It happens to many of us. We grow up and decide to start a family. It all sounds so idyllic. Actually the process is fraught with traumas, and that’s just from a man’s perspective. Whilst I know men don’t deserve any sympathy, we can offer at least a view point what it’s like from the other side. Below is one man’s take on the journey to fatherhood.
April , the journey to fatherhood begins
Good news on the baby front! Apparently we’re in the blue – at least that’s what the tester from Boots is telling us, which means in 9 months from now I’m going to enter fatherhood (fingers crossed). Feel slightly sad this could mean the end of an active sex life (before middle age), but who knows what might happen when the hormones kick in.
The only impact so far on our lives is that W can’t stand the smell of tuna. Had a few sandwiches to test this out and she’s right, it does make her feel sick.
May – scan 1
Had the first scan at 13 weeks, and much to our relief everything seems to be in order. That said, all you really get to see is a fish shaped blur blowing bubbles which they assured us is a healthy baby.
Told the Mums and Dads, plus close friends. Everyone seems pretty pleased, if only if it means they can suck their teeth and go “it’s all going to change now” whilst shaking their heads pityingly. What do they know?
July – scan 2
Had the 22 week scan and the baby is growing fast. They can’t tell us the sex, which means either a girl, or a modest (or modestly endowed) boy. Can’t take after his father then, woof!
Only down side is W’s placenta might be low lying. Not sure what this means but we have to have a scan nearer the due date to see if it’s moved. Not sure quite where it’s headed, but that’s placentas for you. Always on their way out.
October – start of antenatal hell
W arrives back from the first NHS antenatal class, somewhat bemused. She’s obviously been mixing with the wrong crowd as she describes the problems you can experience when breast feeding with pierced nipples (apparently it sprays everywhere), how to cope as your belly button disappears taking your piercing with it, and the pain involved in a two hour tattoo in a sensitive place.
One story was about a girl who had never been swimming due to worries that chlorine could infect her baby, asking what stroke should she do if she took up swimming for the first time over the coming months. When W starts calling them “The Goth”, “Fat Sharon” (and husband “Badger” – his real name) and “The Sane One” you know it’s not something you’re going to volunteer to attend.
I can only hope NCT attracts a better class of person. Anyway, I’m off to sip some brandy and discuss Middle Eastern politics with Archie (my invisible friend).
7th October – boys and NCT traumas
Good NCT session this evening, Teacher sent the boys off to discuss why we wanted to be present at the birth (to make sure it was for all the right reasons, not due to social pressure).
However she hadn’t banked on the old hand who had been through it all before (with a previous wife) describing it as one of the most disgusting things he had witnessed. Given he was a policeman and had seen some pretty horrible things in his time, he certainly started to raise some questions in all our minds.
Just in time Teacher came back in to save the day. With another cup of tea and a biscuit she convinced us it was actually a beautiful thing to witness. I don’t think PC Plod will be allowed to come again.
October 20th – the exciting labour ward tour
Toured the labour ward in the hospital this morning. It’s a bit of a bombsite because of building work, but it didn’t seem to deter ten other couples wandering around with us trying to look interested. Hopefully things will be better by the time we arrive, although the workmen are using the birthing pool area as a rest room, which rather puts me off having a baby in one. What happens if as the baby gasps its first breath and swallows some old dog-end. Hardly an auspicious start.
October 25th – name choosing begins
Went to a wedding. Passed the time travelling to Nottingham trying to choose a name. Sadly, none of our choices coincided, but I seem to have won a small victory with Delilah, which was dropped off the list. Current W favourites include Lilly (as in ‘fag ash lil’), Mia (as in Mamma), Leah (as in the jet) and Daphne (as in old woman/ Scooby Doo).
Unfortunately all my choices are apparently either too traditional or too common, so we’re probably going to end up with Doreen. If it’s boy we’re pretty settled on Matthew.
Had another scan before we set off. Apparently the placenta has moved, which means that the birth should be “natural”, or as natural as it can be to excrete something over 6lb from a 10cm hole. See what going to NCT has done for me! I now know all the technical terms. I know the three stages of labour, when, and more importantly how, to pant, and what the placenta should look like if I’m down that end on the day.
November 2nd – changing minds
Don’t like Matthew any more. Went to friends and they put me off by spitting over me every time they tried to get their tongues around the name. I shouldn’t be swayed by them really – they were going to scar a child with the name Harvey. Lucky for them they had a girl or they could have spent months with psychiatrists.
