I love reading birth stories! After sharing my own two very different birth experiences [emergency c-section and natural VBAC] I decided to ask other mums and dads to share their wonderful birth stories with me too. I’m absolutely delighted that so many people want to share with me! If you’d like to share your birth story, send me an email or get in touch via Twitter or Facebook.
This week Oli is sharing the beautiful birth story of his first baby. His wife, Melissa, went into labour after seeing the Queen! However once at hospital things soon turned into an emergency situation. Here he gives an insight to what it was like becoming a father for the first time.
It was a warm summer’s day. I was at work, in the atrium eating lunch and looking forwards to my flapjack dessert when the call came.
She said something like “I think I’m in labour.”
She *thinks*? What do I do?
I called the guy I lift share with, and we both went home. He was driving, so I still got to eat my flapjack.
Melissa was in the bath when I got in, and we set about timing the contractions. Despite being adamant that she didn’t want a water birth, as soon as labour started, all she wanted was to be in water.
The Queen had visited Hitchin that morning, and Melissa had gone to stand in the crowds and see her, the contractions had started when the Queen was no more than a few feet from her. Maybe it was the excitement of seeing the Queen that set her off. Melissa says she’s glad her waters didn’t break then, but I think it would have made for a great story, especially as the Queen was off to visit the maternity ward next; she could have given her a lift!
The contractions got stronger and more frequent, but were never consistent enough to meet whatever criteria it was we were looking for to know we had to go in. We called for advice and were eventually told to go in.
Triage for the maternity ward was hell. Melissa always sits with her legs curled under her in a way that makes my spine ache to watch, but she just can’t sit normally and be comfortable. The beds in triage have a roughly 30 degree bend in the middle, and you’re expected to lie on them while they monitor your contractions. It wasn’t a comfortable position for Melissa. They set you up and say it’ll be 20 minutes, and then you don’t see anyone for an hour. Meanwhile, Melissa’s in agony trying to keep still on this bed so a good reading can be produced. It wasn’t a good reading in the end. It was suggested that we go away, maybe get something to eat and come back in a bit. Melissa tried to choke down a granola bar, but she wasn’t hungry. She didn’t want to eat - she was in labour.
With Melissa in pain and frustrated, we went back in. The thought of having to lie on the uncomfortable beds again had Melissa in tears, which resulted in someone more senior coming to see her. The senior nurse(?) suggested that maybe she sit up, and there, that wasn’t so bad was it, and it won’t take too long. To me, it sounded rather patronising; why couldn’t they have taken better care of her when she was in distress earlier? Of course, this is also the point they decide to take her blood pressure, and wouldn’t you know it, distressed and in labour, her blood pressure was high. In the end, a doctor gave her an examination and determined that she was in labour because she was dilated, begging the question what the point of the last hour or so had been.
Things were much calmer once we were admitted to one of the rooms. We couldn’t get one with a birthing pool, but there was a bath which Melissa got into at the first opportunity, and when they took her blood pressure again, it was much lower. She did eventually have to get out though, so they could monitor baby’s heart beat.
I cannot remember the name of our midwife. I tried to commit many names to memory from the birth, but names and faces are things I seem to struggle to retain unless I’m constantly interacting with them and reinforcing the memories. I will say, though, that she was fantastic. That’s true of midwives in general, actually; they are amazing people.
We knew that there were yoga balls available, so didn’t bring our own, but it turned out that they were all so flat as to be of no use, and there wasn’t a pump in sight. So it was just onto the bed. By now the labour had progressed past the point where we could use the TENS machine we had bought, so it was onto gas and air, which didn’t seem to have any discernable effect.
As the labour progressed, occasionally baby’s heartbeat dropped off a little during contractions, and when Melissa’s water broke (during an examination by the poor midwife,) it was full of meconium. A little cause for concern, but nothing too serious.
However, the pain was really starting to affect Melissa, and we made the decision to go for an epidural. It was late at night now, there was one anaesthetist working, and apparently a queue. We continued as we had, trying to get some effect from the gas and air, but the pain was getting so bad that between contractions, Melissa started pleading:
“Oliver… Oliver… Give him money. Give him money”
You know things are bad when your wife is begging you to bribe the anaesthetist.
