Becoming a dad is a rites of passage. In transition i’ve been connected with all seven base level human emotions - anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness and surprise. I’ve also taken a minor financial hit in the form of hospital car park payments.
It started when at 39 weeks and 2 days of a ‘low risk’ pregnancy my wife Jen popped into the hospital for a check up after a day of slightly reduced baby movement. Initial checks (heart rate and movement) were fine, but a follow on scan showed borderline results regarding placenta functioning and it’s ability to provide appropriate oxygen and blood levels to our baby. I took the phone call at work and Jen was in tears. The consultant had recommended she stay at the hospital and begin the induction process that very night. This news came as a big shock. We’d invested a huge amount of time and effort into a planned natural home birth. I headed home and we spent an emotional few hours talking through our options with Jen’s mum and Natelie our doula.
*note - A doula is a woman or man who gives support, help, and advice to a couple during pregnancy both during and after the birth. Info - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doula
That evening the babies movements were fine and given the borderline results we opted for a second scan the following morning to clarify findings. The next morning we spoke to a different midwife about our results and she gave a far clearer explanation of what was happening. She also explained that the results were a concern, rather than an immediate risk. This put us at ease somewhat and help clarify why they were recommending the potentially lengthy process of induction rather than a fast-time intervention such as an emergency C-Section.
Standard baby checks were again fine, however due to the babies head now being deep within the pelvis they were only able to provide a partial read from the second scan. These results showed improvement which gave us initial hope, however without a full reading they didn’t have a complete picture and again we were recommended to stay in and begin the induction process. Hope was replaced by resignation.
‘Our ‘vision’ home birth was gone.’
Even if we’d gone ahead with it, the whole event would have been shadowed with fear and anxiety. A state which would be in complete opposition to the calm and relaxed environment we knew optimal for a natural and uncomplicated birth.
We provisionally booked in to begin induction that evening but realised coming home we weren’t ready. We’d both slept terribly the night previous and were still grieving the loss of the home birth. Neither of us were in the right mental state to begin the potentially long slog of induction. We made the decision at this stage to shift back beginning the process to the following afternoon. We would still monitor babies movement and be into the hospital if anything shifted. However this time would allow us to first clear the decks at home, getting rid of the home birth kit, packing away the birthing pool and tidying the house. Secondly we used this time to pretend we were in early labour. We batch-cooked a chilli, got some decent sleep and went for lunch in a local cafe. Home birth grieved and processed we felt positive and in the right mindset to head into the hospital.
Jen then had a massage from Natelie just before we departed which involved further discussions about our situation. This unsettled her again somewhat and I found it quite hard to suddenly hear her doubts having been so clear. We argued a little and then agreed that this wasn’t helping. We were going to go to the hospital but would remain checked in with one another every step of the way. From my coaching experience I got the impression that Jen’s doubt here was a very natural last minute fear-driven resistance. One that can often surface just before making a step towards unchartered waters.
We arrived at the hospital, were admitted onto the ward and left sitting alone on a hospital bed in a tight space encircled only by only a curtain. The situation proved to be a real low moment for Jen. We were in the exact place we’d done everything in our power to avoid being. It was tough to see her so upset. I comforted her as best I could and shifted into hunter gatherer mode taking the only decision that could possibly go any way to improving matters…I headed off to fetch food. Outside I got chatting with a tall South African gent who’s wife was in the bed next to us. They’d begun their induction that morning. Turned out they only lived two roads down from us which quickened the bond. I appreciated the brief space and birth partner to birth partner sharing.
The interaction settled me somewhat, but on returning it was clear that Jen was still mentally somewhat shell shocked. It is rare I have ever seen her in such a low and uncommunicative state. A midwife then appeared and explained what would be happening and then we had a visit from a clinical consultant. We enquired more about our earlier scan results and the need for induction and she looked us both in the eyes and laid it down pretty direct and clear. At the time her straight talking approach really shook us up, however in reflection it was useful in help clear any remaining doubt we had about the choices we’d made.
