaurants (the lovely La Famiglia in Chelsea).
This maternity leave was getting off to a cracking start, we thought.
Little did we know but in a few hours’ time, we were about to embark on a 60 hour exercise in sleep deprivation…
Because, at 1am that same evening, I was awoken by a surprisingly calm Rosie, informing me that her mucus plug had just made a surprise appearance. We called the hospital, as there had been some blood in the discharge too, and they told us to come straight in to get it checked out.
Bleary eyed, I quickly loaded the car with our hospital bags and brand new car seat, before nervously driving us in.
“This is it!” I thought. As it turns out, it wasn’t.
After an initial examination from the midwife, she guessed it would be another 10 days or so before our contractions would actually start in earnest. But we still had to wait another two hours in a brightly lit, curtained cubicle to be seen by the doctor for a more intimate diagnosis.
Our worst fears were confirmed. She found more blood…and any bleeding during pregnancy is a red flag to the medical profession. As a result, Rosie was admitted to the labour ward for 24 hours of monitoring; a crushing blow.
After being up all night, she graciously sent me home at 8am for a couple of hours of shut eye, while she tried to do the same on the ward, surrounded by a gaggle of moaning mums-to-be in the midst of clockwork contractions.
At 11am I rushed back to the hospital to be by her side. Understandably she was fed up and exhausted (you only get two paper thin pillows on the ward, so you are best off bringing your own). But thankfully the bleeding had stopped, so we asked to be discharged early.
Frustratingly, being deemed ‘low risk’ compared to everyone else on the ward, we had to wait another four hours to be seen by the consultant. As we waited, couple after couple around us were taken into theatre for C-sections.
Eventually though, we were seen and reluctantly allowed to go home (after signing a self-discharge form). At last, Rosie would be able to get some real sleep in the comfort of our own home.
Utterly knackered, I drove her home and put her in bed, relieved that the events of the night before were just a false alarm. So confident was I in that fact, at 3:30pm I dutifully headed into the office to catch up on the piles of work I’d promised to complete before the weekend. Totally wired, I did as much as I could before heading back home at 7pm.
On my return, the flat was in chaos. Spurred on by her imminent labour, Rosie’s nesting instincts had well and truly kicked in. Stressing about how underprepared we really were, she’d left piles of personal items in every room that needed washing, ironing or putting away.
To allay her fears (and leaving the boring jobs for later), we researched TENS machines online and downloaded a free contraction tracker App on my phone. It was 8 o’clock.
While testing the App out for the first time, Rosie suddenly clutched her baby bump and let out a quiet moan. The pain intensified for around 30 seconds before starting to subside.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure it’s just Braxton Hicks” I said confidently.
But six minutes later, she had another cramping pain in her belly. I started the timer on the newly downloaded contraction App. Like clockwork, the pain grew progressively stronger for another 30 seconds before easing off.
“It can’t be real labour,” I said hopefully. “The midwife said we were at least a week away!”
But sure enough, six minutes later, it happened again. Nine minutes. Seven minutes. 10 minutes. Six minutes. Six minutes. Six minutes. Each separated by a consistent contraction of sixty seconds.
“Still think it’s Braxton Hicks?” Rosie asked…
At this point we called the Birth Centre, who confirmed that the baby was definitely on its way.
And then they gave us the bad news. Since we were only 36 weeks and two days pregnant, we wouldn’t be allowed to have our baby in the midwife run Birth Centre as we’d planned. The baby was officially premature so we would have to give birth on the labour ward instead. Rosie was visibly upset but she didn’t have time to wallow as another, more intense contraction took hold.
“Once the contractions are three minutes apart and have been like that for an hour, then you should come in,” the midwife said calmly before signing off.
I couldn’t believe it…our baby was on its way and there was nothing we could do to slow it down.
For the next two hours Rosie ensconced herself in our bedroom, with the windows open and the lights off, as the sun slowly retreated behind the horizon.
In complete darkness, she breathed her way through every contraction while (out loud) I counted down from 100 (a distraction technique our NCT instructor had recommended) and massaged her lower back.
For a while we tried ‘upward visualisations’ such as floating bubbles and hot air balloons – a technique we’d learnt from the hypnobirthing book we were still only half way through – but she soon gave up on that. The counting worked better for her, so we stuck with it.
