The story of how Sophia Rose Smith entered the world on Friday 6 May can be told in two parts.
There was the almost textbook first half, which was full of anticipation and had its fair share of laughter, and then there was the traumatic second half, which I wouldn’t wish even on Katie Hopkins.
The nine days between “Junior’s” due date and her birth were a curious existence. Having geared ourselves up for April 27 for so long, the longer it went past that date the more it felt like we’d missed our window of opportunity. For a couple of days I had this weird sensation it was never going to happen and had stopped caring.
For her part, my wife, having deliberately ignored watching One Born Every Minute for nine months (that programme should really be on post-watershed where pregnant women are concerned), suddenly gorged herself on the box sets of series six through to nine. And then she would text me at work worrying about what she’d just seen.
She also text me numerous times to report a “show” (for the uninitiated, this is where the mucus plug in the cervix comes away and leaves a trace in your knickers, meaning baby is free to leave any time he or she pleases). Well, my wife must have had more “shows” than Andrew Lloyd Webber has had on Broadway. Apparently it can repair itself once it has broken away – but my wife must have had a team of workmen down there such was her repair rate.
And just for old times’ sake, on Thursday 5 May she phoned me mid-morning at work to get my pulse racing wondering if this was “it” as I picked up the phone, only to ask if I’d left her some bread out to defrost for her lunch.
Her biggest fear during this week was inducement because she’d been told it can be more painful than going into labour naturally so her induction date of 9 May hung over us like a defendant awaiting a jury’s verdict. We tried every old wives’ tale to try and get things going. Raspberry leaf tea, pineapple with the middle left in, a spicy curry and a welcome return of the business that got my wife into this state in the first place.
I don’t wish to boast but as it was the night before she went into labour that we had it, I think it must have been the way I prepared the pineapple that did it.
And so it was that at 2am, while the media were reporting that Labour had made losses in elections across the country, labour made a gain in our household.
Not that Hannah could be convinced at first.
She woke me to say she had a pain in her stomach. Thirty seconds later the pain had gone away.
“Do you think it was a contraction?” I asked.
“No I think it was just wind.”
Eleven minutes later there was another bout of “wind”. And eight minutes after that another.
“I’m pretty sure you’re going into labour,” I pronounced.
“I can’t be, my waters haven’t broken. I think it’s last night’s pizza. ”
£350 we spent on attending NCT classes together to prepare us for the birth and the first thing my wife says about labour is absolute bunkum (as someone who did pay attention, I knew that the waters rarely break first in the process).
At 3.19am (and I can be exact about the timings because, despite my wife protestations I was pretty sure it wasn’t a bad case of flatulence by now and had started writing everything down like I was told to at NCT class) the contraction lasted for 35 seconds and hurt.
“Ouchy,” exclaimed my wife in pain and then, belatedly coming around to the idea that she might be having a baby, started to worry that she might shout “Ouchy” later in front of a room of midwives. And that would be embarrassing, she thought. I can only look back on this with hindsight, after hearing the things she really did shout, and laugh.
To keep things light, I told her to start giving the contractions and “ouchy” rating out of five, with one being slight and five being you can sod right off, or words to that effect. After a couple of “threes” we decided to phone the midwifery hotline to report that latent labour had begun.
“Ask them if it could be wind,” said my wife as I dialled the number. Unbelievable.
They confirmed it was unlikely to be chronic indigestion and told my wife to have something to eat, take two Paracetamol, and go for a walk or take a bath and call back in hour, which seemed like an awful lot to fit in in an hour with my wife in this condition to be honest.
We did tried our best to complete all four tasks and it was while my wife was in the bath (at 7.07am) that I thought things were moving on a little speedily for my liking (the contractions were now just four minutes apart) and made the judgement call to get in the car and go to the hospital without ringing the midwives again.
“Let me finish putting my conditioner on,” came the voice from the bathroom. “I’m not giving birth with greasy hair.”
Twenty minutes later and her locks now a shiny blonde we set off.
I’m reliably informed (and my wife can now confirm this) that there’s no more uncomfortable position for a woman in labour to be in than sitting in a car and my concern was if we left it another hour and they said come to hospital, with the traffic around our area at school time it would take three times as long to get to hospital as now.
But no sooner as we had arrived than they told us to go home again. My wife was only 2cm dilated and needed to be five before they’d take her in. And the contractions needed to be at least a minute long (they were still around 30 seconds). “She could be like this for a couple of days,” said the midwife. Ouchy.
As we were walking gingerly back to the car so we met Hannah’s mum, who had hastily left for the hospital as soon as we said we were on our way. With no means of getting home (Hannah’s dad had dropped her off) I felt obliged to give her a lift, even though it was 15 minutes in the wrong direction. And it was now 8.30am, the time I really wanted to avoid driving at because of the local rush-hour traffic.
As we started driving Hannah asked me to go slowly and avoid any bumps. Seeing the road to her mum’s house was bumper to bumper I thought I’d be clever and go another way and turned into a road that was so full of potholes I thought we’d somehow driven into a Mexican shanty town. Negotiating that as best I could, we then turned into the next road on this clever detour of mine to be met with a series of speed humps, 20ft apart, leading to the nearby school. If I was trying to punish Hannah for some previous misdemeanour in our relationship this would have been the perfect trip but I was trying to make her as comfortable as possible.
In my defence, I was right to be worried about the traffic, it took us an hour and a half to get home, a journey that would take 20 minutes on a Sunday morning. The fact that it was going the wrong way is a moot point. I was right about the traffic.
Eventually home, I tried my best to make Hannah as comfortable as was possible for someone having contractions with an Ouchy rating of four and then, seeing what a beautiful day it was, said I was going to go outside and cut the lawn. This statement has already achieved legendary status in our household and I’m sure I’ll never be allowed to forget in the same way as my dad hasn’t lived down the fact that he took my mum going into established labour with me as his cue to pop out for fish and chips.
But I knew I wasn’t likely to get another chance that weekend and my nesting instinct took over. My wife didn’t want to deliver a baby with greasy hair and I didn’t want our child coming home to an unkempt lawn. We’re all different.
By the time I’d trimmed the edges it was 1.30pm and things had moved on with my wife to the required contraction length. We phoned the midwife hotline again and they said to go to hospital.
“Ask them if the pool is available,” said my wife, wanting a water birth but sounding more like a German tourist.
The pool was available and for the next couple of hours everything went swimmingly. The midwife who attended us (also called Hannah) even congratulated us for waiting so long to return (6cm dilated) and I didn’t feel the need to tell her it was actually down to the size of our garden rather than a zen like calm that had descended upon us.
At 4.30pm midwife Hannah said the head was visible (still in the amniotic sac) and I was given a device on which to push a button at a given moment soon so that a second midwife would come in and help deliver our baby. The pool was filled up to make it 37oC and match my wife’s body temperature so baby wouldn’t even know it had been born. We were that close.
I remember looking at the clock and thinking that, apart from catching the morning traffic, I couldn’t see what the fuss was about this giving birth lark. The ouchy rating had barely reached five.
Sophia was born five and half hours later with both my wife and I feeling like we’d taken part in the D-Day landings. The ouchy rating was off the chart (and that was just mine) and my wife had used language that would have made a dockyard worker blush.
But the story of the second half of her birth story will have to wait. I’ve just been told I’ve got a dirty nappy to change and I better get to it as I still have a few brownie points to recover for the fact that our house has a lovely looking garden.
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