Something that didn’t help our anxiety is that after this blunt conversation the monitoring system Jen was hooked up to showed what appeared to be a very low heart rate for the baby. We panicked and called immediately for the midwife. Turned out that was in fact Jen’s heart rate and we’d been looking at the wrong reading!
After this I then started to fully register the environment we were in. It was time for me to have ‘a wobble’. The appearance of multiple doctors and midwives at our bedside had really shaken me up. Up until a few days ago my wife had been through a low risk, smooth pregnancy, building up to wonderful, calm and surreal birth of our child at home. Now we were here, surrounded by interchanging medical strangers, bleeping machines, greenish walls, square plaster roof tiles and smell of hospital food.
I was upset and angry about the environment we found ourselves in. Jen was described as had a ‘patient’ number, but was she sick? Or was she about to move through the most natural life experience there is on earth? We knew that the space for an optimal birth experience was a relaxed, quiet and low lighted place. One where the all important hormone for birth, oxytocin (the love hormone), would flow. Instead, from what I could see everything in the environment we were was working against this. My expectations of what to expect on a labour ward couldn’t have been more far off.
The arrival of a midwife to set Jen up with the first pessary broke my depressive brain pattern. From now on they would be dropping in to monitor the baby every 6 hours. We were now free to roam so took a stroll to a different part of the hospital, grab a drink and regroup. Talking things through we finally came to acceptance.
‘We we here, we weren’t going anywhere else, we’d make the best of it and when we ‘left it would be as three.’
Back on the ward we prepared the curtained space we had to make it as comfortable and homely as possible. This included bringing our own pillows, affirmation cards, lamp from our bedroom and a family photo. This made us both feel better and helped counter some of the environmental flaws I’d reflected on earlier. We then got into bed together to distract ourselves watching a recent episode of one of our favourite t.v shows, ’The Apprentice’. I then left, heading home to allow Jen to get some rest. Living only 4/5 minutes away from the hospital assisted in making this decision.
At 3:45am I had my anxious sleep broken, receiving a text from Jen with an update from the midwife baby monitoring. All had gone well with observations. Jen was experiencing some lower back pain and regular tightenings, signs she was moving in the right direction. She further reported she was feeling strong, positive and really looking forward to seeing our baby. This was like music to my ears. It felt fantastic to read this and know that after all the stress of the past few days Jen was in a good headspace. My emotions got the better of me as I cried a little before drifting off into a light snooze.
Then just after 5am I received a second text from Jen stating that she might be having contractions and although not to rush, it might be worth my heading back in. I slid out of bed, took a cold shower, threw some clothes on, packed up a final few bits and drove back in.
Arriving at the hospital it was clear from Jen’s discomfort that business was picking up. Not that the midwife on duty had appreciated this. Jen had been arguing with her for the past hour regarding her status. Jen knew instinctively that her water had broken and she was having regular contractions. However the rather lackadaisical midwife took some more convincing and it wasn’t until she finally completed a vaginal examination would it be confirmed that it was game on. Jen was 4cm dilated and now in active labour!
This came as a real surprise. From what we’d understood the induction process was a long road and the whole birth scene unlikely to happen for at least another 48 hours. This was not the case for us as Jen gripped my shoulders to work through another intense contraction, it was on like donkey kong!
More cavalry arrived in the form of Natelie as we helped shift Jen into our allocated delivery room. This status shift meant that Jen would be allocated a 1-2-1 midwife to monitor proceedings. Thankfully the midwife on duty that night was the brilliant Lois. Lois was a well spoken Jamaican lady and had been operating as a midwife for over 34 years. Her calm and confident presence was most welcome and I could tell by Jen’s instinctive response to her arrival we were in good hands.
Once we were in the room it was clear Jen was really going through the rounds. The rapid rate of her contractions giving her little time to hydrate and catch breathe before nature sent her back out into the ring for more. Jen naturally found her position on her knees, on the floor, rocking back and forth over a birthing ball. We then introduced gas and air for the first two breaths of each contraction to help take the edge off contraction intensity.