November 4th – unpleasant facts
NCT class tonight. The usual bizarre collection of good advice and unpleasant warnings.
Tonight we were made to peruse pictures of strangely shaped new-borns with all manner of disfigurements, rashes and deformities. I guess it beat the video of the placenta emerging, but I can’t help thinking some things should be left as a surprise. After 24hrs of labour I’m sure you wouldn’t really care if my baby had stork rash.
More interesting was the relaxation techniques, although the teacher’s belief that we all spend our evenings massaging each other in scented oils is sadly misguided. Well it is from my perspective,
I can’t guarantee what goes on behind the doors of some of those other middle class households. Plus it was all one way traffic with the men massaging the women. What about our stress?
November 6th – the in-law name game challenge
W heads off to bed as darkness falls once again. The stairs appear to be becoming a bit of a struggle, but I guess when you’re carrying a small person inside your stomach you’re entitled to a moan or groan.
Not that she’s done too much of that, although given we normally only have a two hour waking slot together during the day it’s hardly surprising. Even less so when you think we have to squeeze food, Eastenders and a brief work update into the two hours, plus a trip to the gym for me, food shopping and any other chores I’ve neglected over the preceding days.
Yesterday W made the big trip back home for her Mum’s birthday.
Apparently the names didn’t win universal approval in the in-laws household. Paige was thought to be a boy’s name (which it’s not in case you’re wondering). I reckon we’re now down to Elena/Grace or Luke, which means it will probably be Daphne. No, be strong! Must remember to write myself a post-it not to succumb on the day. Perhaps I should pack that in my birthing bag, along with crossword book, novel, Mars bar and water. I wonder what W’s putting in hers….
The only concern we’ve got now is that the pram has yet to arrive. If baby S. arrives early W will just have to stay in hospital until the car seat arrives. Apparently it’s coming from Italy, so we could be waiting until Christmas…must be stylish though.
November 7th – raided funds lead to fatherhood stress
No real news. W raided my hospital car parking fund to pay for her lunch. Little does she know the chaos she causes! I’ll have to save another four pound coins now to get that 24hr parking (hope the labour isn’t any not longer, I’ll be really buggered then). She put it down to hormonal effects, which pretty much explains all sorts of irrational behaviour at the moment.
November 11th – beginning of the end
Final NCT class – this was the nasty one about pain relief, cutting, tears and stitching. A really cheery thing to end on. W got busy organising her social life however, with plans to meet some of the girls for lunch and a fitting for a nursing bra. Thought about asking to go along, but then the idea of the bra fitting rather put me off. I’m not quite at that stage yet.
None of the other men seemed that interested anyway.
Overall quite impressed with NCT. Thought it was going to be crap, but instead found it quite interesting (possibly more for all the medical terminology being thrown around than for actual birth planning). Teacher wished us all luck, and it was with a slightly nervous gait (well slightly more rolling waddle from W’s perspective) that we made our way back to the car.
Noticed the difference with W being off work – still awake at gone 10pm, loads done around the house and an altogether more relaxed feeling about everything.
November 13th – the noisy nursery tour
Worked from home today so we could assess our first nursery for when W goes back to work afterwards. It seemed fine to me – lots of shouting, queuing and singing, and that was just the child minders. I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to be looking for. In fact I found it hard to distinguish some of the helpers from the kids they were all so young.
I’m not sure whether it’s a good or a bad thing to leave a child in nursery for a long time. Maybe I will become a house-husband as apparently some children “just aren’t ready” for a nursery according to the manager. Certainly W seems pretty keen on getting back into work, so I need to sort myself out! She certainly knew all the questions to ask. It was quite cute seeing the diddy toilets – with my aim and a few lagers I’m sure I would turn one of their cubicles into a swimming pool.
W’s Mum and Dad are planning on coming down on Sunday to preview an empty nursery. Hope it meets with the professionals’ approval. Put a cuddly toy on display just in case.
November 17th – final countdown
What a weekend! My family came on Saturday for a walk in the park, to collect a computer and generally see the decorating we had done.
W’s foot is getting pretty swollen, but Dr In-law seemed to think it was nothing and that W was doing remarkably well. My sister was a bit concerned the walk might bring on labour – although with three people from the medical profession there I would have thought W would have been pleased!
