Diary of a 1st time father: 18 months of Heavenly Hell
Thursday 26th June 2014, 78 hours into that great biological magic trick, natural labour. That’s right: 78 hours and counting.
For my wife and I, the process of getting our son into the world began at 34 weeks. The pregnancy had been textbook up until that point. Strong heartbeat, steady growth, and a — relatively — happy and healthy mother. But that all changed one night when Sal, in bed beside me, complained of itchy hands and feet. Being a ‘high-maintenance’ sort of wife with a talent for things ‘hurting’, I assumed it was nothing but, to her credit, she knew something was wrong. The next morning we went to the hospital for some checks. The midwife chastised us for not coming right away, but assured us that it would likely be nothing. Sal was a healthy mother and the baby’s vitals were all fine. No problem, just a quick bloodtest and we’ll give you a call later, Mrs Wright.
We went home.
I forget now where we were, but I imagine we were having a pub lunch somewhere because that seemed to be all we did back then. Sal — an already fussy eater — had become fussier still since becoming pregnant, existing entirely on a diet of cupcakes and ‘things with depth’. Don’t ask me what ‘things with depth’ means, but it is a category of taste known only to her. Anyway, we had gone back to our normal lives is what I am saying. We had forgotten all about the bloodtest.
Sal’s phone rang. She answered.
“Mrs Wright, I’m afraid we need you to come back into hospital. There are some anomalies with your blood results.”
My wife went white, and I smiled dumbly, as all men do when faced with a situation beyond them. “It will be okay, I told her.”
But it wasn’t. Not really.
Sal had OC. It wasn’t, as I first thought, a disease where one becomes more and more like a resident of California, but a liver condition occurring exclusively in pregnant woman (particularly in Middle Eastern woman, apparently, so I often wonder if Sal’s background is as airtight as she’s told me). Not a lot is understood about OC, but it seems to revolve around high acid levels in the blood (the liver not breaking the acids down is the problem). During pregnancy, as those acid levels increase, the placenta begins to erode, eventually detaching and suffocating the baby. It sucks balls!
Sal’s acid levels were through the roof, so something needed to be done. The doctors gave her pills, which improved the condition somewhat, and we were told that we could take our son full term. We went away, relieved, but after researching the condition thoroughly (the NHS website is very good at providing information on a variety of conditions), we learned that the risk of stillborn with OC massively increased after 38 weeks term. Sal was frightened. It consumed her thoughts. She did not want the child inside of her to die, and she was constantly aware of how much, and how often our little boy was kicking. The change that came over her is something that only mothers know about, it happens whenever they see their child in danger. Sal stepped away from her business, taking early Maternity Leave, and I took a break from my work too (it would eventually turn out to be 6 months). We spent the next few days rushing back and forth to the hospital, demanding daily blood tests instead of the weekly recommended one. Sal was connected to the baby heart rate monitor so much she could have had her name etched on it. Eventually we spoke to a consultant, who wanted us to go full term. The woman was rude and dismissive when we said we wanted our child out at 38 weeks to be safe, before the period where the risk of stillbirth increased exponentially. We went away upset and shellshocked, feeling powerless over the life of our own child. We took a few moments to recover, and then my wife did what she does best. She raised hell.
We saw another consultant immediately, this one not being allowed to get a word in edgeways. All he did was nod and agree that we could go for induction at 37 weeks. Then he ran away. I’ve been proud of my wife many times during our marriage, and that occasion was promptly added to the list.
So Monday morning arrived, and my wife checked into the hospital like it was some kind of hotel. They gave her a bed in a ward and we proceeded to make a home behind the curtain. Then the icky stuff started. A midwife came in and started prodding around with my wife’s squishy bits. It looked uncomfortable, so much so that my eyes watered (I don’t even have a uterus). They inserted a pessary. Something designed to induce labour. It had begun.
Sal was in pain, as one might expect having a foreign body inserted into them by a sausage-fingered nurse. She was also bored. We watched television and wandered the hospital like a pair of forlorn spectres. We ate sandwiches and gorged on cupcakes, along with anything else we could find that had ‘depth’. Nothing happened that day.
I left my wife in the evening and went home. I was back again the next morning. They inserted another pessary, this one deeper and more painful. Nothing happened that day either, aside from Sal breaking the shower and filling the ward with steam. Several other women came and went, having their babies, like they were checking in for a spa treatment. I went home again. Came back. We could not get Sal in labour. She has always been stubborn. Her body refused to be pushed into anything.
Until Thursday night.
On Thursday night, they tried to move Sal out of a private room she had managed to get for herself earlier. She growled at them savagely and they did not try to move her again. Every now and again they would peer in nervously, ready to run at the first sign of a pregnant tiger.
A nurse with the rubber gloves came in later and did her thing. My wife squirmed while the woman rooted around like she was searching for a contact lens. Sal was dilated — woohoo — and was ready to have her waters broke. Ew!
The hospital didn’t have a labour bed that night though, so we would have to wait till morning. Sal kicked off, but this time there was nothing to be done. The nurses managed to calm the pregnant tiger, and I went home. Came back again.