There was no time to think or process. I was in complete response mode, championing Jen, making her as comfortable as possible and responding to any of her or the midwives requests without question. Sometimes right with Jen at the centre of the action. Other times on the outside waiting for my next tasking or opportunity to support in any way possible.
One amusing moment was when Jen requested I spray water on her face to help her cool down with a water bottle we’d brought with us. All gravy, however having not tested it I failed to realise it didn’t have a soft spray option and instead was to fire a powerful thin stream of water directly into her face. One go with that and it was thrown aside never to be seen again.
Then, only an hour after being in the delivery room Jen reported the urge to push! With this news the midwife would need to check that she was fully dilated requiring her up from the floor and onto the bed. This took quite an effort but eventually we got her up. When the midwife carried out the pitch inspection it was confirmed that she was fully dilated (10cm) and babies head low and fully engaged. It was time to shift gears and for the baby to begin its journey down the birth canal. No ‘rest and be thankful’ phase for us.
Jen continued to work through the contractions, Natelie keeping her cool and hydrated at the front, me supporting with light touch massage at the back, the midwife working around us to monitor progress. On occasion Jen would go very quiet and then suddenly let out a deep groan that I swear at one stage shook the room. A medieval sound more likened to that of some kind of creature from Game of Thrones than anything remotely human.
Then, after about 40 minutes there was an indication from the Lois we weren’t far from the final whistle and she pressed the call button for the second midwife. She promptly arrived and a tray with apparatus was wheeled to the foot of the bed. I remember pausing for breathe and time slowing down at that moment, in a matter of seconds our child was going to be with us.
It was time for the main event as the midwife announced the appearance of a head and I stepped back to sneak a look. My word, our child wasn’t fully born yet and it turned out he had more hair than me! Back to the front to continue to support Jen as me, Natelie, Lois and the second mid-wife championed her through the final pushes. Then the moment, I witnessed that first cry.
At 7:58am weighing in at a lightweight 6 pounds and 4 ounces our son Jack was born.
After some very quick visual checks from the midwife the next step was to get the baby onto Jen for that important skin to skin. This proved difficult as the umbilical cord was very short and Jen had delivered Jack on all fours. Thankfully, we managed to get him under her legs and onto her stomach to begin these special moments of connection. Then a bonding of my own, I was invited by the midwife to cut the cord. It felt a little weird to be cutting a piece of Jen’s body that was attached to my newborn child but a memorable moment none the less.
The next hour was rather bizarre. A minute after things had somewhat settled we both shed some tears of mixed joy and relief. Then at 8am a shift change, sadly the wondrous Lois was suddenly replaced with an eccentric, old fashioned english midwife who’s first act was to try and put an oversized red wooly hat on baby Jack’s head. It made him look like a misfit. This didn’t last and was quickly taken off and thrown to one side by Jen. She then tried to forcefully get Jack to latch on to Jen’s breast. Totally inappropriate and again shut down quickly this time by both Jen and Natalie.
Hat dramas aside at the top half of the bed everything was wonderful. At the bottom half however there was some concern. Jen had lost quite a lot of blood during the delivery and was now struggling to deliver the placenta. After numerous attempts to pull the bugger out a decision was made it would have to be surgically removed in theatre.
The details of the low risk operation were explained to us and Jen was swiftly wheeled off to be knocked out under general anaesthetic. I was then left with baby Jack in my arms and Natelie for company. The sudden quiet and moment holding Jack in my arms was very special as was the next…his first poo! The earth moved beneath the towel under Jack and I was christened with a large volume of black tar-like substance called meconium. A substance I have since been told is made up of mucus, amniotic fluid, and everything a baby ingests whilst in the womb. Man, it went everywhere. Spewing out his all over my chest, stomach and destroying my favourite pair of diesel jeans. Welcome to fatherhood.
An emotional hour passed and Jen returned a bit groggy but awake from her operation. We remained in the hospital for the day and night returning home the following afternoon. I’ll never forget the first time coming through the door with Jack, it was like entering a brand new home. It was the same house but everything in the environment somehow felt different, a complete energy shift. That second night was challenging. Jack fed continuously throughout the night in order to assist and bring on Jen’s milk production. A minimal amount of sleep for all three of us. This event we since found out is known as ‘second night syndrome’ for babies.
The following day we then had some more difficult news. The blood loss Jen experienced meant that her breast milk had come late leading to Jack showing some mild signs of Jaundice (quite common in newborns). We were back to the hospital two days in row for blood tests and eventually it was recommend he had phototherapy treatment. This meant it was back onto the labour ward for another night at the hospital :-(
Heading back into hospital was mentally challenging having left just 48 hours earlier, however we knew it was for his long term good. The therapy would involve Jack lying on top of a blue lighted mat which could also be taken of his cot and wrapped around him for breast feeding. One of the most difficult elements of the treatment was that he had to wear a pair of paper eye covering googles wrapped around his head that also covered his ears. This caused great discomfort initially, however he thankfully settled as we moved through the night.
Their was a silver lining. Two of the couples from our NCT (National Childbirth Trust) antenatal classes were on the ward having recently birthed their own babies. It was great to check in with them, share stories and have a baby social in our room. Thankfully Jack responded well to the phototherapy and we were released the following evening. The next day was the first day in over a week we hadn’t been to or at the hospital. We were finally all clear to begin settling in at home as a new family.
Since that time things haven’t been easy but we are slowly getting used to our ‘new normal’ as parents. With all of the anxiety, stress and emotion of that first week, the second week was somewhat of a comedown and natural rebalancing. The biggest challenge for us the loss of our structure and routine. Jack’s needs overriding everything for now. If he decides to want to feed for 90 minutes at 1am in the morning, so be it.
I’m writing this with Jack peaking at me from his ‘sleepy head’ cushion and reflecting the whole experience has got me more closely connected with the wonder of life and humanity. His arrival inspires me to recommit to my mission as a coach.
I want my son to exist in a world where coaching is a fully understood, recognised and professionalised service.
A world where as a man he can have access to a men’s group and gain informed access to both counselling as well as coaching support when he needs it. I’ve already began working with him in this way. From a coaching perspective he has mid-term goals around walking and language. He made an appearance online in my men’s group, where he had space to ‘process’ the drama of birth and come to terms with fact he’s never going back in. Right, enough of this writing business for now, I’m off to take a nap…it could be another long night.
Men’s Personal Development Coach, Son, Brother, Husband and Father :-)
In publication of this blog post I would like to acknowledge the following people and organisations.
Natelie Henriques (our doula) - From day one you have been an incredible source of knowledge, support and wisdom. Anyone reading this who is either pregnant or looking for post-birth support, check out her website here - http://www.motherandbumpmassage.co.uk
The inspiring steam that work on the labour ward at the Q.E hospital in Charlton, in particular midwives Louis and Charlotte. What an amazing job you guys do, delivering up to 80 babies every week!
The NCT (National Childbirth Trust) organisation and the couples who were part of our excellent antenatal classes. Any future parents reading this, check out the NCT website here - https://www.nct.org.uk/
The ‘Working With Men’ organisation for delivery of their one-day expectant fathers course at Lewisham. A great training and opportunity to connect with fellow future dads. Check out the amazing work they are doing in the community here - http://workingwithmen.org/
Our family and friends who in both small and large ways supported us the whole way through.
Finally my wife Jen. For many years I have listened to you voice your fear of birth, but in the past nine months through both physical and mental training you turned it around. Well babe, the hard work paid off. I am grateful, proud and love you dearly xxx
Enjoy this blog article? I co-host a podcast with fellow coach Micheal Hilton called ‘Men on Form’ and sat down with him to share experiences (Micheal has 3 children of his own) in a recent episode titled ‘Childbirth - New dad reflections’ . Links to the podcast here:
Itunes - http://bit.ly/2Men_On_Form
Stitcher - http://bit.ly/2Men_On_Form_Pod
Podbean - http://bit.ly/Men_On_Form_Podbean
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