W’s Mum, Dad and sister down on Sunday for a very similar day to the Saturday. However everyone had disappeared by the time I had to do some work for a big presentation on Tuesday.
November 18th – fatherhood begins, oh, and a baby is born
Was woken up at 6:05am by W, cup of tea in hand saying she thought “it” was starting. Apparently she had been having pains since 4am (which I had passed off as the weak bladder that had blighted my beauty sleep over the last few weeks). Anyway she left me with my tea and went to have a bath (good NCT technique apparently). In her wisdom she sat on the toilet – with the lid down – so that when her waters broke ten minutes later they all went over the floor. At this point I did jump out of bed and start shouting “call the hospital, call the hospital, don’t panic!”, before heading to the bathroom to scrub the “waters” out of the carpet.
W felt suitably relaxed enough to carry on with the bath so I went downstairs to have my breakfast (after a shave and shower of course). At this point felt sufficiently confident to text message work saying I wouldn’t be in. A waste of time doing the work on Sunday, but hey, more important things to worry about now.
Came back upstairs to find W calling the hospital. They told us she needed to go in to be given the once over, but would probably be sent home to wait after that. However we thought she ought to take her bag just in case, so between scrunches while the contractions (5 mins apart) kicked in, I packed it under her supervision.
We took enough food, drink and reading material to last three weeks, clean nighties and all the good things the NCT told us to. Then it was into the bedroom to wire up the TENS machine onto her back (just as well I watched the video of what to do) and leave her playing with the settings while I went to get her some toast and more tea.
Next thing I knew (7:50am) was W putting her coat on saying she needed to go to the hospital and can’t face breakfast. Quickly I threw all the bags in the car and sent a message to a friend telling him not to come and stay that evening as we would be otherwise engaged.
To the hospital
Drove at a reasonable speed to the hospital (although round here it’s hard to do otherwise) and managed to park in a good space. Put enough money in the machine to last 5hrs (wishful thinking) and headed up to the maternity ward. To start with we were put into a room with another couple. As W doubled over in pain the other woman sat reading a book, which suggested she either had a high pain threshold or wasn’t quite “ready”.
It wasn’t long until “the woman in labour” was transferred to the very labour room we had toured around a couple of weeks earlier. Once there we had Mary the midwife turn up ask some questions, during which time W had a couple of contractions. This spurred Mary on to do an “internal” examination instead. Off came trousers and knickers, a quick prod round and Mary pronounced W to be 3-4cm dilated and not going anywhere. I wondered whether I would get to read my book soon.
The next hour passed as a bit of a blur as the contractions started to get stronger and the TENS machine got more use. Mary eventually remembered to pull the curtains so that the builders on the scaffolding outside couldn’t watch.
Eventually Mary (or Mary Margaret as she was called, after her grandmother Margaret Mary, which presented us with some interesting naming options thinking of our parents) got the gas and air out for some additional relief. To start with W claimed it wasn’t working, to which Mary told her to suck harder. It was only after I went blue trying she agreed the machine wasn’t actually working and went to get another. Just after she came back W decided to fill one of those cardboard hats with vomit, and I got the feeling I was in for a day of bodily fluids.
Apparently W was doing all the right things – swinging her hips in time with her body, although what tune she had in her head I have no idea. Just as well I’ll never need to do that. #Daddancing
Final straight, the journey to fatherhood almost over
10am and contractions were really kicking in now. It was at this point that I started to worry that my car would be clamped once the ticket ran out. Thinking it was a good idea to sort that out, I dashed out to the car to put more money in the machine. By the time I came back W was 8cm dilated and progressing ahead of NCT schedule. In true NCT style we (she) tried the leaning on the bed rocking the hips and I got to try my back massage technique, which surprisingly was pronounced beneficial.
I noticed my hand getting sore but decide this wasn’t the best time to mention it.
11am – W was beginning to get a bit more stressed. The TENS machine was up on the high setting, the back massaging stopped and things are beginning to sound painful.
12pm – W’s all fours position was pronounced to be affecting the baby (which the midwife insists on calling “he”, despite us saying we think she’s a she) so was rolled onto her back. Apparently her cervix hasn’t quite moved out the way, so she has to hold off on the pushing which she finds really difficult to do. It’s at this point she decided to suggest extra pain relief, not having any more children and wanting to go home. I told her it was almost all over and then had my wrist slapped by the midwife for making such a suggestion. Instead I tell her we’ll talk additional pain relief after the next four contractions. Luckily the gas and air made her lose count at two and we didn’t have to cross that bridge.