In between contractions I sprinted back and forth from the kitchen, preparing some fish cakes and boiled courgettes for supper. If we really were in labour, she would need some sustenance to keep her energy levels up.
I even managed to slowly but surely finish all the jobs she’d left for me to do, while dutifully rushing back to the bedroom at the start of every contraction to start the timer App, count down from 100 and massage her aching back.
At midnight, we called the midwife again. The contractions were more powerful than ever and had been consistently three minutes apart for about forty minutes. Kneeling on the bed with her head buried in a stack of eight pillows, Rosie could hardly speak when the midwife asked to talk to her.
“It’s time to come in…right away,” we were told.
This was it. Action stations…
After checking Rosie would be OK for a few minutes without me, I ran to the nursery to pick up our hospital bags and car seat, before hurriedly loading them into the car.
As I rushed back into the flat to grab some extra pillows for the hospital, I found Rosie at the kitchen sink washing up the dishes from our supper. I couldn’t help but laugh…even in the midst of labour, she refused to let her domestic standards slip. She grabbed the kitchen worktop and breathed her way through another intense contraction.
The 20 minute drive to hospital was equally intense, despite the soulful tunes from Mellow Magic that played quietly on the car radio.
After what seemed like an eternity, we finally parked up in the underground hospital car park. As I struggled to the lift, ladened with three heavy bags and an assortment of pillows, Rosie sat on a nearby bench to wait out her latest contraction.
Two surges later, we eventfully made it up to the labour ward on the third floor and were immediately seen by the senior (and amazingly lovely) midwife. After a quick examination she confirmed that Rosie was already 5cm dilated and that the baby would be with us by the morning. This baby wasn’t hanging around…
In another blow, we were then informed that we wouldn’t be able to have the water birth that we’d hoped for. You see, the baby and Rosie would need constant monitoring because we hadn’t reached the 37 week mark yet. While we were obviously disappointed, we knew that the baby’s safety had to come first.
So Rosie was quickly wheeled off to the labour ward, while I struggled behind her, piled high with our copious bags and pillows. The room we were taken into was surprisingly large and dimly lit, with a new midwife ready and waiting to take over. The senior midwife who initially examined Rosie imparted some final words of encouragement before disappearing off, promising to return at the end of her shift. Rosie begged her to stay, but of course she couldn’t.
It was 1am at this point and we were told that the next cervix examination would be scheduled for 5am…which seemed like a lifetime away.
The new midwife quickly strapped two monitors onto Rosie’s bump, and the room immediately filled with the sound of our baby’s heartbeat. The atmosphere was intense and the room was baking.
What’s more I then realised that, in our rush, I’d stupidly left Rosie’s energy drinks in our kitchen fridge. So all we had to keep her (and me) hydrated was one solitary bottle of water. As the next contraction finished, I ran down the long corridor to the water fountain to fill up the bottle and two extra cups (a journey I would repeat multiple times throughout the night).
With every contraction I continued our ritual of counting down out loud, while massaging her back with her favourite Neal’s Yard Mothers Massage Oil. I could see on the monitor an erratic graph, which tracked the progress of every contraction. So I used this to let her know when each surge had reached its peak. All the while, she breathed heavily on the gas and air (her new best friend) as I rushed back and forth to the water fountain to keep her fluids topped up.
Given how little sleep she’d had over the past two days, I soon started to stress about her energy levels. So I encouraged her to try and eat some of the snack bars and sweets that’s we’d brought in our hospital bag. But understandably, eating was the last thing on her mind. All she could manage were two Jelly Babies…
But luckily we’d also bought some energy gel sachets that are popular with long distance runners, which she did manage to suck on between contractions. I just hoped for her sake that this birth wasn’t going to turn into a marathon itself.
At 3am, during a particularly powerful surge, I felt a gush of liquid against my leg as Rosie’s waters finally broke. We convinced the midwife to examine her again. We helped Rosie onto the bed, at which point she whispered…
“I think I’m gonna be sick.”
We managed to grab a cardboard sick bowl just in time as she projectile vomited twice, filling the entire container. Unfortunately we weren’t quick enough at finding a second bowl though, as she threw up yet again, this time on the edge of the bed, the floor and my shoes. By this point of labour, and already covered in various fluids, I was beyond caring. I covered the wet patch on the bed with a hospital incontinence sheet and wiped her chin with my handkerchief.
