The Brutally Honest Truth of a Dad's view on childbirth

It must have been a Monday in March. I don't remember the date because it turned out to just be any normal Monday, but at around 5.35pm the pit of my stomach grew into a cavernous ache of nerves and loss. I would always ask Nat if she had plenty of baby kicks and when she got through the front door she didn't give me the familiar reply I had heard around 100 times previously.

Little P, as we would call the bump before she became Peyton, would kick every two hours continuously for around eight or ten kicks per session - or so Nat would tell me. But she told me on that particular Monday evening that she hadn't felt P kick since breakfast and even after tea - there was no niggle, swish or roll from our little bundle of joy.

"I've just been busy, so she must be asleep," Nat told me at around 6.30pm. But, as not-yet parents, we panicked. Well, it was mainly me urging Nat to call her emergency number to the midwives at York hospital.

They say on various documents and pamphlets I had skim read that if mums-to-be feel no kicks, they shouldn't leave it until the next day. The number Nat rang was kind of a 999 call for all mums-to-be called Triage. I was mainly concerned that there was a problem that had gone unnoticed from our 12 week and 20 week scan - and I couldn't take the risk which would stick with me the rest of my life.

Being a journalist, I cover at least four baby or child deaths a week, and I've dealt with grim stories well - until Nat told me she was pregnant, that is. We were pregnant, more like.

I think the real fear for any dad-to-be is the unknowing and the life-changing, and uneasy, environment they find themselves in.

It's hard because there is nothing for new dads. We are the strong, stone harbour, whereas our partners are the vessel floating waiting to safely bring their cargo ashore. Strange analogy, but a true one.

Being told at around 26 weeks that your little P is not kicking like the clockwork Subbuteo set she usually would do meant the frantic urgency to get to hospital was definitely on. I remember I picked up my car keys and felt I was in a dream-like state as I tried to bring up any conversation possible. I think it must have been work-related as I tried to take Nat's mind off her own thoughts and my uncomfortable numbness.

We got seen to straight away by the fantastic staff when we got to hospital. We were told we were right to come in, but after Nat got put on bed and had the doppler-thingy held to her stomach, the heartbeat kicked in and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was the first time I had heard her heartbeat in real life and not via a phone recording. We then were hooked up to the polygraph machine for about 90 minutes before the midwife said everything looked fine and, if we were happy, we were allowed to leave; which we did. We drove home, Nat thanked me for being strong - and we never mentioned that Monday to anyone again. That is, until we spoke to the midwife as we waited outside the entrance hall on the 41-week mark.

It was a heart-stopping evening that looking back we did the right thing. DADS - TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Keep on at your wife - and nag them back.

Nat, as you all know, was a week overdue. But due to her unbearable mood swings (sometimes warranted) and scorching heat, I was really hoping the baby was going to be early. I think the worst part about it all was that everyone we knew believed little P was going to be unleashed into the world early. 

We worked as a team. New dads have to feel like they are carrying some of the burden too. I would help her by putting her socks on or painting her toenails. I would honestly do anything to make her more comfortable, more at ease. I'd do the dishes, cook tea, hoover, do the washing, cut the grass, dust ornaments, put the recycling out, wash the cars... I think Nat got sick of chicken, rice and wedges; but she would get what she was given. 

She later said it helped during those weeks of sickness. So, remember fellas, don't step off the gas when you find out your spermies work. Seize the day and help her with all you can. 

I did actually do all of those things mentioned above. Not that I would want to blow my own trumpet or anything. However, this was a woman doing an incredible thing for me, for us both. She was carrying our child. 

Starting a family is something that men see as an accident that makes them grow up, or the prize 'and finally' section after saving up to purchase an engagement ring and saying 'yes' 200 times to get you over the line in the build up to your wedding day. I think, in our case, it was more of a Happily Ever After scenario. Also, note: I'm not Prince Charming. The bottom line in life is: Men don't know if they can have children. [Without stereotyping or drawing boxes] 

Men don't usually choose to play with baby dolls when they grow up and they don't push them around in pushchairs as youngsters. We were too busy jumping across dykes and playing tag, or Italio, maybe even block. 

Women dream of starting families from being young girls, some women grow up to be repulsed by children, while others even freeze their eggs just to make sure their timeline can push past boundaries - and they can become a mum in their 50s. Some couples try for years and years and years to get pregnant - so after finding out we were pregnant after trying within the first month was a dream come true. I felt like I had skipped to the end of a really hard computer game and collected the bounty. I felt like we had cheated the system. It was almost too good to be true. 

Nat, I know, was shocked and she didn't want to believe it. She even hid the fact that she had take two pregnancies tests already. She'd refused to go into town to buy a test the day before. I went against her wishes and bought a pregnancy test the same day she did and, when I turned up after a 12 hour day on the road and flung my stuff down and presented her with a pregnancy test, she did a weird smile. It was like the joker and her eyes glazed over. "You've already done one haven't you? You're pregnant'?!"- I remember it clear as day. She nodded. My first two words. "You bastard...!"