Before the anaesthetist got to us, though, baby’s heartbeat dropped during a contraction and didn’t pick up again, and we were hurried to theatre in case they needed to do a caesarean.
Fear is all I felt as I accompanied the bed as it was wheeled along the corridors.
I felt weak as I struggled into the scrubs I had to wear to enter theatre. If they did need to go through with a caesarean, because we never managed to get the epidural, Melissa would have to be put under general anaesthetic and I wouldn’t be allowed to stay. Baby’s heartbeat had picked up again when they got the monitoring set up again, but they took a blood sample from the top of baby’s head and rushed it off to test for oxygen levels.
The person who ran the sample came back with a grim expression and a short shake of the head to the waiting medical staff. Then everything happened quickly. A consent form produced for Melissa to sign, I was hurriedly trying to tell Melissa I love her while people busied themselves around us preparing for surgery, and I was ushered out. I remember looking back into the room, and Melissa looked back at me, I think confused and scared. Then the double doors to the theatre swung shut, and all the activity and urgency of the theatre was gone, and all was still.
I was alone.
I sat down. I cried.
A midwife came out a little later and told me that everything was fine, and that he was a healthy little boy. We’d avoided finding out the sex of the baby, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she’d just ruined the surprise. Similarly when another midwife came out with my baby all bundled up in towels and did the big reveal, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the surprise had already been ruined.
I held that bundle of cloth and looked down into baby’s eyes, and he looked back. I was left alone with this little stranger who, to me, had just been delivered out of a room. I tried to talk to him, I don’t recall what I said. We paced and waited for Melissa.
She was still unconscious when they wheeled her out of theatre, and drowsily woke up after a few minutes. I tried to introduce her to her baby. It took a little while for it to register what I was telling her.
We had discussed names at length, but hadn’t made a decision. We had particularly struggled with girls names but fortunately that wasn’t an issue now. I’d come up with “Joshua” not long ago, because I liked how it sounded when said with our surname, but it wasn’t the only name we were considering.
“Joshua?” Melissa asked.
I thought she was asking if we should call him Joshua, and so I agreed, and that became his name. It turns out, though, that she was still very drowsy and was asking if we *had already* named him Joshua, rather than suggesting we do.
We spent a little time together there, a new family, trying to make sense of the change, but it didn’t last long. Joshua got drowsy and floppy and a quick test showed that his blood sugars were too low, and he was quickly taken off to NICU.
I went with him, but when it became clear that it wasn’t going to be a simple case of warming him up, I eventually had to leave him and return to Melissa empty handed, feeling as though I’d let her down. I couldn’t bear to tell her that I wasn’t bringing her baby back for her to hold, and when I tried, I just cried again.
Joshua stayed in NICU for two and a half weeks. Initially he needed plasma infusions, but for most of the time, he was being given sucrose infusion while being fed breast milk through a tube in his nose. There were a number of symptoms that the doctors had to address, but my impression is that the root cause of everything was a neonatal infection. The approach the doctor decided on was to wean him off the sucrose ever so slowly, a process that was significantly impeded by the fact that the hand held blood sugar monitors are horribly inaccurate. Melissa wasn’t allowed to stay in the hospital beyond six days and having to go home, leaving her baby behind was one of the most upsetting days for her. I guess it’s best that the doctors erred on the side of caution, but those weeks were probably the most difficult of my life.
This was our first child, we’d read the books (well, Melissa had), attended the NHS new parent meetings, been to NCT groups. All of that stuff. We had all these ideas of what it was going to be like; there would be lots of skin to skin contact, he’d always be by us, he’d be breast fed etc. But while he was in NICU, there was none of that. We’d come to believe that all of these things were important, but now we were being told that him spending time in in NICU wasn’t going to have any effect on his development and I struggled to resolve these two ideas.
There have been lots of follow ups since Joshua finally managed to leave the hospital, but he’s been fine.
He is everything I ever hoped he would be, and I love him more than I knew it was possible to love anything.
I welled up when I read this the first time, and I just welled up again. What an emotional rollercoaster! Thank you for sharing, Oli. It was wonderful to read a birth story from a father’s perspective.
You can read more beautiful birth stories here.