Mary, being part-time and out of date, called in the senior midwife for help. W’s legs went up in stirrups and when she got cramp, two trainees were drafted in to massage her calves. Ami and Caren did a sterling job to ignore the vomit, and mess that’s emerging from W.
I threw a cup of water onto the floor in my excitement. Caren saw this as a job for her and spent the next few minutes wiping the floor. Not sure how W’s calves survived this bit of chaos I caused.
12:30pm – summoned from my position of safety by W’s head saying “deep breath, deep breath” to go and see a dark head becoming visible at the lower end. Didn’t spend too much time there, there’s all sorts of strangely coloured goo emerging and I wasn’t sure I liked it.
1pm – the midwives started to get excited, and even from my position of safety I start to see the top of a little head. In went a midwife’s hand to sort out the umbilical cord around the neck. Lovely.
1:15pm – Head still stuck and W had had enough. The midwife suggested an episiotomy as the baby can’t get out. W was disappointed as she’d hoped to avoid this. Unsurprisingly as it involves someone cutting you open, only to stitch you up again an hour later. Anyway, the midwife picked up a pair of scissors, and stood ready. At the next contraction down go the scissors, snip, and the head started to emerge. One more push and it was like seeing a calf being born as this strangely coloured, goo covered creature emerged.
1:22pm Baby born. Little girl. Loads of hair. W was asked whether she wanted to hold the baby, but decided she wants to have a slightly cleaner version. Seeing the position she was in, legs in the air, blood everywhere, I was inclined to agree.
1:24pm – The midwife offered me the chance to tidy up the belly button of our new baby with a pair of scissors. I declined to cut the remaining bit of the cord (they had already cut the cord to W). I’m handed a vernix (looks like goose fat) covered baby in a yellow hospital blanket. Took her to show W who pronounced her gorgeous (and then later admits not having her glasses on which means I could have shown her a monkey and she would have said exactly the same).
2pm – I was still wandering around with a baby in my arms. Mary got someone to come in and stitch W, as because she’s part time she didn’t feel able to do it (all a bit worrying really). This took ages during which time I stood and watched the blood pump on to the bed in a small stream from some cut or other.
I hoped my daughter wasn’t traumatised by this. At least the goose fat was soaking into her skin, which suggested things may look better when I got my camera out. Walking around the room I stumbled across the placenta which had been left in what looked like a pie dish near the bed. Couldn’t really make out the size as was in a pool of blood, but I walked away happy in the knowledge it would probably feature in a nightmare in the not too distant future.
Measurements were taken – 7lb 1oz, and everything present and correct.
2:30pm – All finished, although W was still a bit of a mess and needed to go for a shower to get all the goo off. It’s a pity they didn’t do the same for Baby – her hair was still matted with blood and all sorts of horrible items I just didn’t care to think about.
3:30pm – Took the first photos of my little girl. W had a go at breast feeding and was successful first time. Obviously our daughter was taking after her Dad on the eating stakes – get food in quick before the headache kicks in. That said, given the shape of her head, I imagined she already had the headache and the food is for comfort.
5:30pm – Spent a couple of hours trying to settle on the name. It came down to Abigail or Grace, and after much repeating and asking the nurses we settled on Grace. I liked it anyway.
W was wheeled down to the ward as I carried our seven bags. For a minute it looked like we might get a private room, but ended up in a ward with five other women all of whom had had c-sections. There was room for a cat either side of the bed, but we wouldn’t be holding any swinging competitions. Or swinging.
A midwife came around to do the first nappy change and what a delight that was – black tar filled the whole bottom of the nappy. It was so sticky that the cotton wool buds stuck to the girl’s gloves and she spent ages doing it. Have I really got to do that several times a day? Apparently not as the black stuff disappears after a couple of days to be replaced by the more usual brown and green. Sounded great.
Decided to leave about 9pm – one because by this time I was starving, and secondly because W needed some sleep.
Came home and was on the phone to various people for a couple of hours before cutting myself a huge piece of cake, making a big cup of tea and just leaning back in the chair.
November 19th – post traumatic stress
Woke up after a dreadful night’s sleep full of flashbacks and disturbance. Sent an email to various people I hadn’t rung with the first photos of Grace – the wonders of modern technology!
