D Day came, eventually. It arrived nearly 2 weeks late. Despite trying just about every old wives tale, it seemed like it would never arrive. Vicky had even been booked in to be induced, she was that far over-due.
The evening before D Day we’d had a visit from the midwife to help things along, we’d gone for a 2 mile walk (or, I walked and Vicky waddled), been out to eat a spicy Mexican and Vicky even had a glass of red wine. As a result of all this it was midnight before we settled down to bed.
Vicky woke me at 2am and calmly said, “I think my waters have broken”, I jumped up straight away and felt alert immediately. I was nervously excited. At this point the ‘training’ kicked in. Now, if you read part 1 of The Bloke’s Perspective, you will see we went to the NCT antenatal classes. This is where I got my ‘training’. I paid attention to the labour part, as it was the bit I knew least about and the bit I thought that I needed to know most about. This was in order to try and maintain an element of control and not let things run off from the birth plan.
First task was to establish if the waters had actually gone. This took a call to the hospital who said to come in and get checked. We were meant to be going to the Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) but they were closed so we had to go to St James’s instead. I knew Vicky wasn’t going to be happy with this. Vicky started feeling contractions before we’d got into the car.
We were told in the NCT class that it was only in the movies where waters went first. Well, apparently we were going to have a “Hollywood” birth. We were given the option of staying and having some drugs to move things along but Vicky dismissed this, as the plan was to be as natural as possible. We wanted to relax at home for a bit (expecting to wait a good few hours at home as we were told that the on average the first labour would be a good 6 to 8 hours before you would need to go to hospital, when you were having around 3 contractions in 10 minutes). I was quite happy with this decision at that point in time given that contractions didn’t seem too bad or too frequent.
However, within minutes I’d started to change my mind. The short walk of around 100m from door to car was punctuated with about 4 stops to allow increasingly painful contractions to pass. To me, this was a lot and did raise concerns for me. But I knew Vicky didn’t want the baby at St James’s and felt I just needed to support her in her decisions, to the extent she wasn’t going to harm herself or the baby – which she wasn’t going to do by going home now.
We got back home at about 5:30am. Vicky had struggled to sit in the car all the way home, once we got in, I ran around trying to get painkillers together. This is where the NCT came into its own for us, using the pain reliving techniques we’d learned. It was also the start of the end for my wrist. If I wasn’t driving at any point over the next 7 hours I was probably rubbing the bottom of Vicky’s back. By the end of the day my wrist was knackered. I know in the grand scheme of a birth a bit of a sore wrist for the dad isn’t much, but hell it hurt! If I leaned on my wrist for any length of time over the next 2-3 months, it hurt.
By 6:00 I was back on the phone to the hospital, luckily the LGI was open again. I didn’t like watching Vicky in such pain and it was a relief to be able to take her to be more comfortable. Although Vicky could barely sit in the car again, it was fun driving on the motorway to hospital! Small things please small minds!
After being assessed on the delivery suite, which seemed to take ages, they said Vicky wasn’t far enough progressed to stay and we had to go down to the antenatal ward. Once there, I felt that basically they couldn’t care less how much pain Vicky was in. They offered paracetamol – wow. I needed paracetamol, Vicky needed something a tad stronger. So she had a bath.
In all fairness, this was what we had planned to do at home and it did work, not perfect, but it worked. But we could have done this at home. It’s not a massive comfort to see somebody in pain, knowing you were so near, but yet so far, from being able to make them comfortable. It’s almost a tease being in the hospital and not getting pain relief.
After the bath, Vicky was at her bed on the ward and she was clearly in a lot of pain. I couldn’t get hold of a midwife, partly because Vicky wouldn’t let me stop rubbing her back (I don’t blame her for this at all) and also because it was ward round time and the midwives were going round with the doctors (ignoring patients in my view). After what seemed another age, the registrar, who had heard Vicky and her little whimpers, popped her head through the curtain and said “I think it’s time you went to delivery suite sweetness” without the need to physically examine her. I felt like this was one person with a clear understanding of what Vicky was going through in a sea of incompetence displayed by the midwives.
