Given I thought a pregnancy was 9 months, not 10 months, I was probably starting from a worse place than most but you do still think you have an idea when the birth of your child is supposed to happen. Your other half might even have a detailed birthing plan, thought up with hours of precise planning (we were going to have a natural water birth with no pain relief). In my head, our little boy would calmly decide he finally wanted to meet us, waters would break in a flush of excitement and all I’d have to do was turn up and do some hand holding. Sarah would then gracefully strain our boy out in to a lovely pool of warm water. Why on earth wouldn’t this plan work?!
In reality, it turned out, I had absolutely no idea! As the birthing process unfolded, I quickly realised I was the most useless person involved in it and, as for the plan, well you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men (or women in this case)……
Tip for Dads: Never, I repeat NEVER, question or disagree with the plan. Even if the plan is to give birth, pain free, whilst riding a unicorn….nod and say yes! But be prepared for that plan to change.
I got the call on a Tuesday whilst at work. Sarah had been admitted to the labour ward. She was 36 weeks. I rushed home, packed a bag and sped to the hospital. Over the course of the pregnancy we had so many discussions about what Sarah would need me to bring along with her labour bag, but my mind went blank. Perhaps there was also some truth in her frequent accusations that I don’t listen but, of course, I’d never admit that. Enough went in that bag for 2 weeks away, in various climates, but was still somehow almost entirely incorrect. How had I managed to get this wrong?! My uselessness had once again prevailed.
Tip for Dads: Be organised. Have a pre-prepared list of what is required and, this is the important bit, where the hell it is situated in your house. This will save you 15 minutes of rummaging through the wrong drawer looking for a very specific pair of large knickers.
Tuesday came and went and the sun rose on a Wednesday morning. Turns out the boy was pretty snug inside his mother and didn’t want to come, so I was banished home the previous night. I went back the next evening (I worked to save my paternity leave) and Sarah was clearly going insane. She is very active and hospital is perhaps the most boring place in the world, which gives everyone time to think, think some more and, ultimately, overthink. The constant, literal non-stop worry, coupled with the boredom was taking its toll. Unfortunately for Sarah she couldn’t even come home for any relief. Relief sounds such an inappropriate word in the situation but that’s what it was. I feel horrifically guilty even writing this but when I came home on that Wednesday night I enjoyed it a little bit. I was acutely aware this was quite possibly my last night alone, so I grasped on to my last shred of bachelorhood: stripped to my boxers, ‘cooked’ a fish finger sandwich and watched TV in uninterrupted bliss.
The day had arrived. The plan was crystal clear. Sarah would be induced at around midday and we would be new parents by the end of the day. During the move to labour ward a newly qualified midwife noticed something, something which resulted in another scan before induction. The wait in the scanning room was agonising but eventually Sarah was told a natural birth was unlikely. It was the first time Sarah had showed her emotion as the dream of her well-crafted plan had evaporated in front of her eyes. I was genuinely heartbroken for her. Even though I cry at most things this was not the time.
To make matters worse we had to go for a further MRI. Sarah had a nightmare only weeks before that the baby would be born with a full set of teeth (pregnancy eh?). As the scans were brought up we could see teeth! Tears nearly erupted again as the nightmare was about to become a reality. Luckily we were reassured they were still under the gums and as normal as could be. The second set of tears did arrive shortly afterwards, however, as it was now confirmed a planned caesarean was the only option and it would not happen until Friday. This was the outcome Sarah had always wanted least! In addition to this, apparently steroids were also a requirement and needed to be administered to make the procedure safe…right in the left buttock. It transpires this is an absolutely terrible moment to make any form of joke about Russian hammer throwers, Rocky IV or rhino hinds. Who knew?!
Tip for Dads: The unknown is scary. You feel helpless. You feel useless. You can’t change anything that’s happening. You have no control at all. Remember though, your other half feels indescribably more scared, more helpless, more nervous and more upset than you can even begin to comprehend. Her masterplan may have changed multiple times and her pregnant mind may even make her think it’s her fault. Deal with your worries, support her completely and do whatever you can to get her through it, even if that’s making rubbish jokes about steroid injections.
The day had arrived. This time it was for real. There was no going back. I put my scrubs on, ready for theatre and felt oddly sexy, despite having to wear a large pair. I’d clearly been working on the dad bod early. Might as well pose for a picture then?
All I know was that I was laser focused on getting us through this day, no matter what. When we got to the theatre waiting room it was actually refreshing to see another ghostly white, soon to be father, looking as helpless as me and desperately trying to hide his worry (unsuccessfully). Perhaps I wasn’t quite alone.
Tip for Dads: YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!
Have you ever looked at someone you care about, who can take on the world with no fear, who is unbelievably strong….actually, look scared? Well, in that operating theatre, I did and it was so hard! I am a naturally emotional man but luckily I have an innate ability to switch that off when I choose. Nevertheless, I was afraid, terrified beyond my wildest dreams. Freddie, Jason, IT the clown, didn’t have anything on this but I needed to balance us out and stay calm. It wasn’t easy and I don’t think I was particularly convincing but that laser focus HAD to continue.
The procedure was a blur and not something I’d want to describe in detail. I was on the subs bench watching the team’s key player about to put in a (wo)man of the match performance and, the next thing I knew, Harry was out. There was some mumbling and he was quickly rushed past in a trolley, purple in colour (him, not the trolley). I saw him in that trolley and he was in a bad way. No matter how much she wanted to, thankfully, Sarah didn’t see him. This gave me an opportunity to, for want of a better word, lie. I told her he was OK even though I knew he wasn’t. I was pulled in to a back room 3 minutes later (might as well have been 3 hours) to check on him and cut the cord. He was a healthy(ish) baby boy. I refused to hold him first, that was Sarah’s privilege and I would never take that from her.
I was told when you first hold your baby you will feel overwhelming, unconditional love that you have never experienced before. I didn’t feel that! I was still laser focussed and all I cared about was getting Harry and Sarah out of that operating theatre, safe. For a while I felt devastatingly embarrassed and guilty about this feeling but, looking back and reflecting, I realise sometimes the obvious, isn’t always that obvious. For the first times in my life I didn’t care about myself. My feelings were entirely concentrated on two other human beings and only those two. Nothing else mattered and, from here on in, nothing else will matter! And that is unconditional.
Tip for Dads: Don’t feel guilty about any of your feelings, or lack of them, in this moment. Everyone reacts to stress differently. Now you’re through this it’s what you do from here on in that counts.
As Sarah was wheeled out of theatre we both nervously smiled. The adventure had begun and who knew what was coming next…..