Having a child is a monumental moment. Parents sell their homes to give their children a better life, for dance school or for them to join a football academy. I knew from this moment on that my life would change forever. Dads take note - pack as much as you can into these nine months. I'm not talking a quarter-life-crisis. I'm saying sort your direct debits, stop spending money on takeouts and accumulators on a weekend that will never come off. Start that saving because when your dearly beloved hits that maternity pay then it's all down to you to provide. 

Nat would do well to keep things from me, but there are also things that I never shared with her during those [long] nine months. I remember thinking during our second hypnobirthing session when we were asked to think of all our negative thoughts. 1. What happens if we leave hospital without a child. 2. What happens if I leave hospital alone, without my partner or our child. Very solemn thoughts and ones I never shared. But of course - this is what a dad-to-be thinks. 

During hypnobirthing I was made to process every single outcome and then burn it away beneath a large oak tree, bursting the pile of questions and worries into flames. And it did work. It worked right up to that point that really matters - when our birth plan took a sideways march towards surgical equipment and blue scrubs. 

I was brave for my wife and told her everything was going to be ok. [Dads take note. Being brave has to be your natural instinct now]. 

Nat's palms became sweaty and her poor pupils dilated wider and wider as the tools were wheeled into the room on a pair of trollies. A resuscitation machine also came in with really warm lights. A thousand questions left unanswered buzzed around my head as I steadied the vessel, the ship containing my wife and soon to be daughter. 

How would we cope if something went wrong? What if we're in hospital for six weeks? What if one of us had to be a carer for her? How would we pay the mortgage? How would we tell people the bad news? I attempted calming techniques, but our iPad with the soundtrack of Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and other calming tunes was long gone in the other room. However, within five minutes, at 17:11 on June 20, Peyton was out. She was squeezed out with a suction gun that Nerf would probably look into creating for next Christmas' must have gadget. 

But, let me start from the beginning. Nat, as I have just said, likes to keep things from me - after I had asked her on the Tuesday night if her contractions had gone away she definitely said "yes, they've gone now". I'm about 99.999% sure she said "yes, they've gone away now".

She'd said this for about two weeks. This old news had made me mentally and physically prepare myself for another day at work on the following day - which was a Wednesday. But, after she got up in the night at around 3am and stirred me by walking across the room in her brown dressing gown, it made me wonder if she was just trying to get it going, or we were 'cooking on gas'. After all, she didn't really sleep while she was pregnant [another thing I didn't like about her being pregnant].

So, at 6.12am and she hobbled into the bedroom and says "it's time" - I sleepily replied "time for what? work?" Of course I did, I was supposed to be up at 6.30am. She could have waited to at least I was supposed to be up for work. When we first arrived at hospital I had this burning desire, which I think was the journalist in me, to make sure I had a parking ticket. "Congratulations, we'll get you booked in you're 4cm dilated." With my reply: "That's great, thank you so much. We'd like a water birth please - but parking, what about parking? You say there is a permit of some kind?"

The next few hours were pretty dull, but at this moment - dads-to-be take note - you need to make sure you get in close to the plug with the phone charger. Get this in early, so that the you don't have to keep updating all the people texting your wife's phone who now have cottoned on that the wheels are in motion [she's about to pop out her baby] and the fever spreads in to family and friends fast. I spent the time from about 9am until about 2pm making sure she was drinking and eating so her blood sugar was up and so she had energy to push. Would she take food or water off me? Would she chuff.

"No, I'm fine thanks" and "not now, it's making me feel sick" were common replies. I would then kick back in the weirdly hard leather two-seater sofa they had next to the birthing pool and would manage the Spotify playlist of songs we had pre-picked ahead of the birth.

I also text my mum and Nat's mum hourly updates to make sure I wasn't letting anyone panic. Tommy's tip: You get extra son and son-in-law points for this.

I thought I had a pretty tasking job until Nat really kicked into gear with her contractions and I had to stop the gas and air she was sucking on from going in the water. I really did want to have a bit of the gas and air during the brief time Nat used it, but I didn't want Nat to get a throat infection or mess up the divine path we had set out in our birth plan. I didn't want to disturb Nat in her peace and serenity, so I didn't. But next time.... I'm going to have a blast on it.

It quickly rolled around to 4pm at the hospital and our snack game was pretty poor. I would suggest taking a cool bag, because the carrier bag we had was full of clothes and pieces of paper. You need a regimented snack schedule. The light bites of cakes, crisps and flapjacks were great - but they didn't cut the mustard from 6am until 6pm. You need fridge raiders, fruit, bananas, sandwiches, salads. This is just for you by the way. But try and get your partner to eat little and often. Sweets and lucozade sport energy drinks are good for your partner, but after a while, and when it gets to the business end they will power on through without.

So, yeah, anyway 4pm rolled around and I knew this was an important time for me because it was the shift change over and our wonderful middle-aged midwife of many decades of experience Clare was substituted for a younger model in the form of the brilliant Liberty.

