Discussing, understanding and documenting what sort of birth Jess and I wanted was critical in helping me prepare for potential unknowns. Imagining the birth process from start to finish also helped- and actually practicing things like active birth exercises in our home made the process on the day more familiar and easier to do.... By Lucien (and Jess)
Leading up to the birth of August, I had been fairly confident that we had undertaken a relatively high level of education and preparation to prepare ourselves for the birth.
In the weeks leading up to the birth, I had become increasingly aware of what I might be able to do, not only to assist Jess, but to actually help guide the birth in a positive direction. I remember thinking that issues like car parking, towels for amniotic fluids, etc. were crucial and must be planned for. Closer to the birth, I realized that perhaps they were merely things I could mentally control with a high degree of certainty- and in fact, being prepared for the “unknown” issues was more important. With this understanding, I was able to learn more about possible issues that may arise- not simply the obvious “c-section, prolonged labour, etc”. The difficulty was trying to be prepared to positively act if an unknown issue did arise. Which it did.
Discussing, understanding and documenting what sort of birth Jess and I wanted was critical in helping me prepare for these potential unknowns. Imagining the birth process from start to finish also helped- and actually practicing things like active birth exercises in our home made the process on the day more familiar and easier to do.
On the day of the birth, we had my parents and two nieces over to visit. My mum had asked not to be told immediately, once we went into labour. She only wanted to be told once we were “close” to actually giving birth- this detail would normally be irrelevant, but for the fact that Jess’ waters broke while we were all sitting in the lounge room. Jess pulled me aside and discretely asked if I could take everyone out, as she was entering in to labour and, by her request, trying to keep it from my mother at this point.
As I was leaving, slightly panicked- despite the preparations, Jess suggested that it would be “a good 8 or 10 hours before anything really started to happen”. We had even prepared ingredients for baking to pass the time in the early stages.
I went with my mother to a nearby shop, hastily abandoned her and my nieces with no explanation….and went to deliver an air conditioner to a job site and helped lift it into place. From there, I returned home (about 1 ½ hrs after I had left) to find Jess in what looked like quite an advanced state of labour. I cuddled Jess, helped her through a couple of contractions and got the baking ingredients out, as this was our plan. I also sent a message to Erika, our birth attendant, letting her know that Jess was in labour, but not to rush over.
Once I started to time the contractions (this is not as simple as they make it sound- women in labour are generally not prioritising your questions about “when the contraction started and finished”), we realized that Jess’s contractions were only 3 minutes apart. I contacted the hospital to let them know how we were progressing, and then contacted Erika to let her know that we were much more advanced than I previously thought.
At this stage Jess was trying to be active- we were often cuddling, with me taking most of her weight, through contractions, or alternatively, rubbing her back while she breathed through the contractions. I remember thinking how incredible it was that she could remember to breath as we had practiced and easily respond to my suggestions when she clamping down.
Jess asked if we could go to the hospital soon- but “our plan” had been not to go in too early. Despite all of the signs indicating that this was a fast labour, we had a preconceived idea that as a first time mother, it would take longer than we expected. We had already packed the car and at one point had made our way down to it with the intention of driving to the hospital. I spoke with Erika, who was on her way to our house, she in turn spoke with Jess. Understanding that Erika was “testing” her condition, Jess spoke as clearly as possible, with the aim of seeming as lucid as possible.
We agreed to wait the further 10-15 minutes needed for Erika to arrive and returned upstairs. From there, Jess was keeping as mobile as possible- pacing up and down the hallway, swaying and hanging from her arms around my shoulders when contractions came- moving to the bed as the contractions increased in intensity. At some point, Erika arrived and spent time talking with Jess and providing encouragement. A few contractions later, Jess suddenly started grunting and pushing, exclaiming “I wasn’t doing that (the pushing)!” in a slightly panicky voice after the end of the contraction. Erika responded by calmly suggesting we might like to go to the hospital.
We made our way back down to the car and Jess got into the back seat on all fours - we only made about 5 meters and Jess commented that she felt a “burning” sensation- this seemed to alarm Erika- she asked me to stop the car and slung herself into the back- pulling Jess’s pants down to inspect the situation…I think this was when I realized that our baby was well and truly on its way. Erika tried to contact the hospital to let them know that we were on our way and the labour was quite advanced- but she could not get through. She advised me to make our way as directly as possible, but without taking any “unnecessary” risks. We drove as quickly as possible with Jess becoming increasingly uncomfortable and repeatedly calling out that she was going to go to the toilet in her pants. Erika got her to move into a head down position [Jess: which lasted until the next contraction, when I would be up on my knuckles trying to get my upper body as high as possible to ease the discomfort a little] and continued to monitor the situation. As we crossed Hoddle Street, Jess had her pants all the way down and it seemed to me that we might be having the baby in the car.
