Ring me if you can, no drama x
That’s what the Whatsapp message reads… but let me tell you something, folks: she lied!
“I’ve been having contractions for the past couple of hours,” she says during the follow up phone call, as though this is an everyday occurrence. “I’ve spoken to the midwife and she says I’m in labour.” It’s Friday, February 23rd, 2018, and it’s Due Day +1.
My brain freezes. I’m not quite sure how to handle this information. The wife’s at home, but I’m in work. Is this really happening? Can I get there on time? Maybe I should just go the pub and wait for all this to blow over…
“The contractions are half an hour apart,” she goes on, “but the midwife says I should stay at home until they’re at least 6 minutes apart. I’d say you can leave work now, or wait until the contractions are closer together.”
A chink of light! Normally I can’t wait to get out of work, but… I’m kind of… expecting a package of a different kind. The cheap copy of Football Manager 2017 ordered the previous evening is due to arrive at work any minute now, so do I leave without it, or do I stay a little longer, knowing this little trinket will help me get through the long, sleepless nights everyone has warned me about?
“If they’re still half an hour apart,” I say carefully, “I should probably just stay in work… right?”
“Yeah,” she says. “I suppose. There’s nothing you can do here anyway. I’ll let you know when they’re getting more frequent.”
That’s my girl, folks. Not one word of complaint when I tell her I’m leaving her home alone to deal with the agonising pains of latent labour, for which I’m at least partly responsible. I make a promise then that computer-generated Liverpool will be forever grateful for my wife’s sacrifice… once I lead them to Champion’s League glory.
I know I’ll get the chance to uphold that promise some two hours later, when reception ring up to tell me a delivery is waiting. No sooner is FM2017 safely packed in my bag, do I get a message from Jen telling me it’s time to head home. It’s perfect timing really. Not even out of the womb yet and the kid’s already in the good books.
It’s at this point that I’d normally disappear, slipping from the office without a sound, maintaining an air of mystery. These days though, working with one of my wife’s oldest friends, a quiet escape was never really on the cards. As well as being our friend, Rach is also just three weeks behind us in the pregnancy stakes, meaning it was only right that we let her know what was happening.
I slowly made my way towards Rachel’s desk while the wife gave her a call, the idea being to blow her mind with the exciting news. She doesn’t disappoint. Seeing the name on the phone and the handsome devil strutting towards her, Rach quickly puts the pieces together. “What’s happening!?” she squeals as she answers the phone. “Why are you ringing when Tony’s walking towards me!?” Before I even make it to the desk, the office learns that my wife’s waters have just broken!
It takes me half an hour to get home, but nothing much has changed. As I walk in, Jen is up on the couch, bent over a birthing ball, breathing through a contraction, while Thor watches on with the sense of confused indifference only a dog can muster.
The contractions are much closer now, but still not close enough. Feeling useless each time Jen doubles over in pain, I take the opportunity to take a shower before we head to the hospital. We’re not sure how long we’ll be once we head in, so it seems like a good idea. I put on my finest Sunday best. It’s not every day you meet your child for the first time, after all, and it’s important to make a good first impression.
By the time I’m showered and changed, Jen is enduring a contraction 5 minutes after the last one. Maybe it’s time? She rings the midwife to give her the good news.
“No, no,” the midwife says. “It’s not really worth coming in until your contractions have been 5 minutes apart for over an hour. Then we’ll be getting somewhere.”
That’s easy for the midwife to say. She’s not sitting here, listening to Jen’s contraction bashing getting more and more personal. She’s dropped the C-bomb on at least three of them, and I’m starting to get nervous. How long before she turns against me?
As the hospital trip looms closer, I head out to the shop for some last-minute supplies. We’ve got a hospital bag packed and ready to go, but Jen wants some energy drinks and paracetamol to give her an edge. I get the energy drinks but forget the paracetamol. Hell, it’s not like she’s in pain!
More abuse follows – aimed at the contractions rather than me, I’m sure – but I take the cue to head back to the shops and redeem myself. Paracetamol acquired!
By the time I get back the second time, the contractions are locked in at 5 minutes apart and have been that way for an hour. We load up the car and say our farewells to the dog. He doesn’t know it yet, but his pack is about to grow by one… and his days as the cute one are severely numbered.
As we bundle into the car, I decide to lighten the mood. “Are you going to be able to guide me to the hospital, or shall I stick it in the Satnav?” Apparently, this isn’t quite as amusing as I think it is, but providing directions offers a slight distraction from the pain, so I leave Jen to it.
We arrive at the hospital in a blaze of glory, slamming the car into a disabled parking space near the ambulance entrance and rushing inside. We’re greeted by the midwife who Jen has been speaking to on the phone and are quickly taken to an examination room.
