I had intended this to be an ongoing account of what it's like to have a new baby to look after for the first time, but the fact that I'm exactly 6 months into fatherhood today and I haven't yet had time to blog probably says more than words ever could! Some of the forthcoming posts will have a summary of early baby-related goings-on, but don't worry - I'll spare you the graphic details.
Part One: The Birth
Crowborough Birthing Centre is a relaxed, midwife-run ward which is ideal for natural deliveries without medical intervention, and it's also where we'd decided that Relly would give birth. We planned a relatively easy labour, using hypnobirthing to control the pain caused by the contractions. Or the "discomfort" caused by the "surges", as hypnobirthing would have it.
Relly knew the baby was on its way when it shifted to an uncomfortable position and the surges started for real (there had been a few days of 'practice' surges beforehand). We headed to the birthing centre at about midnight on June 25th, over 24 hours before Toby was born. By the time we got there Relly was suffering with severe back pain caused by Toby's unusual angle, so the plan became to try various things to get him to move to a more normal position. Unfortunately, hypnobirthing only takes care of the usual pain associated with labour, and not the type caused by this kind of complication, so this was agonising for Relly.
We put some relaxing music on and ran a huge warm bath, and the mother-to-be spent the next few hours manouvering into various positions to try to get Toby to take his weight off her spine. By the morning there was little progress, and we both tried to get some rest before trying a walk around the car park and nearby streets as this can also help Toby align himself properly. I dare say the "getting some rest" was easier for me than for Relly.
The hours were ticking by and there was still no sign of Toby having corrected himself. Early afternoon came, and Relly was still in a lot of pain from her back. None of the midwives could offer any further help. It was looking more and more like some kind of intervention would be needed, such as breaking the waters that protect the baby to speed up the labour and hopefully move him into the right position for birth. The downside to this is with no comfortable internal water-bed to ease the baby's movements it could get even more painful for the mother.
Whatever we chose to do at this stage, Crowborough was no longer the best place for us as there was a good chance we'd need facilities they don't offer. At 4pm Relly transferred to Eastbourne DGH in an ambulance with its lights flashing, which she describes as both exciting and incredibly uncomfortable for somebody in labour!
The transfer also meant a change of caring staff, and after an hour at Eastbourne the new midwife transferred us to our delivery room and examined Relly. Shortly before 7pm Relly's waters broke (its a common misconception that this is always the first sign of labour, though if you're "lucky" enough to have it happen in M&S you'll apparently be treated to £250 of vouchers for your trouble!), and there was a considerable increase in pain as Toby virtually landed on Relly's spine.
Relly was doing so well with no pain relief, and the hypnobirthing was working better that we'd expected on easing the labour pains, but the complications had become so painful that Relly opted to have an epidural - anaesthetic injected into the spine which causes complete numbness.
In preperation, the midwife rigged up a drip and inserted a canula into Relly's wrist, unfortunately missing the vein and pumping fluid into the flesh of her arm! I was first to notice this and, not being great with needles, first to need a seat to avoid passing out. The midwife hastily removed the drip and moved it to her other wrist, where the same thing happened again!! Having run out of wrists to try, she just gave it another go in the same one. Relly's poor wrists were bruised for days.
By 8pm, the anaesthetist had been and gone, pleased that Relly had waited until after the football finished before requesting an epidural. He had to apply the anaesthetic after a contraction, but like all the medical staff was amazed that Relly was showing no signs of contractions thanks to the Hypnobirthing, and he needed her to tell him when to inject it.
At 9pm the night team came on shift - Hooray! More examinations for Relly! But the epidural had kicked in and things seemed to be getting easier. The hours still ticked by, and after 10pm a by-now-exhausted Relly was given syntocin to speed up the contractions and force Toby into a birthing position.
An hour later, 11.15pm, and Toby was in position but lifting his head to avoid coming out! Unfortunately, all this time the only way the midwives could tell Toby's position was to do their James Herriot impression, and by now everybody had wanted a go. Between them they couldn't decide what else to do so they called in a consultant who arrived at 12.15am.
The consultant had a go too, and with all the bedside manner of a doctor with a phobia of bodily fluids, suggested a cesarian section. Relly had been awake and in labour of some form or other for the past 40 hours, and was too exhausted to be giving birth. But without the luxury of a choice, we agreed to the c-section.
As I followed Relly's bed being wheeled into theatre at 1.30am, it dawned on me that the complications were resulting in a serious and unplanned emergency operation, and that if things continued to go wrong from here it could be tragic. The morbid thought hit me that I could be going home alone.
At 1.45am Relly's drip failed because the drugs were making her shake uncontrollably, and theatre assistants rushed around to attach a new one.
Ten minutes later, what they term "knife to skin". I hadn't realised how violent this would be. I was sitting next to Relly's head as she was strapped to a bed, and behind a curtain the surgeons were slicing her tummy open with less care than you'd use to carve the turkey at Christmas. There was lots of yanking and pulling, and although Relly could feel no pain she described the sensation as if somebody had put their hands in to do the washing up.
At 2.10am, Toby was born. He was cleaned up internally and externally (he had swallowed some fluid) and passed to me to show Relly, who was still semi-conscious and strapped to the bed. She managed a smile and a "Hello Toby" with a tear in her eye, and then I was whisked off to a ward while they took an hour stitching Relly up.
So there I was, on my own for the first time with my son. My Son. What do I do now? This was a completely unfamiliar situation. I was tired, but I'd been through nothing compared to him and his mum, who still hadn't really seen him properly. I sat with him on my bare chest for a while, hoping to see Relly soon. The midwife came and weighed him and took some measurements.
When Relly was finally wheeled round on her bed, she was so exhausted that she just wanted to be asleep. I knew how important it was for both her and the baby to have immediate contact, so I put him in her arms for a few minutes and she took a bit more time to say hello. There would be plenty of time in the coming days and weeks to get to know this little stranger who had come into our lives, but at that time both mummy and baby needed to sleep, and we were all relieved that the ordeal was over.
And from that moment on we'd always an "all" rather than a "both".