“So….when you are having kids?”
Not if. When. The next stage. The wedding is over now. We want something else. Do something else. Have a baby. We want you to have a baby. Go on. Do it.
As it turned out, when it was confirmed that Claire was pregnant, the excitement that swarmed through me out-muscled any apprehension I felt. I experienced a swirling mass of emotion: it simultaneously felt exciting and significant and daunting and thrilling and oh-bloody-hell-this-is-really-happening. Perhaps in simple terms though, it felt right. And rather than feel intimidated by the prospective explosion in our lives, we couldn’t wait to tell people. Couldn’t wait to see their faces. When we finally announced the news, the joy and thrill of people’s reactions was everything we had envisaged.
There was a notable difference in the people we told though. Our friends without children responded with contagious excitement, clearly delighted, except I’m sure once or twice I discerned a look in their eyes that seemed to suggest ‘you must be bloody mental’. In fact, one or two of them even have said it. Our friends who were already parents reacted with equal warmth, although many of them took great delight in disclosing what we were letting ourselves in for. ‘You’ll never sleep again!’ one couple gleefully cackled. ‘Enjoy your life now, because you won’t have one soon!’ another weary-looking parent cheerfully guffawed. “You’ll just be tired all of the time,” one person sniggered, rubbing their eyes and sliding a packet of Pro Plus back into their pocket. “No, honestly, don’t listen to them, it’s not that bad,” another friend assured me, after he had fallen asleep standing up and was on his seventh cup of coffee of the day.
So, all good then. We started to change the house. Over the next few months, the spare bedroom became the nursery. Our weekends were spent trawling around shops we had never
stepped foot in before; shops bulging with prams, cots, buggies, brightly coloured plastic, hefty price tags, screaming children, a strange smell, and pompous shop assistants. Claire’s pregnancy-induced cravings commenced, leading her towards a voluminous amount of Fab lollies, and enough cheese to make Wallace and Gromit baulk. I started to learn about things I had never heard of before. Moses baskets. Muslins. A steriliser. Three a.m. Something called Infacol. Claire read a book called ‘Making Planning for a Baby Easy’, without showing a single outwardly sign of making planning for a baby easy.
We bought a baby-naming book, which was supposed to aid the process of selecting a name for our child, but it was comfortably the worst thing we could have done. It demolished the sensible restrictions of our memory and imagination. We were looking for a needle but now we had purchased extra haystacks. From starting out with dozens of alternatives, we finished with hundreds. In the end, we elected to use the veto system. Claire would make a suggestion, and then I would veto it. She would make another suggestion, and then I would veto it. I would make a suggestion, Claire would look at me in sheer disbelief, and possibly embarrassment, and then veto it. The process continued for weeks. We said veto that often one weekend we started to consider calling the baby veto.
Finally, the baby was almost due, but we were ready. The nursery had been fully redecorated and re-furnished. The entire stock of Mothercare was littered all around the house. I could almost open and close the pram without harming myself. We had finally agreed on a name. (It wasn’t veto.) I had been dispatched to the spare room as our bed was now crammed with so many oddly-shaped cushions and pillows there was no room left for two human beings. The bag was packed for the hospital. We were prepared. All we had to do now was wait for the baby. Oh boy.
When it happened, it wasn’t quite what we had expected. We travelled to the hospital at ten o’ clock on a Sunday morning. It was relatively serene. I had imagined labour starting as a seismic event – flashing lights and whirring alarms, charging around rooms like a man possessed, ringing everyone we knew, possibly screaming, definitely sweating, and sprinting out of the house as if the kitchen was on fire. It was the polar opposite. There was no panic and no rushing because we didn’t think labour had actually commenced. Well, I say ‘we’. I was just told ‘something was happening’. That’s all I knew. The details were a bit above my pay-scale to be honest. I will always remember the conversation we had as we were leaving the house.
Me: Should I bring the bag? Claire: What bag? Me: The bag. For the hospital. Claire: Ermmm…stick it in the car. We’re not going to need it though. I don’t think this is it. We’ll be home in two hours.
We weren’t home in two hours. Something was happening all right. As it turned out though, there was a problem with the baby’s heart-rate, which was obviously a source of great worry and concern for both of us. It was monitored for the remainder of the day, with the hospital unwilling to release us until they had regained confidence about the baby’s health. Eventually, about eight o clock at night, they seemed satisfied any danger there may have been had passed. We prepared to head home when a doctor grabbed my head with both hands and vigorously started spinning it around. Or, at least, he might as well have done. He actually just said two things. “Right, we’re not going to let you go home tonight.” OK. Fair enough. We can handle that. Shame we can’t go home and eat curry again but still. “We’re going to induce the labour now.” Oh bloody hell…
We were moved into a private room. The first three hours were reasonably uneventful, akin to an unsuspecting fishing boat heading into a perfect storm. I thought we’d be working through a punishing schedule of panicking and worrying but Claire seemed relatively calm considering the circumstances. By eleven o’ clock though, it had begun to change. Things were definitely happening by then. There was a lot of slowly standing up, pacing around the bed, groaning loudly, and swearing. It wasn’t long before Claire joined in with me.