Without going into the gory details – and, damn, are there some gory details – I’ll just keep things brief. The golden number when giving birth is ten centimetres dilated. Bearing in mind Jen has been having contractions since 10:00 in the morning and it’s now around 19:40, I’m thinking this is going to be at least eight centimetres. We’ll be in and out before you can say Happy Birthday! With any luck, we’ll be home before midnight.
“Two centimetres”, the midwife says.
Jen has gone through almost ten hours of pain, and it’s given her two centimetres. She needs eight more and it’s four hours before they can check again. It’s a horrible feeling watching someone you love going through waves of agonising pain, each one seemingly worse than the last, and knowing there’s nothing you can do to help. So, I pop out for a cup of tea.
It’s at this point that we meet Dot and Jen², our midwife and student midwife team. I’ll say it now as nothing I write will do them justice, but these two ladies were magnificent. In fact, all of the maternity staff at Arrow Park Hospital were amazing, and they made the entire process as easy, comfortable, and truly remarkable as it could possibly be. They, and the NHS in general, absolutely rock the balls off.
Dot and Jen² lead us to the Sunflower Suite, which is going to be our home until the baby is born. The room comes complete with a birthing pool, which is part of our birthing plan should everything go smoothly. For now, though, it’s a waiting game. Well, I wait… Jen continues to have verbals with her contractions. Impressively, she manages to hold out until 22:00 before embracing a healthy supply of gas and air.
Four agonising hours go by, and at last Dot decides it’s time to take another look downstairs. We hold our breath…
Four centimetres! Two centimetres in four hours, and still two shy of getting in the birthing pool, not to mention the six short of the golden mark. At this point, it’s fair to say that Jen loses her shit! She can’t face another four hours of pain just to see if she’s ready to go in the pool, never mind have the baby, and she makes sure we all know it.
Dot and Jen² try to talk Jen down from the ceiling. She’s stressed out and the pain is making her tense, which is the opposite of what she needs to do. It takes Dot half an hour to convince Jen that a shot of Pethidine will take the edge off the pain and help her relax. Jen, needlephobe that she is, can’t think of anything worse, but eventually she relents and somehow the shot is given.
The drug has no time to take effect before all hell breaks loose. As Jen’s agony obviously increases, Dot takes another look downstairs. The baby is definitely on the way now, and she tells Jen to listen to her body and start pushing.
Jen though, having watched multiple episodes of One Born Every Minute, decides she knows better than a midwife with thirty five years experience. “I can’t push”, she screams. “I’m not ready!” She doesn’t realise that, in the blink of an eye, she’s reached that golden ten centimetres.
Nature takes hold and Jen can’t fight it any more. I’m ready at her side, hand outstretched for support, but Jen decides to grab anything but the hand. My right man-boob takes a battering, but it’s when she grabs my balls and squeezes tight that I know I’m truly part of the experience now. Jen claims she has no memory of this, but it was most definitely a deliberate action!
With the baby on the way, things take a slight turn for the worse. Jen’s ketone levels are low and the baby’s heart rate is high. Dot makes the decision to move us from the Sunflower Suite to a delivery theatre round the corner, which is a lot more surgical and oppressive feeling than the first room.
At this point I could have started to panic, but Dot and Jen² exude confidence. OK, I figure, this obviously isn’t going smoothly. But damn these guys seem to know what they’re doing! There’s no need to panic. Every labour is different they say, but in this place they’ve seen them all. Dot knows what she’s doing. We’ll be OK.
And we are OK. Perhaps it’s the drip in the room, waiting to be hooked up to Jen’s arm to get her ketones back up, or maybe the incubator waiting in the corner. Whatever it is, something pushes Jen over the edge. A doctor is drafted into the room to assist, but before she can do anything Jen lets out a guttural cry that shakes the foundations of the hospital… and I see a head emerge, followed by the familiar cries of a new born baby.
My heart is in my mouth at this point; this is genuinely the most exhilarating moment of my life. And it’s Jen who did it all. I kiss her on her sweat covered forehead, not because I’ve seen it in the movies, but because it just feels right. I love you, I want that kiss to say. I’m proud of you.
Gods am I proud!
Then the midwife holds up the prize of the day’s endeavours, ready for my inspection. “Do you want to tell mummy what it is?”
Don’t get it wrong, I plead with myself. Don’t get it wrong!
I can feel the pressure pushing down on me, certain everyone in the world is watching. I squint. I take my time. Wow, I think, he’s really packing a… oh no, that’s just the umbilical cord!
“It’s a girl! We’ve got a beautiful girl!”
Her name is Penelope Jane, and she was born at 01:42am on Saturday, 24th February, weighing 8lbs 6oz. She’s perfect. I know that as soon as I see her. I know it as soon as they lay her in my arms for the first time. She’s tiny, and she’s perfect. And she’s ours.
The tea and toast they give us after everything has settled down is pretty special too. But why wouldn’t it be?
We’ve just had the day of days, and the world is as it should be.
5th March 2018