Was going to go into town to get W an anniversary card for tomorrow, but got as far as the level crossing which was coming down. Not wanting to delay I did a swift u-turn and headed to the hospital to see my little girl.
When I got there the paediatrician was giving a lecture on winding, temperatures and how bendy a baby’s legs are. W had a dreadful night’s sleep. All the other women on the ward had had c-sections which meant they needed drugs throughout the night, and each time they needed to pick up their babies they had to ring for assistance. What’s more, the nurse handing out the drugs had left her torch shining into W’s face which was the last straw – 20 minutes with her glasses off wasn’t the sort of quality recovery time she was after. Consequently when the midwife came round she had made up her mind to come home, and operation homecoming had to swing into action.
Several of the midwives came to admire Grace’s hair – and one even asked if she could come and wash it when we were ready. When we were ready? I thought they should have done it yesterday.
W’s Mum and Dad were called. As we still hadn’t received the pram they had to bring a car seat down so we could bring her home. Luckily W’s Dad had thrown a sickie so he could spare the time, and even her sister took the afternoon off to bring them both.
The family left early enough, as sister in law said she knew what it was like when people outstayed their welcome straight after bringing the baby home.
However it was then that the fun really started.
10pm – W feeds baby and goes to bed.
10pm – 12pm – I walk around trying to calm baby down. She’s fed and watered, and has a clean nappy, what else can she want? Oh, and nappy changing – what a laugh that is. Not as smelly as I’d thought but trying to deal with a wriggling baby just is plain hard work. I think I need to get myself an extra arm from somewhere/
12:15am – Give up and go to get Mum to give her some food. Find out she’s starving.
1am – Finished feeding but now the nappy needs changing. Doesn’t settle at all in her Moses basket so end up hugging for some time.
4am – A couple of hold changeovers, more food and a nappy change. We’ve both seen every hour, if not every ten minutes since midnight. I’m already exhausted.
6am – An hour and half of sleep. Praise be! I believe! If every night turns out to be like this I shall no longer be able to speak. At least the dawn is coming, which is a blessing, as I’m sure Grace’s cries are not as loud in daylight.
9am – Struggled out of bed. How glad were we that no visitors were planned for today. Tried to “top and tail” Grace but she ended up with no more than a quick wipe of the face. I’m sure everything will sort itself out over time.
22nd November – it’s all over
Well, things should be a little more organised by now, but I’m not so sure. Can’t quite believe we’ve already had three nights without any sleep, but it’s true.
Wednesday was a bit of a saviour day. We basically slept when we could and got ourselves organised so that at least nappy changing wouldn’t be such a big ordeal. We did try and wash her but ended up wetting her slightly with cotton wool buds and she fought tooth and nail (well nail anyway as she has no teeth) to stop us from giving her a proper clean. We have yet to pluck up the courage to bath her. When the midwife called round she told us to only do it a couple of times a week to start with – major relief as it meant we could leave it until the weekend when we felt we could at least hold her properly. We also still haven’t managed to work out when she’s hot/cold/tired/awake. All I know is that when she tries to suck on my chest (which I realise isn’t as toned as it could be – how she found a mouthful I just don’t know) it’s probably time to pass her to Mum.
Thursday was my family day, and sure enough they arrived on time to coo and crow over the new arrival. Of course, she was peaceful and quiet all the time they were here, which basically stored up some aggression for the night. Another milestone also passed for me as I wandered around Boots looking for disposable knickers, maternity pads and breast cream. At least an understanding assistant was on hand to help me, as I played the helpless new father card. That said, it’s still not the same as buying books, computer games or electronic gadgets.
Last night saw me watching some crappy late night tv until 2:30am, when I took her upstairs for a feed. W then fed her, and handed her back to me for calming. When that failed she went back to W who then looked after her in the early hours while I slept in. How I’ll cope when I get back to work next week remains to be seen, but at the moment almost all our waking hours involve looking after Grace, as she snatches fitful sleeps.
The midwife came round for a few minutes today and cheered us up by telling us Grace had jaundice. Her advice was to keep her in front of the window, but I’m not 100% convinced that is quality advice. W’s foot is also still pretty swollen, which the now Dr In-law thinks could be a cause for concern, but I think is partly because we have yet to move more then ten yards with baby. Then again, given we don’t have a pram or carry cot or car seat we couldn’t really go that far anyway.
Oh the joys of fatherhood…
Other birth stories exist… see here for some on other sites.