Following this, the midwives insisted on checking progress. We moved to a side room for an exam, they laid Vicky on her back on an examination table and made her wait half an hour. I was furious, Vicky was in so much pain she was becoming distressed which made me distressed too. Finally the midwife came in and did her stuff. She caused Vicky so much pain it hurt me to watch. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever done, to not intervene and stop her hurting my wife. In just about ay other scenario, I would not let anybody cause such pain to somebody else, let alone my wife.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an issue with midwives. My mum was a midwife for donkeys years (Bex will get that one!) and our community midwife was excellent, particularly once we got home with Holly. It just seems the midwives on the antenatal ward at the LGI were intent on making women go through labour without any substantial pain relief. There maybe reasons for this, such as it still being in ‘early’ labour and not wanting to halt progress etc. I think it is more because they have become numb to seeing women in pain, it’s become normal for them and they are unsympathetic to it. To the detriment of the patient at times, and yes I do think you are a patient when you are in labour, natural though it is.
We got back up to delivery suite at 11:30am. I’d ended up chasing Vicky up there like a pack horse carrying about 4 bags whilst she was being wheeled up telling them to hurry! Delivery suite couldn’t offer us enough pain relief, a complete contrast from the antenatal ward! Vicky didn’t want pethidine due to its effect on the baby’s ability to breast feed, but epidural – have a bit of that. This wasn’t what we had planned but, I felt we were still in control of how things were going and this was the right thing to do.
Gas and air was flowing whilst waiting for the anaesthetist, labour tourettes kicked in, which was one of the highlights of the day for me, barring getting a new baby of course. A mixture of swear words followed by immediate regret and apologising to the midwife is quite funny. I was still rubbing Vicky’s back at this point, the anaesthetist got the epidural in at about 3pm. The midwife immediately checked Vicky and said “oh, you’re at 10cm! We’ll let you have a bit of a rest for a couple of hours before we do the pushing”. I think we were both relieved at this; my wrist could finally get a rest too! I felt a massive sense of relief that, after about 6 hours of constant intense pain, Vicky was finally getting some relief.
I needed a toilet break and I also had to pay for our new gas fire that had been installed earlier in the year. Obviously without internet at the hospital, I had to call a friend to get him to pay for it for me! The rest time was good, I got to update family on progress, I’d not been able to do this since Vicky was in the bath.
My ‘training’ was in full use for the next bit. A foetal heart monitor had been put on the baby earlier so we could see the heart rate better, as the normal straps weren’t working too well. I spent a lot of time watching that little heart beat. As Vicky was pushing, the baby’s heart rate was dropping quite significantly. I’m no expert, but I knew that the midwife wasn’t going to let that happen for long or too often. After the third push she went for the obstetrician. The doctor watched another push and quickly said we need to get the baby out. I was in complete agreement, having seen the heart monitor.
After watching the effort going into those pushes, I will never accept a whimpering wife saying “can you open this jar” or “I can’t do it!”. She could’ve moved a mountain, I felt very proud of the effort from Vicky, but the baby just wasn’t coming out. I will spare the gory details, but I thought the doctor and the midwife did a great job. However, at one point I was concerned that a trip to theatre would be imminent.
We didn’t know what the sex of the baby was going to be and I’m not ashamed to say I was tearful with happiness when the surprisingly hot little lump was plopped onto Vicky’s chest and the midwife asked what we had. Following a kick to the throat for Vicky, we looked at each other and said “we’ve got a girl”.
After waiting 40 weeks (despite being 2 weeks over, I didn’t know she was pregnant for 2 weeks either), I was ecstatic to finally be able to hold my little baby, I know this will sound cliché – but I must have been the proudest happiest dad in the world. She was born at 5:06pm, which for a first time mum, was pretty quick.
In the end, the whole day was nothing like I had expected and nowhere near our birth plan. We’d been led to believe that the contractions, and pain, would be gradual, but as Vicky’s waters went first, the contractions were intense right from the off. As a result of this, as a birth partner, my role was more about knowing plan ‘B’ and trying to direct the situation to stick to our principals and support and advise Vicky.
Our birth plan had been for a water birth. But, there were enough things that conspired against us that a) it wasn’t offered; b) it was only available on delivery suite; and c) we didn’t ask. I think, in retrospect, a water birth would have been very good for Vicky especially as she did very well in the bath.
The antenatal ward experience has not soured my view of the birth. It was still a magical day. It was long for us (especially having only had 2 hours sleep the previous night) but quick for a first birth. It was energising but draining. Exciting but scary. I cannot really put into words how proud I am of Vicky in all aspects of what she went through on that day. I don’t think I can begin to grasp the pain she went through. I’m not going to get into the debate about pain relief now and ‘natural’ birth, but I’ll give you my view. Putting yourself through unbearable pain needlessly is just plain daft. If you get some reward for it, or it makes you a better mother, brilliant, but it doesn’t and you don’t. I’ll happily take peoples comments on this.