Sharing a bed with a pregnant woman, it transpires, is rather excellent training for sharing a room with a newborn baby. If anything, I think it edges it. My wife’s inadvertent philosophy was something along the lines of sharing is caring, and so if she was too uncomfortable to sleep, I would be too.
This time, though, it was different. I hear a loud hissing in my ear. I think somebody is calling out my name. I roll over and compress my weak eyes into enough of a squint to determine that it’s 2am. I assume that I must be mistaken. Not even a two-week overdue pregnant woman would be cruel enough to wake me at this darkest of hours.
I knew that my wife was in labour, of course. She had been for some time. Earlier that afternoon I had received a text explaining that she was having a contraction in Waitrose and trying to look nonchalant. Now, though, I was being summoned into action.
It’s been three months now since my daughter was born, and I think that I’m just about ready to talk about it. When the Victorians consigned criminals to hard labour I can only assume that such punishment took place in neonatal units, not workhouses.
Within a matter of days it became apparent that my wife had been purged of all memories of the event by a blessed, powerful, amnesiatic combination of hormones and gas & air.
I, however, had not.
After a few hours of labouring at home, we arrived in the birthing centre shortly after 8am. Having showered and dressed shortly after my wake-up call, I was itching to get on with things. And so another working day begins, I quipped, struggling under the weight of our multiple labour bags as we waddled in tandem down the ward. There are many things that you need for a successful labour. A well thought out labour bag (or three) is one (or three). Appreciating that this is not a day for making jokes is another.
I had, in fact, given rather more thought to the packing of the labour bag than I had initially intended. There were various reasons for this. One was the story a colleague told me about how he naively asked a midwife for paracetamol (for himself) whilst his wife was in labour. He still walks with a slight limp.
Mainly, though, I had been troubled by stories of labour lasting 3-4 days. You will recall that on previous visits to the labour ward I had found myself struggling on with a meagre ration of cereal bars. I would not make the same mistake again. We’d packed pillows, comfortable shoes, various changes of clothing, earplugs, an abundance of fruit and nuts, chocolate and sweets.
My wife was indignant that the last two items were to be consumed in a very specific order: jelly babies during labour – apparently it’s cathartic – and chocolate once the baby had been born.
I had also thought long and hard about compiling a playlist that would be the soundtrack to my child’s birth. Life is so much more interesting when it happens to music. Fortunately I had the foresight to vocalise beforehand the notion that it might be nice to have a casual bit of Bieber in there. My wife had told me in no uncertain terms that she would not be giving birth to a casual bit of Bieber. I’ve subsequently slipped Jamie Cullum’s cover into our dinner party playlist just to mess with her. I think she knows.
I had devised various damage-limitation strategies to help us get through labour.
One was an elaborate scheme to avoid paying £8.50/day in the car-park. It involved a complex web of 2-hour parking spaces, cycling and alarms. Needless to say, my wife humoured – I would even say encouraged – my weeks of planning, only to turn round on the day and insist that we park in the space nearest to the front door of the birthing centre. For the next few days my bank statement read like a ping-pong match between the NHS’ car park operator and Boots pharmacy. I can’t remember who won – it certainly wasn’t me.
A second was a clear plan for where I would and would not be casting my gaze. There is a popular analogy about watching one’s favourite pub burning down. I had watched one of my favourite restaurants burn down a few weeks earlier, so I knew what was at stake. I would be stationing myself firmly in the northern hemisphere.
Mainly, though, I had resolved not to say or do anything stupid whilst my wife was giving birth. My wife is an excellent storyteller who has inherited an unwitting fondness for embellishment from her mother. I have said many stupid things during the 7 years that we have been together. I know this not because I remember saying any of them, but because of the many dinner parties at which friends have been regaled with the stories.
I knew that within a matter of weeks even the slightest slip of the tongue would have been transcribed into an incriminating entry in the annals of family history. I was going to be sleep-deprived, stressed and emotional, and so I needed to be prepared.
What Not to Say During Labour
By the time we had reached the hospital I had already failed miserably, of course. I can only think that I must have let my guard down when I realised that the box of roses in the hospital bag was not for me but for the midwife.
How disappointment breeds complacency.
Here’s my summary of what not to say during labour.
1. You probably shouldn’t tell the mother to walk more quickly. We were almost 2 weeks overdue and had become well acquainted with the notion that old wives tales are exactly that. Marching up a large hill near our house I instinctively questioned my wife’s lack of speed, only to be told, quite rightly, that she was more than 9 months pregnant and couldn’t walk any faster.
Incidentally the next day I was sitting at my desk in the spare room when I heard a thud-thud-thud-thud-thud-thud-thud-thud-thud-thud-thud-thud-thud (we have 13 stairs) followed by the unmistakable sound of panting.
I pointed out that my wife’s running up the stairs probably mitigated the seriousness of the previous day’s comment, but apparently she had simply forgotten that she was pregnant.
2. Don’t spend too long discussing the property market. I often find that when I wake in the night my mind goes into overdrive. The pre-labour nights were no different. Once I had showered, dressed and put on my shoes I simply had to sit and wait for my wife’s contractions to accelerate a little so that we could go to the hospital. I thought that this would be a good time for us to discuss my recent thoughts on the buy-to-let market.Out of the darkness came a clarion call: “Dan, stop talking about property – your wife is in labour – you have a one track mind.”
3. Don’t dictate into your iPhone. Having been asked not to discuss the implications of additional rate SDLT I was struggling to find a suitable topic of conversation. I had recently discovered that it was possible to dictate notes into my 2012 iPhone, and reasoned that this would help me find time to write articles like this one. (Given that it’s taken almost 3 months I’m not sure that this is actually the case.) My wife humoured me for a few minutes before warning me that it would not be appropriate for her to be in the throes of labour and for me to be sat in the corner dictating into my iPhone.
This was one bullet that I would dodge.
4. Don’t suggest that it would be easier for you to sit and watch the mother labour than stand and hold her hands. I would argue that we were 17 hours in at this point, that I had agreed with the midwife that she would go and collect a supportive frame and that with each contraction my back was being pulled further into herniated disk territory, but I think I have to concede that this one sounds pretty bad however it’s told.
5. Don’t ever compare your experience to the mother’s. You will recall that we had gone to the hospital at 8am. My daughter was born in the early hours of the morning.By 7am, when the breakfast run started on the labour ward, I was in all kinds of trouble:
“I’m so glad they’ve brought us toast – I am so hungry. I don’t think I’ve eaten since you started pushing. Neither have you, of course, but then again I had to stand up during labour…“
In hindsight, then, I wasn’t particularly successful. There are many things not to say during labour, and I said most of them. I suspect that I was fortunate enough that my many other ill-advised utterances coincided with particularly vicious contractions.
To my credit, I didn’t (on this occasion) question the professional qualifications and/or clinical competencies of the midwifes who treated us, all of whom were incredibly capable, patient and kind. On several occasions those looking after us went above and beyond the call of duty. Having experienced labour first-hand, my admiration for the NHS and those who work in our local hospital couldn’t be greater. We are incredibly grateful.