The stuff you watch on TV, the famous female TV characters you’ve watched give birth, the sitcoms, the soaps and sometimes the documentaries which indicate that your role as a birthing partner is to hold a hand, coach breathing and occasionally shout ‘push’… If you’re a first time, Dad-to-be:
Unlearn that, immediately.
I was asleep when my son started to feel the cold breeze of the outside world for the first time, mainly because my partner and her midwife felt that they did not want to wake me.
Let me explain.
Due to high blood pressure, my girlfriend, Nicola, was admitted to Hospital on the Monday before the Friday she was due to give birth to our little boy, Zack, named after the character Zack Morris from 80s/90s US school sitcom, Saved by the Bell.
I prepared myself for excruciating back or neck ache from sleeping next to Nic’s hospital bed on an uncomfy chair.
Visiting hours finished at 8pm, my only time privilege was that I could start my visiting hours from 8am and continue to ‘visit’ undisputed for 12 hours, unlike the couple hours of blocks afforded to any other well wishers.
A random trip to my car during these hours on the first day saw me virtually break down in tears somewhat uncontrollably in the car park. I didn’t want to leave her in that place on her own. I remember really struggling to look composed as I entered the ward again, I managed it though, I didn’t want to look broken at a time I needed to be so strong for Nicola.
So whilst my boss kindly allowed me grace to work from home, I would still have to leave poor, Nic to spend the night on her own with nothing but bad food for company.
On one of the nights, because I had become known to the staff, they allowed me to get a pizza ordered to the ward and ‘break curfew’ until we’d finished eating. For entertainment, we would watch Breaking Bad, which I was able to stream via Netflix on my mobile phone… All You Can Eat data, you’ve got to love it. That was our last ‘date’ whilst it was just the two of us in the world together.
By design, maternity units are quite rightly focused primarily on the mothers/mothers-to-be. However, if, like me, you are the supportive partner who will think of nothing but keeping your loved one’s company for hours on end, you are faced with, lavatories on different floor levels to the maternity ward; which meant leaving the ward and agonizingly waiting to be ‘buzzed’ back in for ‘security reasons.’ The security reasons are understandable though I found it the difference between getting my girl’s outside sourced food to her hot or as it happened most of the time, disappointingly luke-warm.
What’s with hospital food and it being infinitely worse than most airline food?
Thursday was a different story. I got the message from Nicola that she had been induced. I headed to the hospital and found her in her own delivery suite on a different ward.
I came prepared with bags of nice snack food, mostly deli stuff, water and more Breaking Bad to watch.
By the time I got there, Nic was in so much pain it was uncomfortable for her, sitting, standing or laying down.
Eating was also a painful thing, most of that food lay dormant for longer than I’d expected.
Moving wards to a blind spot for phone signal meant, no Breaking Bad and no way of communicating with the outside world.
All You Can Eat data is great… my phone provider’s signal for blind spots is not.
Every time I needed to fire a text to concerned relatives and friends I had to leave the ward, through the security door and hope I was let back in without little fuss or me missing something.
There was no going home tonight as I sat for hours in a steaming birthing pool room whilst Nicola attempted to ease her excruciating pain by being submerged in water. Around this time, I started to count the minutes between Nic’s bouts of intense pain. Having been dismissed as not being contractions by another midwife, I informed the nearest midwife that Nic was suffering ‘waves of intense pain every three minutes’ and asked if that was ‘normal!’
Like clockwork, Nic reminded me to ask the midwife, a brilliant, credit to her profession called Shona, for any kind of pain relief meds available to her.
Nic informed me not to talk to her whilst she was having contractions and she fell asleep in the minutes between them. This left me staring into space a lot or trying to finish a landmark edition of GQ magazine that I’d bought earlier that my eyes were refusing to focus on. I would randomly get up and walk around the ward so as to keep a little fresh for when ‘the time came.’
As Thursday became Friday morning, Nic had had enough of the pain and requested an epidural.
Months earlier, Nic stated she wouldn’t want an epidural because she wanted to feel every moment of Zack being born.