Thursday morning, three full days since we checked in to the hospital, but we were finally taking care of business. Our little boy was doing well, and a doctor came in to broke my wife’s waters (I would usually punch a man for such a thing, but he ensured me it was necessary). They then proceeded to hook Sal up to a machine, which filled her full of pitocin. The drip would gradually increase, tricking her body into contractions and, eventually, full-blown labour. It caused Sal a great deal of agony, so much so that she was forced to roll around the room on a big inflatable ball, leaving little wet puddles behind her like a naughty puppy. My wife is an attractive woman, but right then: not so much. I called Sal’s mother, and Grandma-to-be arrived around midday. All we did for the next few hours was watch Sal suffer. She was not dilating and things were going slowly. A master manipulator, I went and cleared out the cafe of all its cakes and biscuits and gave them to the nurses on the labour ward. For the rest of the day I was thanked by every woman in uniform, and cups of tea, toast, and anything else Sal or I wanted came on a silver platter. It had only cost me a tenner for all day VIP service (if you are a father-to-be, I highly suggest you show the same largesse to the NHS staff looking after your lady. You might be in their care for a while).
Night fell, Sal was tired. So were grandma and me. We left Sal and went to get dinner. The spicy pork medallions were lovely. Sal held a grudge that we had taken a twenty-minute breather from her suffering. I saw the bloodlust it in her eyes, but fortunately the anesthetist gave her a second epidural (the first hadn’t worked) and she chilled right out.
Our little baby boy started to protest at all this effort to get him out of bed early, and his heart rate started doing unexpected things. The nurses didn’t worry explicitly, but after four days watching the beeping machine, I understood how it worked and what it was supposed to say. It was dropping below normal levels and I knew it. The nurses looked on edge.
At eight O’ clock, the nurses went home and we were passed over to a new team. The arriving pair of nurses aiding with Sal’s delivery looked like they were still at school, but they seemed calm and professional enough. Finally, late evening, our son began to arrive. Sal was told to push, and a sticky little head started poking out. Surprisingly, being squeamish by nature, I was okay with all the blood and gunk, and seeing a little head of dark hair sliding back and forth, teasing us with its presence before retreating, was an emotional experience that cannot be summed up in words.
That blasted heart rate monitor kept causing us problems though.
I saw the nurses glancing at my son’s vitals, and I could see they were not happy. A consultant tried to come in, but it was the horrible woman who had upset us at the beginning of the week. Even in her agony, Sal was able to send the woman running for the hills. The woman’s boss came in, about to leave for the night, and apologised for the other consultant’s manner. We were assured that this highly-skilled, highly-educated consultant would behave if we let her in. Sal relented and the consultant snuck in like a scolded dog. She apologised to my wife and we all got on like a house on fire after that — if only we could get this darned baby out of my wife. A Caesarean was discussed.
The nurses attached a new heart rate monitor to my son’s head, which looked like a robot’s antenna. He had a big head, just like his father. That was the problem though. He was stuck, in trouble.
The heart rate monitor kept getting worse, and the nurses kept looking more and more unhappy. Grandma was getting her cues from me, and could see I had gone white as a sheet. I was the one standing right by the monitor. It was the worst place to be.
I saw a nurse press a big red button on the wall (how had I not seen it before), and a new consultant came in. The way he hurried was not comforting. The following seconds went by in a blur, but I remember that at one point the consultant wielded a knife at my wife. Like a fish slipping out of a fisherman’s hands, this grey, sticky creature slid out onto the bed. It didn’t move or make a sound. The room spun and I was certain I was going to fall down. I realised I was crying, the panic in my chest and the back of my throat like nothing I had ever felt before. Why wasn’t my son making any noise? Why wasn’t he moving?
Something happened and the nurses slapped the wet human being down on my wife’s chest like a wet napkin. “Hiya, mate,” said my wife. “You the one who’s been causing all this trouble?”
I looked around and saw a gore encrusted, little grey person blinking and staring into Sal’s eyes. I could tell from the looks on the nurse’s faces that things had been shaky for a moment, but I seemed to be the only one who had cottoned on to the fact. Sal had been oblivious that our son’s neck had been wrapped by the umbilical cord, and that the consultant had needed to cut her open in order to drag the little bugger out safely. Things had gone badly, but the professionals were all over it and saved the day. My little boy, Marlowe, was safe.
No, wait, what? Marlowe? Why had we ever been thinking of such a silly name? You can’t name a child Marlowe.
Our son was called Jack. It seemed to come to us both at the exact same moment, emerging directly from the veil and entering our tired heads together.
Jack Roger Wright.
JRW to my IRW.
If only Sal’s father, Roger, could have been there to meet him. As it was, we had Grandma who was delighted and honoured to cut the umbilical cord. I offered her the job as an honour and a thank you for being there, but the hidden truth was that it would have been ‘icky.’ Thing looked like an alien’s…
Jubilant, we passed little Jack around and made delirious calls to people still awake past midnight. Both of my parents were drunk, and happy. Nobody admitted it at the time, but we had all been worried since that first blood test four weeks ago. Induced at 37 weeks, Jack arrived at nearly 38 — just before the beginning of the risk period. He was healthy — 7.8 pounds — and calm and content. I held him in my arms, in love for the second time in my life. Sal vomited everywhere, but I hardly noticed. Even when the spew went all over me, I could only smile. We were a family. I was a dad. Covered in vomit so I was.
I’d already decided I would be the best dad ever, but right then, while I held my boy in my arms, I realised I was the luckiest dad in the world. Jack was perfect. Sal was perfect. The only one lacking was me. But there was time. Time to make sure I deserved them. Time to make sure I lived up to the great gift the world had given me.
And so began my life as a father. No one could have prepared me for how horrendously delightful it would be. How amazingly terrible it would be. How life-changing it would be.
Being a parent is like living in Heaven and Hell at the same time. I’ve never smiled so much in my life, but neither have I been so inclined to tear out my hair and eat my own face. As I write this now, I’m nearly 18 months down the road and counting. Here’s to the next 18 years.
I hope I make it out alive.
For information about OC, you can visit: