There are many reasons that men do not receive much sympathy when it comes to parenthood. Men do not get pregnant. Men do not have to carry a child for 9 months. Men do not have to go through the pain of childbirth. Men do not have to do this, that, and the other… Fair play, you’re right. We don’t. But this is not our fault, it’s an evolutionary foible that we are not to blame for. (And if you don’t believe in evolution, blame aliens or luck or your deity of choice).
But what men do have is a small dose of guilt and a large dollop of worry. (Granted, not all men will worry about the perils of pregnancy and childbirth, and there are many that will not feel even a sliver of guilt about anything to do with it, but there are those of us that do, and I think we need to be spoken for).
The worry I speak of is that horrible feeling of helplessness throughout the course of the pregnancy, when the Darling Wife (or Loving Partner, delete as applicable) is struggling to do anything: tie her own shoes, get out of bed, get off the toilet. It’s not laziness. In many cases, my Darling Wife included, it is something called SPD (Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction), a condition where the ligaments in the pelvic bone become too relaxed and thus the pubic bone itself becomes unstable, which can be VERY painful.
While she was pregnant with Cherub #1, Darling Wife suffered from SPD, severe swelling, and PUPPPS (a kind of rash most commonly seen in first pregnancies). And insomnia through discomfort.
She was performing in an amateur show while she was 4 months pregnant, but by this time, she already looked like she was 6 months. By the time she was full term, Darling Wife was describing herself as a planet. My initial response to this assessment?
ME: “Don’t be stupid, you’re barely a small moon.”
In my defense, she was HUGE! And I am fairly certain her bump had it’s own weather system and gravitational field. Possibly even a South Pole…
All this leads me to admit that, while she was out and about at work or shopping or just going to put the recycling out, I was literally bricking it! Seriously, I was worried that she might pop at any moment and I would not be there to help her out…
I needn’t have worried. Cherub #1’s sense of timing is just like his mother’s. Almost two weeks after the due date passed, Darling Wife was eventually admitted to hospital for induction. However, on the morning she was due to be induced, the hospital decided to shut down the Labour Ward, as another local hospital had been inundated with expectant mothers dropping early and had therefore started channeling their overflow patients to our hospital. This was a bit inconvenient as Darling Wife had already been given a pessary. (If you know what this is, good for you. If you don’t I am not going to explain it in any great detail, but suffice to say it is supposed to help trigger labour).
That was a Tuesday. On Thursday night, Darling Wife and Mother-in-Law sent me home from the hospital to get some sleep as nothing was happening. We had been moved to a private room so that I could stay on the ward without upsetting the other expectant mothers. I eventually left the hospital just after 1:00am on the Friday morning.
I was woken after a fitful night by a phone call at 7:00am. Mother-in-Law politely suggested that I might want to come up to the hospital as Darling Wife had been having strong contractions since 01:30am and was now on the gas. I arrived at the hospital to find Darling Wife still in her room, but her morning check was enough to convince the nurses that she should be moved down to the Labour ward ASAP, and by 10:00am she was down there having her waters broken.
At this point I should probably point out that Darling Wife had wanted to have her mother present, as she had six grandchildren already and had not been present for any of the births. Some women may find having a grandparent present at the birth strange, while others are not happy unless they invite the entire village into the delivery suite. I personally didn’t care either way, as I figured it was Darling WIfe’s decision. I also think that my Mother-in-Law is one of the most calm and level headed people on the planet, and we would be blessed with the experience of a woman who had done this 3 times herself.
So, Darling Wife had wanted to opt out of having an epidural as she wanted to have as close to a natural birth as possible, but for some reason, the attending midwife decided to practically force her to have the line put in. After the contractions started to REALLY hurt, she agreed to have the epidural activated.
Unfortunately, this did not have the desired effect, and instead of Darling Wife being numbed and made more comfortable, she began to slip in and out of consciousness and it became very apparent to me that it had been a bad idea to follow the midwife’s advise.
I was trying to talk to Darling Wife and ask her questions, but she became unresponsive. This was worrying, not least because the midwives and attending nurses didn’t seem to notice, but also because when I questioned whether the epidural was supposed to have this effect, they didn’t have a clue!
Mother-in-Law decided to return to the Maternity Ward where there were nurses and friendly faces for her to talk to. I believe she even prayed. I myself remained in the Delivery Suite, holding Darling Wife’s hand, and fearing the worst. I have never been so scared in my life.
A short while later, the first epidural wore off, and while they were changing the cartridge, Darling Wife regained enough of her senses to give a clear instruction not to activate the epidural again. Within 5 minutes, she was wide awake and giving orders to the delivery team while she handled her own contractions with the aid of Entonox gas. It was a startling change from the listless, unresponsive zombie that was sitting in her place just a few minutes previously.
