Studying the dial on the washing machine, I wondered if there was a setting to get blood and vermix stains out of an expensive pair of jeans. I picked up the bottle of Vanish and said a quick prayer to Dot Cotton before pressing the button and running back upstairs to check on my wife and newborn daughter that we’d delivered earlier on in our bathroom.
You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation. I know I bloody was.
It had all started so stain-free. My wife and future boss of the world Ruth – much more on her later – had discovered she was pregnant with our second child back in May last year. She revealed the positive test four hours before we were due to head off on a two week boozy holiday, immediately becoming the new poster-child for the term ‘double-edged sword’. Her loss was our collective gain though. Both in the news that the second baby we’d longed for was on the way, and also that our holiday bar bill would be considerably lessened.
It had been a hard road to that point, filled with more potholes than we’d been able to drive around. Two chemical pregnancies, plenty of disappointments when we’d thought “this is it”, and a lot of agonising over whether we had the stamina to continue on what seemed to be a fools errand. Our daughter, Ffion, was coming up to three and was starting to emerge from the early panic-vacuum days into a funny, clever and beautiful little girl. Our time spent together as a three was wonderful (he says, wilfully ignoring all the meals out where the only wonder was wondering why the f*ck we ever thought parenting was a good idea) and we were starting to think that maybe it was our destiny to raise an only child. Less chance to balls it up I guess.
But the world had other ideas.
That positive pregnancy test immediately led to me visiting every pharmacy in South Wales searching for any that had stocks of progesterone pessaries – something we’d been told would be useful to ensure the pregnancy remained viable in those early days. Unlike the morning-after pill, we didn’t think these would be readily available in Greece, hence my welcome excuse to avoid the holiday packing and a wife who tends to lose her shit at this point of the pre-holiday process. I managed to bag enough for a week, better than nothing, and off we went on holiday, anxious but excited.
The feeling of dread never really left me for the next nine months. Initial worries about getting to that all important 12 week scan gave way to more worries about making it to the 20 week scan. The discovery of a two-vessel cord and the introduction of monthly growth scans into the process fuelled those fears. And then there were the worries about Ffion – how would she take to learning she was going to be a big sister? How could we make sure she felt part of the process? Not to mention the nagging doubts about my mental capacity to tackle those newborn days. With Ffion I had massively underestimated the challenge, and was soon beaten into a worthless shell who was unable to look after myself, let alone my wife and newborn daughter. Would that happen again? I’d beaten it once but was it a risk to invite that possibility into our lives again?
Life went on, for all of us. Christmas came and went, New Year’s Day the same – depriving me of the “first baby born in the year” headline I’d hoped was on the cards when we were given a due date of January 1st. The world began to turn again, and we stood still, waiting for the madness to begin. Having said my pre-paternity leave goodbyes before Christmas I felt a bit sheepish going back to work on the 7th January. Despite the number of times that I was asked, I was pretty positive that there was “no baby yet”, though I did have to stop and think on a few occasions.
By January 8th I’d almost become a bit blasé. The small matter of Ruth’s birthday had been largely forgotten, so getting to present opening and balloon blowing-up at 5:30am that morning felt like an achievement in itself. Not least because, if loose lips do indeed sink ships, then my toddler companion on the “secret” mission to buy them a few days earlier was responsible for a lot of naval disasters. So there we were, pre 6am, one week over our due date and watching a toddler unwrap ‘her’ presents. Something else was very much front of mind though, since Ruth had messaged me in secret (so as not to unsettle Ffion) to tell me that she’d been in pain throughout the night and would be amazed if today wasn’t going to be the day. When the BAFTA nominations were released recently I was amazed not to see my wife listed for the Best Actress gong, so good was her performance. At least I now know what her fake-happy-gift face is, as of course I’d not had cause to see it before.