15 hours of straight, unrelenting pain will change any soul’s mind, no matter how brave or ignorant to pain they claim to be.
After reading the small print together, an Anaesthetist was summoned who appeared as if out of nowhere like a movie hit man.
Nic was then introduced to the source of many sitcom jape, ‘gas and air.’
Gas and air combined with the kicking in of the epidural saw Nic’s appetite come back although ironically for her, she was forbidden the luxury of eating due to the medication.
As easy as it is for me to recount this and as easy as it was for me to not feel any of Nic’s pain, I will state that when you’re watching someone you love go through this in real time, it hurts the very core of your being, mainly because you feel helpless.
As Nic filled up on pain relieving gas and air, I asked Shona the Midwife if it was likely that Nic would fall asleep.
‘Yes and you should get some sleep too’ came her reply.
So, I used the chair next to Nic’s bed to sleep in, propping my legs up on the gym ball provided in these delivery suites for mummy-to-be’s pain relief.
I went out like a light, believing Nic would do too.
When I awoke just after 2am, the date now November 8th 2013, the date I had months earlier predicted our Son would be born, I looked over at Nic’s bed and the Midwife standing down wind of her. There was definite pushing going on.
Am I not supposed to be holding Nic’s hand, dabbing her sweaty brow whilst shouting ‘push’ and ‘breathe?’
‘Are you giving birth?’ I shouted with an obvious tone of comedic, faux-disgust.
‘Yeah’ they both replied.
‘We didn’t want to wake you,’ Nic said nonchalantly before suggesting I go get myself some tea!
I approached the bed, gingerly as I had promised that I would have ‘no business, down at the business end’ of birth.
TV shows make it look like it’s easy not to see the things you are not meant to see. In reality, not looking or looking is a matter of inches different to where you stand. So, I looked.
I started to feel slightly light headed, so I ate some sweets and I felt fine.
I also, put into context some things to help me stay grounded… mainly… ‘A person is coming out of my girlfriend so things will understandably get messy.’
I held my girlfriend’s hand as she pushed under the guidance of the brilliant Shona.
I mopped her brow with a cold paper towel which Nic seemed to appreciate.
I offered little words of encouragement as none really were necessary, although I couldn’t resist telling her I could see Zack’s head.
All the pain relief had been working so Nic was barely breaking a sweat during this.
Zack to me, at that point, was a random movement in Nicola’s stomach. A visible shift and wiggle as he responded to my voice or the Lumineers ‘Hey Ho!.’ He was about to be real! What would he look like? What skin tone would he have? Would he be OK considering he was lacking surrounding fluid for 2 weeks?
‘Just do me a few little pushes’ encouraged Shona with her penchant for calling Nic ‘chick’ and her ‘yoof’ type turns of phrases which did not betray her youthful appearance. This was followed by, right in front of my eyes, a spilling of ‘liquid’ followed by Zack Samuel Stephen Facey sliding into the world crying his baby heart out. My life, our lives had changed forever.
Due to his positioning, the back of his head was a little misshapen (it’s OK now) and his entire being was covered in, what seemed to be cream cheese and tinned tomato. He was placed, skin on skin, face down onto Nicola’s chest.
He stopped crying and his little, big eyes opened.
I photographed his face just so Nicola could see what I saw. For the record, those ‘first few minutes’ photos will never appear online, in a world where everything is aimlessly uploaded onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. I thought it best we keep some things private, even though I knew I would unleash a first photo, press release type, exclusive status update on Facebook imminently.
I cut the umbilical cord which seemed a bit surreal but I did it mainly so I could say I did. I don’t really understand the tradition but in a funny way, I’m really glad I did. I didn’t realise the remainder of the cord stays in his belly button until it falls out a few days later.