We rushed the remaining 5 minutes to the hospital and arrived at the emergency department where Jess kneeled backwards in a wheelchair and we were hurried straight into the assessment room- where it was judged that Jess was well advance in labour [Jess: I remember a midwife take a look down my pants and talking about seeing some “pouting”, which somewhere in the back of my brain seemed quite hilarious – my privates were unhappy!]. We made our way up to the delivery suit and Jess and Erika went into the bathroom as the midwives prepared the room. This was perhaps when I felt the least useful in the whole birth process. In response, I became preoccupied with preparing the room as we had discussed- rather than accepting that the labour had progressed well past the point for needing our music playing and exercise stations. We asked the midwives if they we able to provide a water birth- and it turned out that they were both qualified and more than happy to do this…I remember one saying that she was a water birth “ninja”. That actually filled me with confidence- more the attitude she used, rather than any actual ability stated. One of them started to fill the bath, then left the room.
I went in to the bathroom with Jess and helped her ‘relax’ in the shower. Jess no longer seemed to be “with us” and was fully immersed in the labour- keeping active and responding to our prompts to “breathe” and sway her hips.
As we waited for the bath to fill- sitting on a padded mat next to it using the shower up and down Jess’ back. I spent much of the next few minutes trying to come to terms with the fact that everyone was preparing for the imminent arrival of our baby- I had still felt that we would be labouring for a while to come. Sam, the midwife, and Erika were attending to Jess (who was on her hands and knees) and coaching her through what would become the last minutes of the birth. I held Jess’ hand and tried to provide as much support as I could….most in the form of pouring the shower head over her back and telling her how much I loved her.
Prior to the birth, I had expected to feel sympathy and anguish at what Jess would be going through in labour- and prepared in my mind for how I might be able to react seeing her in this situation. But I remember just feeling really proud of what she was doing and how she was doing it. I know now that Jess felt largely out of control during the later stages of the birth- but from an outside perspective, it was amazing how she seemed to be managing what looked to be an impossibly difficult situation…and I felt a little inadequate just pouring water on her back. I also felt a little trapped physically- as I was face to face with Jess and felt it was not altogether safe (or useful) for me to move around to the “delivery” end of the room.
I guess I had anticipated that we would soon move into the bath- but with only a couple of contractions left, the decision was made that although the bath was now full, there was simply not enough time to safely move Jess into it. It seemed like one or two contractions later Sam was urging Jess to “hold” or slow down the pushing. Our baby was being delivery- quickly. I don’t remember the exact sequence- but I think the baby’s head started to come out, then Sam was coaching Jess to use small pushes to deliver the rest of him between contractions. I really felt like a bystander- but was filled with confidence in what everyone else was doing- especially Jess.
August was delivered and immediately passed through Jess’s legs for her to hold against her tummy- who rocked back up on her knees and just cuddled him to her chest. I felt totally amazed- despite running through this exact situation a hundred times in my mind. Our little shriveled baby was out in the world- eyes open and making noises. I think it was several minutes and a few prompts from the midwife before we checked if it was a boy or a girl- it just seemed so irrelevant at that point.
We dried down Jess and moved back into the delivery room to keep warm on the bed- Augie seemed healthy, as did Jess- I felt stunned and dream-like. I remember giving him my first kiss and then watching him wriggle around on Jess’s chest until he could get his first feed.
Thankfully, we have some amazing pictures of Jess’ sister and mother arriving- because all I remember outside of Jess and Augie, was that the delivery room gradually filled with our two families. I got to have my first cuddle with Ausie sometime after he had fed and settled in with Jess- I took him to get weighed and put my first nappy on. He just seemed so small, helpless and totally loveable.
I do remember thinking that he looked so ‘normal’. It may sound strange, but he looked to me like a baby should look…which made me uncertain that if he was put in a room of similar looking babies, I would not be able to recognize him. I joked with family about this at the time, but it was a real concern- I had expected to have some supernatural bond from birth. It didn’t take long for me to get used to his features and little personality- I can’t imagine now not being able to instantly recognize him in a crowded room.
Once our families left, we were moved upstairs to the maternity ward and given the choice of Jess staying two nights just with Augie, or one night but with both me and Augie- I loved that I got to stay that first night…we didn’t sleep much, staring in amazement at our little baby. Augie was happy, healthy and slept well that night- he passed every check that the hospital staff put to him (and us) and the next day we were able to take him home.
All in all, to me, the birth felt like it happen too fast- I felt, almost from the start of labour, like I was running behind. It was, statistically, a very fast first birth, but I’m not sure that I would have felt more prepared had it taken, 2, 4 or 10 hours more. I believe we were prepared and able to have worked through a protracted labour, but personally I’m not sure I would have necessarily felt any more in step with it. I’m not sure any dad I have spoken to after the birth of their first baby has felt ‘in step ‘ or adequately prepared. Maybe what I went through was what an adequately prepared for birth feels like? Maybe no one is or can be really be “fully prepared” for their first birth experience, which is why it’s so special.