The trauma of a first birth
Having a child is a life changing event. It is the transformation from a self-centered life to that of being a family. You have something precious that is more important than yourself.
I was twenty two when Liz became pregnant. I do not think either of us realised what a change it would make to our lives. No regrets.
It was the most exciting experience, though a bit nerve-racking.
First you have all those months where nothing happens. Then there is the wonder of a swelling belly and those little kicks. Then the early scan. But even then it does not seem real, even when you’ve seen the black and white image that looks like a cross between a baby and a tadpole.
By the end Liz’s belly was so big she could hardly walk or sleep. It was so uncomfortable, yet she had taken on a serenity that was surreal. Her mind was preparing for what was ahead.
Of course she made full use of her situation. She had cravings. I remember going off at one in the morning in search of a chocolate dispensing machine. These were the days prior to all-night shopping. I eventually tracked one down on an underground station.
The big day when Dylan was due came and went. She did not produce. I was a nervous wreck and Liz was still very relaxed.
I worked in the other side of London and gave her very strict instructions to ring me at the first sign that anything was about to begin. We were told to go in to hospital when contractions happened every hour.
Two weeks after the due date Liz went into labour.
She eventually rang me at about three in the afternoon. Someone came to tell me she was on the phone. They all knew what that meant. Trying to contain my excitement I asked the question.
‘How often are the contractions?’
‘About every thirty minutes,’ she replied.
She had been having contractions all day. They were building and becoming more regular. Liz had made me work an extra four hours! I had visions of her producing the baby before I managed to reach home. A wave of panic flooded through me.
I rushed out, jumped on the motorbike and headed home, weaving through traffic and opening the throttle. I managed the journey in half the normal time.
I rushed in to find Liz in her dressing gown grilling sausages.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked in a state of shock.
‘I’m feeling peckish.’
Feeling peckish. All kinds of thoughts were rushing through my head. She wasn’t dressed. We had to get to the hospital. What if she needed anaesthetic? Surely she shouldn’t be eating? She might suffocate on her own puke? We had to be there, now. Why wasn’t she ready? Why wasn’t she at least having the decency to appear agitated? Where was the urgency?
‘How far apart are the contractions?’ I asked a little breathlessly.
‘About every twenty minutes,’ she replied absently, as one came through on cue and she leaned against the wall until it had passed.
We were meant to be at the hospital when they were an hour apart. They were twenty minutes apart. This baby was imminent.
‘Come on,’ I urged. ‘We haven’t got time for this.’ Attempting to get some sense of urgency into this. She shrugged me off.
‘Stop fussing,’ Liz replied, prodding the sausages.
She calmly made herself a sandwich and ate it which I hopped from foot to foot. I couldn’t sit down.
Finally she dressed at a leisurely pace and we set off.
They took Liz off for a shave and an enema. All part of the service designed to create greater hygiene. I took the opportunity to ring my friend Pete. We’d arranged for him to bring his camera and record the event.
We soon found that the hospital had a different view. Their policy was that they only just allowed husbands in. And they had to stay up the top end well away from the action.
Pete arrived to find that he wasn’t going to be able to gain entry and we sat in the waiting room. I was a little tense and he was a bit miffed.
Eventually I was allowed in with Liz. I donned green gown, facemask and hairnet as if I was gowning up for surgery.
I needn’t have worried about rushing. The contractions took hours to build. A midwife popped in and out checking the dilation and progress. Liz refused all medication and any form of pain relief even though the contractions were agony. That was something neither of us was completely prepared for. Somehow we had imagined we would cope with the pain.
Eventually she was dilated enough to push and the pain disappeared.
The room filled with people. Everyone had to clock up so many births. All the junior midwives and doctors rushed in to bear witness and tick their boxes.
I looked up to see Pete, all gowned up, pretending to be a doctor, complete with camera. He had observed where the doctors got their gowns and walked in bold as brass, gowned up and followed everyone in. They were all too focused on the birth to worry about him. He managed some brilliant, precious shots.
Liz was superb. Within three big pushed the Head was breached. I watched as the consultant injected and cut the perineum to allow it to be born. A push later and the body of our son Dylan slithered into the world on a gush of fluid and blood, as if sliding down a toboggan run, blue and with his lifeline of an umbilical cord snaking out around him.
We had wanted a Leboyer birth with quiet, dim lights, music and warmth. The hospital could not quite manage that but they tried. The room emptied and the lights dimmed.
The midwife held him up by the ankles, expertly clamped and cut the cord and quickly whisked him off to suck mucous out of his lungs and check him over. There was no need his lungs worked. She wrapped him in a soft blanket and handed him to me. I took him like he would break and cuddled him to me. He was quiet and watchful. I held him in some ecstatic delirium and gazed down at him. He peered back at me, studying my face intently and looking contented. His little hands and tiny fingers were tensing and splaying as if he was feeling the novelty of the air.
I have never felt as wonderful. I was so full of wonder I could have exploded. I handed him to Liz and watched as he studied her too and she beamed down at him with the delight of motherhood. All memories of the ordeal of birth were banished.
We had a son. We were family.