The after birth procedure saw me holding my son for the first time. His eyes locked into mine with curious yet calm fascination and I spoke to him, telling him how he could be whatever he wanted to be so long as he worked hard, how me and his Mum would love him, no matter what, how he had three Godfathers (comprised of three of my best mates) and one Godmother (comprised of one of Nic’s best mates) who loved him already, how he’ll have the most doting grandparents (all 3 of them) and the most diverse mix of characters as other family members.
He looked at me and seemed to take it all in. He was and currently still is, small, 5lbs 8oz and seemed to never want to let go of this pep talk I was giving him. I choked back a tear as I looked back at what appeared to be a contextual mirror image.
‘Hello Son, I’m your Dad and I love you so much!’
That was Friday at 4am.
At 10pm I got home, without my young family. The hospital kept Nic in just for monitoring purposes. I slept a happy sleep of tiredness and excitement but I missed Nic and Zack with crushing, sadness.
When I got back to the hospital the following day, it seemed to all go wrong. The ward we were on had no phone signal, it was packed with 3 other mums and babies, seemed stuffy and claustrophobic from the necessary warm temperature required for new born babies and the privacy curtain which stuck to you as you manoeuvred around your partner’s bed.
By Saturday, midday, a text message squeezed through my no signal zone. ‘Can you talk? Away from Nicola?’
I knew what was coming and as I heard the cracks in Nicola’s Dad’s voice on the phone as he asked ‘you know what I’m going to say, right?’ it became all too real that as Zack was born, his great-grandfather Bern, Nicola’s beloved granddad, had finally given way to his 2 year battle with Cancer.
Bern had left the same hospital the day after Nicola was admitted on the Monday. They say, that whilst Nicola was in labour, Bern had experienced pain to the point where it subsided minutes after Zack got here. One could go mad thinking about the significance of that…
I had to make a decision. Do I tell Nic or do I wait? As I approached the desk where the midwives sat I tried very discreetly to inform them of what was going on but I was faced with the one Midwife who had no control over the volume of her brash, voice and apparently her hearing so as she bellowed ‘SORRY? CAN YOU SPEAK UP PLEASE!?’ I stomped off and said, don’t worry, she knows I’m speaking to you now!’
After watching hours of Nic being in physical pain, here came the mental hurt, the sadness, the confusion and the tears.
The hospital kept Nic in another night.
By 7pm on Sunday night we were both crawling the walls, itching to be let out. The smell of the hospital was becoming unbearable. The fellow patients were becoming annoying. Nic’s Dad and I were preparing to break Nic and Zack out, all I had to do was remember to be let back onto the ward with the baby car seat and give Nic’s Dad the shout. It got that desperate.
As we stepped into our home for the first time as a three that same Sunday night, we were greeted by Nic’s grandmother, fresh from seeing her husband pass away. She took one look at Zack and her face lit up with instant love.
My first real Dad moment had happened as we stepped into the cold, November evening air for the first time through the hospital doors. I had positioned my Land Rover just outside so as to get Zack into the warm quickly but there were two smokers loitering and puffing away beside my vehicle.
‘Excuse me!’ I belted out with all the confidence of a Heavyweight Boxer, the full, original, North London coming back into my hybrid accent. ‘Can you move those cigarettes away from my car please!?’ The offending smokers obliged, with no argument.
On the first night at home, Zack slept in his Moses Basket in our room, I urged Nicola to go to sleep, ‘I got this,’ I encouraged her.
Of course, I couldn’t stop Zack from crying a little after Nic hit deep sleep so I woke her up…
Now, I’ve taught myself, if Zack’s crying, it’s either a bottle of milk, a change of a nappy or some chest warmth hugs that he requires. I’m responsible for his well being up until 2am at nights when Nic takes over so I can sleep before work. He finds comfort in being held by both his beautiful mother and his doting father.
It’s incredible being a Dad.
Not just because you look down and know you’re going to love the mini, mirror image looking back at you, but because it tests the true strength of your love for others around you, especially your partner.
If you’re really committed to each other and if you really were ready to be a Dad, everything around you, including you, becomes infinitely stronger. It’s the best feeling in the world. Fact.
I have since written a part 2 to this, click here to read it.