I decided this was a good time to go and find my Mother-in-Law, but I barely got to the door of the Labour Ward before she entered the ward herself. She asked how Darling Wife was doing, and I told her she needed to see it to believe it, but I think she could tell from my face that things were looking up!
By 4:00pm, baby was still nowhere to be seen, and Darling Wife sent me off to have something to eat. I cannot for the life of me tell you what I ate that afternoon, but I know it was tasty and filling. I also know that I was only out of the delivery room for 35 minutes before I returned, anxious not to miss another minute, but even then I needn’t have worried.
To cut a long story short, nothing much happened until about 7:00pm, when I believe they started asking Darling Wife to prepare to push. By 8:00pm, Darling Wife was pushing when she was told, resting when she could, and handling each contraction by dosing herself with gas. I was manning the tension meter and advising her when a contraction was on the way (Darling Wife could not really feel the start or end of the contractions due to the gas, so she had no way of knowing when to start pushing) and Mother-in-Law was on hand holding and moral support duties.
A few hours later though, baby was still not making much progress and an obstetrician was called from A&E. He examined Darling Wife, checked the heartbeat monitors, took blood samples from baby’s head to check oxygen levels and pretty much said “It’s all going well, keep pushing.”
By this time, Daring Wife had been actively pushing for over 4 hours and was now pleading for a C-section as with each push, baby’s heartbeat slowed. Even the attending midwives, of which there were now 6, all voiced their concerns. But Mr Obstetrician (I refuse to call him a doctor on principle) claimed he needed a valid medical reason for ordering an emergency c-section, and almost laughed off our claims that Darling Wife had had been awake for nearly 48 hours and was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, having been pushing for over 4 hours. This, apparently, is not a good enough medical reason, oh no siree.
Still, by some miracle, Darling Wife was able to continue pushing and baby eventually reached a position where he could be grasped by forceps. (“Oh, good” you’re thinking? “Job’s a good’un”? HA! Not likely). Cherub #1 had to be dragged out of her with brute force by the ‘doctor’, while I was trying to hold the bed steady due to a faulty wheel brake! (Imagine, if you will, a tug of war where the competitors are a tall, physically imposing man and that drawer in your freezer that keeps getting frozen shut – except that when the man puts his entire weight into pulling the drawer open, the freezer starts to dance erratically across the floor).
For these few hours, I can honestly say it was a ride of sheer terror. Whenever I think back to this day, and to this moment in particular, I still have no idea how Cherub #1 didn’t suffer a broken neck…or decapitation. Darling Wife also had to be cut slightly before the little bugger could finally get out – I tell you it was slightly, but I’ll never actually reveal just how big the episiotomy was. Suffice to say, when I turned round to check if she was OK a little later on, it looked to me like a scene from Sweeney Todd!
Cherub #1 was 16 days late, and had been positioned back-to-back in the womb, meaning his chin was getting stuck on the pubic bone on the way out. He also had suspected shoulder dystocia (where the shoulder gets stuck against the pubic bone preventing the baby from fully emerging from the mother, and possibly restricting oxygen flow in the umbilical cord). Finally, he had the cord around his neck, which had to be cut before he could be fully removed from Darling Wife!
It was almost an entire shopping list of complications, however, thankfully it was all down to his size – he weighed in at a flat 10lbs, measuring 59cm in length!
Darling Wife called the Obstetrician all the names under the sun, but once Cherub #1 was born and was making noise (he took his time about that, too!) and while the Ob was busy sewing her up, she also thanked him!
Whether there was help from On High or not, I don’t know. All I know is, for those long hours in that stuffy, overcrowded Delivery Suite, I experienced something that I would not wish on my most hated enemy. One of the hardest things to do when acting is to go from one extreme emotion to another in the blink of an eye (Elation to despair; Horror to humour), but this is what happened frequently in that room between 10:00am on the Friday morning and 02:55am on the Saturday!
I would like to think I kept a cool head during this ordeal, and God knows, for the sake of my Darling Wife and my Mother-in-Law, I tried to keep calm. But inside, I was horrified, ashamed, guilty, worried, and feeling just a little bit nauseous because I fully understood exactly what it was my Darling Wife had just been through.
In closing, some people will always think men have it easy when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. I don’t believe that any compassionate man could have it easy at all, but I understand why people would believe it. However, I would ask them to please spare a thought for the guys like me who are sometimes going through the biggest and most stressful ordeals of OUR lives! We can’t help being a bit inexperienced at things like this. After all, we’re only men…