Before Edie was born I watched a few episodes of One Born Every Minute – for any dads who don’t know, we see soon-to-be parents and midwives during the birthing process, Big Brother-style (but with surprisingly less screaming than that fame-hungry show). By watching One Born I thought I’d get a realistic idea of what a dad can expect from childbirth, as my only previous experience had been movie scenes (where the acting was as painful as genuine labour) or the crumbling old flip-chart at our NCT classes. With our second baby due any minute now, I’ve been reminiscing about the show and our own experience and just how different they were. Here are my findings…
What might happen (aka what I learnt from One Born):
You rock up to hospital when mum feels the slightest twinge of a contraction. You stride in, mum carrying a neat hospital bag and crisp white pillow from home, while you strut behind carrying a birthing ball the size of a small planet. Once settled comfortably into your room there’s time for you to get a jacket potato from the hospital canteen, check-in on Facebook, watch something on your iPad, get a cup of tea, go for a fag, phone your mates and just generally fanny (no pun intended) about before returning just in time for the pushing bit (NB. that bit, the key bit, is actually the same in every scenario - lots of pushing, extreme screaming and threats of celibacy). What struck me though was the amount of spare time these dads seem to have on arrival. I wasn’t sure as my handful of dad friends had never mentioned it, but into our hospital bag went some playing cards, some snacks and a couple of books, just in case – accessories, if you like, to what could be a composed and straightforward birth.
What really happened (to us and similarly to most other parents I’ve ever met):
Contractions start when least expected and they literally debilitate mum. In a panic, you phone the hospital and you’re told to give mum some paracetamol and stay at home. Half an hour passes and the contractions are getting worse - this has to be the limit to the pain, things can’t get any worse, surely? You call the hospital again – ‘Ok, come in’ is thankfully their response. You drive to hospital pulling over so mum can be sick up some poor sod’s wheelie bin, before driving over 1000 speed bumps and finally arriving at the hospital. Upon arrival the birthing ball bounces uncontrollably around the reception before you realise you’ve left the hospital bag in the car. Quick, run, the baby’s coming! A nurse examines mum by fisting (sorry) her vagina before telling her cheerfully, that she’s only 1cm dilated. 1cm!!!! NOOOOOOOO! This can’t be happening. You’re told to go home and get mum into a bath and then bed for some sleep. Bath? Sleep? What? Just get the baby out!
Begrudgingly you leave hospital, driving over 1000 speed bumps and splattering the same wheelie bin with a second coat of puke, before arriving home. Mum writhes around on the bed screaming while you run a (supposedly soothing) bath. With the bath now ready mum is wrapped around the loo with fluid leaving her body in all directions. You have to heave her in and watch as she flails around in agony, trying not to care that the water is being splashed half way up the walls and all over the floor. Needless to say the bath doesn’t help. You call the hospital again. It’s only been 45 minutes but you’re begging to go back in. Thankfully the midwife instructs you to head back. Phew!
1000 speed bumps and a final slick of sick later, mum waddles through the hospital door and is once again examined. Progress – at last! She’s a few more centimetres dilated so you’re shown to a room. Now’s the time to get the jacket potato from the canteen and take out the playing cards, right? Wrong.
From here on in until the baby is born, it’s an uneasy barrage of tension and worry as poor mum uses every ounce of strength to get your chubby poo machine out. Midwives come and go as you both feel remarkably insecure and fragile. Everything feels like it hangs on a knife’s edge; despite being the most natural process in the world, it feels incredibly uncertain and it’s hard watching your beloved besieged by unimaginable pain.
After an agonising number of hours (or even days!) for mum, baby finally makes an appearance! Woohoo! And here’s the best bit: it really is the most incredible feeling in the world, when nine months of emotion instantly rocket their way to your heart. Hugging heroic mum whilst cradling your beautiful newborn – oh my, words just can’t describe it.
Dads, just ensure you are well prepared for all eventualities (not just what's above). Perhaps it will be a breeze and you’ll have time to watch the latest Netflix series or complete a season on Football Manager, but weigh up if it’s the right thing to do. Mum is about to experience outrageous agony so perhaps your time might be spent trying to make everything as comfortable as possible for her. If you don’t have any time (like many don’t), just be there and be the support your partner will so need. Most of the time you’ll feel incredibly impotent and helpless, so the best thing for your sanity and hers, is just being there in whatever way you can.
Whether that means talking calmly through what you’ve learnt in NCT or read in books, remembering those massages, wiping her brow, holding her hand, encouraging her, controlling her breathing, consulting with midwives, removing her sick bowl, finding her a fan, knowing when to bite your tongue and shut the hell up, or simply, telling her you love her. There may be one born every minute, but the exhausting rollercoaster that leads to that magical minute is one hell of a ride.