Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Elective Caesareans: The Truth

The first weird thing about an elective caesarean birth is knowing when it’s going to happen. Waiting for a natural birth is like falling off a tightrope; you know it’s going to happen some time, you’re just not quite sure when. A caesarean is a like bunjee jump. You buy your ticket, strap yourself in and off you go, jumping into the abyss.

That’s certainly how it felt to my wife and I as we drove to the hospital. We were thrilled at the prospect of finally seeing our baby in person. We chatted about baby names and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to the bump on the way in.

On arrival at the hospital my wife was ushered into a ward of six other mums who were all to have caesareans that day and plugged into a heart monitor of half an hour. Once the readings had been approved, we were told that we’d be the first operation of the day.

Then came the next weird thing. My wife was taken away straight away to have her spinal epidural anaesthetic. I, meanwhile, was given a green gown and a little green hat and told to get dressed and wait until I was called.

Knowing how nervous my wife was about the anaesthetic, it was the longest forty minutes of my life. It seemed bizarre that I could be at the birth, in the operating theatre, holding her hand all the way, but while she had the scariest bit done, I couldn’t be anywhere near. So there I stood, dressed like George Clooney, feeling like George Formby.

It was a huge relief when I was finally told I could go long to the operating theatre and a complete surprise to see my wife lying there smiling. A dark green curtain separated us from the business of the operation, which was already underway. We’d been told we could have a CD on, so I found the ghetto blaster and put on the track we’d chosen. We chatted with the anaesthetist, a smiley man who counted down the minutes for us until the baby would be born.

We’d been given the option of a caesarean because our baby was in the breach position, sitting upright, rather than upside down. They’d tried to turn him twice on other hospital visits, but he stubbornly refused to be upside-down. Consequently we’d had quite a few scans and were used to the idea of seeing our baby folded double with his legs around his ears. We joked that when they finally pulled him out they’d have to open him up like an oyster to reveal what sex he was – we didn’t know yet.

The anaesthetist told us they were a minute or two away and asked if we’d like them to drop the curtain. We both said that we would. The view wasn’t in the least terrifying. Just a damp patch in a sea of dark green sheets. Suddenly, the surgeon reached inside and pulled out something grey and white. The baby! Bottom first, then head and feet. It took maybe ten seconds. He cried straight away and peed all over the surgeon!

Then, just as we’d predicted, the surgeon literally unfolded him and held him up for us to see. At this point we were utterly speechless. I think we might have said “wow”, or “oh my god”. Words just couldn’t describe the sense of complete wonder at what we’d produced. There was a new person in the room and he was our baby, we made him. His little wrinkled face was strangely familiar.

They handed him to us and cut the chord. A minute or two later we were still transfixed when someone prompted us: “So, what is it then?”. “Oh yes, it’s a boy!” we said, having completely forgotten to check.

The whole operation had only lasted ten minutes.

They filled in the little ankle bands, Boy, then weighed and checked him over. In the meantime The Mrs was being sorted out, her placenta removed and things being put back together. She told me later it was like they were doing the washing up in her stomach.

Twenty minutes later she was being wheeled back to the recovery ward where she would spend the next couple of days.

Recovery took a long time. Anyone who thinks that by having a caesarean you have a painless birth is way off the mark. It’s a major operation. Your stomach muscles take a long time to rebuild themselves. But The Mrs healed well and there were no lasting effects beyond six weeks of what the medical profession call “discomfort”. Even the smile scar on her lower belly has almost faded completely away.

When our baby was very small, I had to help a little more with fetching and carrying things than I might otherwise have done. The Mrs found getting him in the right position to breastfeed difficult and he was generally not an easy baby. But that’s another story.

As far as births go, I don’t think it was any less wonderful or much less stressful than a natural birth. The Mrs felt disappointed initially that she’d not been able to deliver the baby naturally, but having done that with more trauma the second time round, I think she was glad she had a caesarean the first time. I don’t remember taking off the gown, although I’m sure I did.

I drove home from the hospital just a couple of hours after I’d arrived, a fully-fledged dad. All I could think of then, and all I can think of now as I write, is the image of that baby, my son, appearing in the surgeon’s hands.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Scans

Scans are fantastic. Fathers don’t usually get time off work, so like me you’ll probably have to ask a favour or skive somehow to be there. But do it. Go along to as many scans as you can. It’s really worth the trouble.

You should probably be there for your partner just in case there’s any bad news. We had a scare on one occasion when we were told that our baby's organs might not be developing properly. The kidneys looked too big. It turned out that it was nothing serious; my wife had been drinking so much water just before the scan (to make the image good and clear) that his kidneys couldn’t cope with the excess fluid! But it made me realise how much The Mrs depended on me being there for her if anything had been seriously wrong. So go for that reason.

But go for yourself too.

I'll never forget the first time I saw my son at his 14 week scan. I don’t know why, probably because I’d seen a scan picture or two, but I was expecting to see something quite still. The reality couldn’t have been more different. There was a bit of business with gel and tissues, then as soon as the handheld scanning thing went onto my wife's belly, the very second it made contact, there was the image of the baby wriggling and kicking on the screen.


I think it was the first time we both believed that we really were going to have a baby. Until then the two lines on a pregnancy kit and the slight illness of my wife weren’t really enough to properly convince either of us. The pregnancy didn’t feel real, like it was happening to someone else. But now there was no doubt about it. There was a small alien creature in my wife’s belly, with toes, fingers, and as the operator zoomed in on his face, a mouth which opened and drank a little of the fluid he was in. His heart was pumping away and when they switched on the microphone to hear it again there was no doubt: doof, doof, doof. The little fella was in a hurry.

The Mrs held my hand throughout and squeezed my fingers till they went white. Not from fear, but excitement. It was an amazing thing to share. I went to two or three more scans after that, when the baby was bigger and the pictures clearer and sharper, but nothing could ever beat the first time.

I remember we walked away through the reception of the hospital grinning from ear to ear because we had a secret no-one else knew. We had seen the future, and it was very, very cute.

So go. Don’t let work get in the way. It’s the greatest show on earth.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

What's Dadology?

There are as many different kinds of Dads as there are children. Some are good, some are terrible. Most muddle through.

Dadology is a series of observations on things I’m learning as I do just that.

The entries are written a little after the events they describe, from what I hope is a position of objectivity; but recently enough to make them real.

One of the first things you learn when you become a Dad is that a lot of the time there are no right or wrong answers. Being a good Dad is an art, not a science. In spite of this, there are loads of parenting books out there, some even written specifically for Dads. I’ve skimmed a few of these, and read one or two. There’s wisdom in most of them, even the really bad patronising ones.

Dadology is not a 'how to' book. It’s just a record of what I’ve done and what worked for me. I hope it will be entertaining and occasionally helpful for other Dads.
To that end I’ll make a few suggestions as I go along, but my main suggestion is this:

take what works for you and disregard the rest

Good luck to Dads and Mums everywhere. Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
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For the record, the names of my children are not called Jack and Nancy. But I do call the Mrs the Mrs.