This blog is about our daughter Amelie’s birth story, primarily to act as a more reliable record than my childcare-aged memory. Perhaps through repression, Albie’s birth nearly three years ago is a little blurry around the edges.
It wasn’t the best of starts. Stepping out of the car onto the Tarmac of the hospital car park triggered a meteorological onslaught. Monsoon rainfall drenched us as a howling gale blew my parking ticket into a puddle specially formulated to disintegrate anything made of paper.
We were at Worthing Hospital for a planned Caesarean section, instructed to arrive at 7.30am. I presumed this was to prepare parents for the joy of early starts, with a couple of hours’ lie-in as a special treat. In reality, this appeared to ensure plenty of time to avoid the surgeon having to operate on the pregnant human equivalent of a wet dog.
Albie’s arrival in November, 2017, was timed at 9.46am. Amelie’s birth, at 3.32pm, indicated rocking up to delivery suite at 7.40am (ten minutes’ late because of soggy parking dramas) was a little optimistic.
Two planned sections are pencilled in per day, allowing for emergencies. As it happened, our surgeon had at least one extra ‘practice run’, in additon to the first planned delivery of the day, before our turn, a joke I shared with him in our pre-match briefing. Hilarious the first time, no doubt, but I imagine he had heard it as often as taxi drivers tackle the question: ‘Have you been busy’?
So, much of Amelie’s birthday was spent waiting…and waiting…in a delivery room. This was perfect preparation for a clinically anxious Hanna, who wavered between emotional bouts of ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘have we ruined Albie’s life’, while I mused whether a DIY C-section via YouTube tutorials was a better bet than listening to a day of fretting.
The anxiety briefly turned to alarm as the anaesthetist popped in. He looked the spitting image of my old editor at the paper. At the time I thought it would be an alarming career change for him, however colleagues insisted his articles often sent readers to sleep.
We had opted for a section for various reasons, including having weighed up the pros and cons from a health risk perspective. Albie had been born through the same method, so we were transported back to the familiar surroundings of the operating theatre for childbirth ‘take two’.
We hoped it wouldn’t be a similar story, though. ‘Take one’ saw Hanna puking like something out of a horror film, a theme which rather set the tone for Albie’s reflux-rich introduction to life. Sadly, no sooner after the surgeon had made the first cut was Hanna feeling rough. She had the good grace this time to last about an hour after surgery before the spewing starting, although she felt no better than Albie’s birth.
With no intention of showing favouritism, I soon began committing the cardinal sin of comparing children. After being relieved of an unusually thick covering of vernix, more than enough to ready herself for swimming the Channel, Amelie was immediately alert, looking around at a roomful of masked folk in colourful outfits. By contrast, we only learned Albie had eyes after about 24 hours, when three grown adults were required to prise his tightly shut eyelids apart.
Amelie was also winning points in the poo department, not christening her nappy until some ten hours later, allowing Mummy the honour of removing the tar-like offering she was cruelly denied just an hour following Albie’s birth. Since coming home, however, Amelie is on about one million dirty nappies versus Albie’s one, so it’s not all bad news for him.
Despite Hanna’s sickness preventing her being able to do much for Amelie until after I had been sent home, she was well enough to enjoy Amelie’s first moments as we waited for the skilled surgeons to finish their handiwork. This included the polite decline of the chance to ‘have a look at the placenta’, which wouldn’t have helped the sickness levels. Given some people eat the bloody mess, perhaps asking the midwife to whip up a quick placenta tartare wouldn’t have been as odd a request as the initial question. Instead, I made do with watching the thing being unceremoniously bundled into a bag from a distance.
Much of the above might sound horrendous but the early hours of getting to know a baby are happy times. Lots of cuddles more than made up for the moments I had lost due to coronavirus. Hospital restrictions robbed many a father and birth partners of first glimpses of their babies at scans (unless they paid for private scans) during the height of the pandemic.
Post-birth experiences are little better. Once a mum is transferred to the ward, currently Worthing Hospital asks birth partners to leave. Ward visiting time is limited to a solitary hour each afternoon. This was far from ideal in our case, as Hanna’s sickness meant me leaving her before she was physically able to pick Amelie up, let alone do so without feeling like she was going to cover her bubba in vomit. This was worrying, but on the flipside it allowed for a midnight Domino’s pizza and a bath without a two-year-old launching a plastic boat into the water, along with a large assortment of foam letters.
The amazing hospital team did everything they could for Hanna and Amelie during the trickist circumstances and we have nothing but praise for them. I do hope limitations extended to visiting for partners can be relaxed as soon as possible. Mercifully, it seems one person can now accompany mums to pregnancy scans (see the latest guidance here) and this is welcome news, particularly for first-timers.
On the subject of thanks, I must note the sterling efforts of Hanna’s mum and step-dad, who kindly looked after Albie for a couple of days. I know he appreciated the chance to get out of the house and seek out some muddy puddles (more enthiastically than his drenched parents) after two weeks of quarantine – advised to avoid picking up Covid and complicating the birth process.
Albie is now back with us and our family is together as a group of four. I’d like to say it has been a fairytale brother-and-sister introduction; unfortunately Albie is currently playing the part of a Syrian hamster – a solitary creature preferring no playmate, more likely to eat their counterpart than embrace them. Ok, maybe not eat, more run away as far as possible from them while shouting ‘NO’! He’ll warm up…I’ve put the heating on to make our new addition feel at home.