The midwife donned her surgical gloves to investigate the state of Rosie’s cervix. 6cm dilated.
I could see the disappointment on Rosie’s face but we reassured her that an extra centimetre of dilation and the breaking of her waters were two massive positive developments in the space of just two hours. So she stood back up, leaned against the bed and resumed the cycle of contractions.
Before long, I started to notice a subtle change in her behaviour. She began hopping from one foot to the other to manage the pain. Meanwhile, she began making long guttural mooing sounds during each surge; a sign (I’d read) that we were nearing the pivotal transition period of labour.
It was at this stage that she started doubting herself. Repeatedly she asked for an epidural. We thought this might happen. So, as we’d agreed before the birth, it was my job to remind her of all the reasons why she didn’t want one.
You see, an epidural can massively slow down labour. Plus, it increases the chances that you will need either forceps, a ventouse or even a Caesarian to get the baby out – all things I knew for certain she wanted to avoid.
I reassured her that she was doing an incredible job. That she was being so brave. That she had already progressed so far. And that, with her waters broken and her contractions getting closer together, everything seemed to be speeding up.
I knew should could do it naturally. And she knew it too.
Sure enough, at 4am, within an hour of her last cervical examination she began to feel the overwhelming need to push. The midwife couldn’t believe it and questioned whether the baby might have rotated into the wrong position.
Again, we convinced her to check how dilated Rosie was. So the midwife donned a clean pair of gloves and disappeared down below.
When she reemerged, the look on her face was a picture. “10 centimetres,” she said. “This baby’s ready to be born!”
She couldn’t believe it. We couldn’t believe it. It was all happening so fast. Rosie had gone into labour only eight hours earlier and now we were about to come face to face with our new son or daughter. Incredible.
It took me completely by surprise but it was at this point that Rosie started to panic. She was overwhelmed with fear about the pain she would feel while pushing the baby out. After all she’d been through already, the midwife was only too happy to make up a syringe of anaesthetic to numb her nether-regions slightly to take the edge off. By God, after getting to this stage on just two paracetamol and gas and air, it was the least she deserved!
Strangely, at this point, the earlier urge to push actually reduced for Rosie. But she knew there was only one way she was going to get this baby out.
So with each contraction, our midwife coached her through the process. It felt like an age, but gradually the baby edged closer and closer to its escape hatch.
Before the birth, I’d sworn that I would stay up at Rosie’s shoulder throughout the birth and never look down at the business end of proceedings. But like a moth to a flame, I couldn’t help myself. I was transfixed as I saw a mat of black hair start to emerge as the baby crowned. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.
“You’re amazing! Keep going! You can do it! You are incredible!” I repeated, in a state of total awe for my wife and the wonder of childbirth.
After the head was born, the midwife instructed Rosie to pant, with short, sharp breaths. She followed her advice to the letter and in no time at all, our little one shot out and we were presented with our new baby boy.
Covered in a waxy white substance, his head slightly cone shaped after squeezing so quickly through the birth canal, we couldn’t believe it. He was utterly perfect. Despite being nearly a month premature, he wasn’t a small baby by any means (7lbs, we later found out). Lord knows how big he would have been if he’d gone full term!
“Do you have a name?” the midwife asked.
“Teddy,” she said…
Although we were both totally in love with this new tiny human, unfortunately Rosie was still suffering. Despite achieving a near textbook birth, unfortunately she’d suffered a seriously painful third degree tear in the process, which meant that within half an hour of delivering the placenta, she had to be whisked off to theatre to have it properly stitched up. What’s more, after managing the whole birth on just gas and air, she now had to have a ‘spinal’ (effectively an epidural) to manage the pain during surgery.
But not before partaking in some much needed skin to skin bonding time with Teddy and giving him his first feed.
As she was taken away, we kissed her goodbye, safe in the knowledge that she was in expert hands and would be back in less than an hour. I couldn’t have been more proud of her.
So there I was, left alone in the room, holding our beautiful new baby in my arms. I’d always wanted to be a father and at last, I was officially a daddy.
I couldn’t take my eyes off him…I still can’t.