The pain had arrived now. It had sneaked up on her somewhat craftily, announcing its authority with an abruptness that surprised her, rather than the incremental increase she had been anticipating. Over the next thirty minutes, it worsened significantly. She was in agonising pain.
Prior to the due date, I had been given two pieces of advice: take shorts as the hospital could get hotter than the sun (the baby’s due date was in July), and put some sandwiches in your bag. As Claire bravely fought through the excruciating process of delivering our first child, on balance I decided slipping into my Bermudas and devouring a ham baguette might not generate the desired calming effect.
There’s evidently much to condemn about drugs, but they certainly improved matters in the ensuing three hours. I was completely chilled out after that. The device for dispensing gas and air became Claire’s best friend for the next few hours, even though it was merely softening rather than eliminating the pain. Then came the question. Do you need an epidural? Never has a reply being so swift, never has a nod being so infused with relief. That was Claire that replied by the way. I don’t think it was a ‘round-the-room’ offer.
Once it had been administered, everything changed. The strains of labour were still coursing through Claire’s body but not that you could necessarily tell: the tidal wave had been abruptly reduced to a ripple. It was so much calmer than before. I nearly got the baguette out. Then came the shock. There was something wrong and the doctor confirmed the decision that an emergency caesarean was necessary. OK, fine, whatever needs to be done. The labour was
purposefully slowed as there was a delay before the C-section could commence. With worry naturally filtering into our thoughts, we felt utterly sick and helpless while we waited.
Within an hour, Claire was wheeled away to the operating theatre. I was sent to a changing room, as you are not allowed into theatre unless you look a complete pratt. As I slipped on a ballooning green top and a pair of clown-sized pants, a blood-curdling scream hurtled down the corridor. I froze. It was terrifying but at least it wasn’t Claire. I hoped she hadn’t heard it. I presume it was either a poor woman in the midst of labour, or someone checking the car-park prices.
Once changed (fully pratted-out is the official term I think), I was led very carefully into the theatre, purposefully keeping me at the top end of proceedings, and away from ‘the action’. An opaque screen was erected over Claire’s body, thankfully blocking our view. As I perched on a small stool near to Claire’s head, I smiled at her. Her body remained stationary while her head twisted towards me, and for some reason the image of a robot popped into my head. She appeared woozy, but relaxed. Chilled out, almost. It was remarkable. She might have looked drunk, I just felt it.
It was busy in the room. People were milling about all over the place. Their calmness and don’t-worry-we-do-this-every-day-ness was infinitely reassuring. Suddenly I realised the radio was switched on. Come on Eileen was blaring out. Come on Eileen? Claire was going to give birth to a soundtrack of eighties super-group Dexy’s Midnight Runners. If we were calling the baby Eileen, it would have been an incredible coincidence, and, to be honest, made it a better story. But we weren’t, so it wasn’t, and it didn’t.
The whole thing either took minutes or hours. It seemed impossible to tell. It was blurry and surreal, almost dream-like. Claire suddenly turned her head and asked the midwife what was happening. “It’s a boy,” she replied. As simply as that. No grand announcement, no fanfare. No clearing of the throat or getting out a small trumpet. A boy. We were having a boy. Wow. COME ON EILEEN!
The realisation rippled through us at pace, an emotion impossible to express with any accuracy, but one immersed in joy and exhilaration. It would have been identical if she had informed us it was a girl: at that stage, the sex was an irrelevance – it was the confirmation that it was real, that we were about to be parents, that we were about to have a child. That, in an instant, life was to incredibly change forever.
And then the surprise really hit us: he wasn’t about to make his way into the world – he had already arrived. He had been born five minutes ago. They had taken him away so discreetly and his failure to make a single noise meant we were entirely unaware we were already parents. We were still hoping the procedure would go well when it had already gone well. Suddenly,
there he was, thrust into my naive arms, and I awkwardly held him while he stared up at me with large, inquisitive eyes. It felt unreal. He didn’t make a sound. Not one. He just appeared utterly startled by the ordeal he had just been through. Having once accidentally watched a documentary showing child-birth, I entirely understood his state of mind.
This tiny baby boy who had just miraculously appeared into the world and was now snuggled in my arms continued to stare upwards, his eyes unable to focus on anything, merely blinking into the light. My son. Our son. It’s remarkable how the instantly the bond is forged, how you realise you will do anything for this gurgling bundle of warmth and wonder nestling in your arms that you hadn’t even met ten seconds ago. It was an unforgettable, life-altering moment. Although it was spoiled somewhat when I realised the midwife had walked away. “What are you doing?” I felt like yelling after her. “Don’t leave me! I haven’t got the slightest clue what I’m doing! All these experts in here and you’re leaving a baby with me?”
But she didn’t return. He was left, with me. I gently held him up so Claire could see him properly. Her woozy, exhausted smile was infectious and blissful, and I returned it. We had done it. Well, she had done it. She was incredible. I just mostly loitered around, wondering when the appropriate time for sandwiches was. But now, together, we had a baby. A boy.