At first, I immediately did this bigotry thought of, she looks young so she's not that experienced. However, this was a massive dick-thought because Liberty was fantastic and wise beyond her years in her field of midwifery. [Oh, and by the way Tom, she probably saved your daughter's life...]

And so, of course, this is when Tom thought he had to step up. "So maybe let's try this and if it doesn't work we can always get back in the pool" I would say every five minutes - hoping that the new midwife would allow me to input my own ideas. She obliged and we carried on pushing on dry land for a few minutes while Nat waited for another contraction to come along.

As I walked over to the sofa, with Liberty at one side of the sofa opposite Nat with towels around her, three brown splodges appeared on the paper towels from where Nat was sitting. I didn't think much of it as I had already looked at the head at this point and was adamant with my positive thinking mantra that this was nothing to be worried about.

However, as I steadied Nat for another go in the pool and then reverting to the birthing chair, Liberty quickly held up the paper towel, said that she thought the baby had done a poo and legged it out the room. "Are you sure it's not Nat who has done it?" I replied back. "No, we've checked and it's the baby," Liberty replied. "The baby is in distress, so we'll have to get her out". By this point the teenage Tom would have just ran out the room and been inconsolable, but after both hearing what Liberty said, Nat tried two more pushes as the room across the hall was being prepped for our arrival. Nat, who was visibly physically exhausted, but mentally still very focused, heaved one last push and then - quick as I had seen her all day - hooked her left arm around my neck we walked as if we were in a four legged race towards the next room. "It'll be ok I said".

"She's ok. isn't she?" I said hurriedly while Nat was out of earshot. Liberty replied with a determined "we don't know yet until she comes out". But, with that, a large foreign lady came bounding in to the room like she was waltzing up to a night doo wedding buffet.

"Who the hell is this?" I thought, secretly. But, once again, my mind was in 5th gear and heading for a big finale. "I'm not liking what I am seeing on this heart rate darling, we need to get the baby out and I am going to perform an episiotomy and ventouse" - or a 'Kiwi' as I later knew it as. I was not quite sure what that was at first, but I understood that the suction cup would be used at some point.

As I was kind of stood to Nat's left in 'no man's land' I saw Nat [my pride and joy] being cut [also note: not one for the feint hearted]

Nat, who was by this point doing fantastic in her dogged state, denied help from the gas and air and shrieked out as the next contraction came and the suction cup was attached to little P's head. As it attached it disappeared back into Nat. On the next contraction Nat smashed some big breaths and as the sister pressed the trigger, P's head appeared - a full set of black curls with her eyes shut. A whole 25 seconds came ticking and the shoulders were through and she was out.

Peyton was born. She was slapped on Nat's chest for about 3.58 seconds. Her confused eyes buried into her mum's face, then rattled around at me as she let out a scream - she was fine. She was rubbed down as I blubbed out the words "she's gorgeous" through teary and tired eyes.

I cut the cord while taking as many pictures as I could, but I wanted to see her in real-time. Not through a phone screen [old school, I know] - but instead with my own eyes. I was then passed Peyton to hold for the first time. She couldn't hold her head and just dug her fingers into her eyes, I told her to stop it.

For brief moments she stopped and just looked around and I constantly needed reassurance from the midwife that she was ok and still breathing while taking in the world around her. I searched her face, almost examining it, a sugar bug rested across the bridge of her nose, a white spot on her tongue and two marks where she had dug her claws in the process of learning she had hands that could touch her face.

As I held her, Nat was poking around from the side of her doubled-over bed as her placenta was being physically yanked out of her by the hand of the sister. Nat's cries became blood curdling and my focus was back on my wife - because even though the baby was here Nat wasn't out the woods.

I felt each stitch as Nat was sewn back up and she gulped air. "You're half way there," she was told. "No way, just half way?!" she replied.

Nat was as tough as they come during her labour and she later told her new midwife about her birth and she thought Nat had had a spinal block after looking at her notes. But, of course, it was just her putting her mind over matter and using hypnobirthing to block out the pain.

This was without a doubt the best gift I have ever received. Such a heroic gesture. Jesus crucifying himself, Aslan laying down on the slab for his kin - no doubt any woman who undergoes childbirth, whether a C section, natural or everything under the sun, has achieved an amazing feat.

I don't understand how a man can witness the human body doing this amazing thing, their wife, partner, girlfriend or fiancee do this for them and then weeks, months, years later separate and divorce.

I guess in the end, as a father you have to evolve or die. You can't be anything in-between. I don't know if I will be a great dad, or even a good dad, but I know that after sharing this experience with my wife I will give it everything I have.

I would say we are stronger than we would ever have been without it. Yes, we will argue more, we will bicker and disagree 10 fold. I guess because we have more to agree and disagree on - there is three of us now after all. We may have to make more sacrifices in the future. But, in the end, I know what she sacrificed for me, the horrendous pain she went through and the nine months prior which included sickness, uncomfortableness and insomnia. These things make me thankful to her for every day she has given me a life [Peyton] which has made my life worthwhile. 

1 comment:

  1. Oh god. That’s going to take some time to get my head round. I can’t even get Matty to read this... well done guys x