Thankfully we’ve got a great support network of family and friends, so we arranged for a family friend to pick Ffion up and take her to nursery whilst Ruth retreated to the bath. Other than her imported Scandinavian pregnancy pillow (guess that’s where those holiday booze savings went) I think that the bath might have become the other inanimate object to usurp me on Ruth’s favourites list in the weeks prior to giving birth. At times I worried that the newborn might *DAD JOKE KLAXON* come out with gills she’d spent so much time in the bath. Still, if it relaxed her and allayed her own anxieties about achieving a more positive experience of birth the second time around – Ffion’s birth was tricky and ended up with forceps and a very different experience to the one we’d planned (spot the emerging trend?) – then I was all for it. After all, what else can a dad do in the birthing experience other than be supportive and say the right things at the right time? It’s not like dad’s get more hands on than that really is it?
With Ruth ensconced in her happy place – I clearly had NOOOOO idea what was really going on upstairs – I was all smiles and cheeriness as Ffion left for nursery, making sure I prolonged the goodbye just enough to endanger my life once my wife was well enough to shank me. Closing the door with all the confidence of a Dad who was in control, my mellow was harshed by a shout from upstairs to tell me things were moving quickly and I needed to get my shit together so we could head to the hospital. If I didn’t have time for a shower or shave I was certainly going to fit in the other of the holy trinity, so I popped to the loo in order to avoid spending most of Ruth’s labour distracted by a need to ‘collect my thoughts’. It wasn’t like I didn’t have form either. During a moment of ‘downtime’ in my wife’s first labour I decided to vacate my post at her bedside and move my car to another parking space as I was worried about getting a parking ticket.
My other prep was to throw on a carefully curated new-dad-holding-newborn Insta ready photo outfit on. My lovely new jeans, along with a designer t-shirt and hoodie. I looked great. My new dad hospital bag was packed – although I’ll be honest and say it was somewhat carelessly thrown together to give the illusion that I was being organised. I was ready to have this baby…
So was Ruth it would seem.
“Love, you need to call an ambulance.”
My reply was borne of 10 years of knowing my wife. Unlike most game shows, she very rarely wants me to accept her first answer. So, sensible me who knows we are but 4 minutes from the door of the MLU, innocently enquired if she was sure.
“Call. A. Fucking. Ambulance.”
She was sure, so I picked up the phone and called 999 whilst running up the stairs.
I opened the door to our recently renovated bathroom and found that a portal to hell had opened in there. Ruth was bent over the edge of the bath, a puddle underneath her. “At least she’s stood over the bathmat” I thought, though (spoiler alert) this was to be as good as it got for that bathmat. Seemingly she’d been interrupted whilst getting dressed after her bath by someone stuffing a football in her pants. At least that was what it looked like from where I was standing. All those hours watching Call the Midwife really came into their own then, as I dedicated my life to God and became a nun. At least that was the only plot seam I could remember at the moment. Certainly none of the midwife calling stuff. Also, to continue the Eastenders theme from earlier, I remembered that Minty off Eastenders is in it and has many bumbling but well meaning shenanigans.
I relay this new information as calmly as possible to the lady from the emergency services (not the bit about Minty, that didn’t seem pertinent), who asks me to pop my hand on my wife’s vagina and tell her what I can feel. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth I did the gentlemanly thing and start taking Ruth’s pants down. But they were overtaken on the way down by a flying newborn. And then by my jaw. Both of which hit the floor at around the same time.
If you’ve ever wondered what your first thought might be in this situation, let me shed some light. It was “Fuck”. And then “fuck” again. And then another helping of “fuck” before I thought I should update both Ruth and the emergency services that the baby had, indeed, arrived. Cigars on standby, I spent the next few seconds scrabbling around the bathroom floor amongst blood, umbilical cord and other bodily fluids looking for something baby shaped. Kind of like the Crystal Maze, but messier. Thankfully, I got the crystal baby and picked it up in what will now be known as the ‘inverse Lion King’ due to its distinct lack of regal glamour. I was then directed to grab all the clean towels I could find. If day-to-day towel maintenance was left to me, that would have been zero. But, fortunately, I married the future boss of the world so there were plenty of towels for the forthcoming Daz challenge.
At this point I realised the baby hadn’t made a sound yet. And was limp. Surely that wasn’t going to happen to us was it? In all my angst about the second child this was not a scenario I’d ever considered. No time passed. Time was broken. A sudden cry and a thrash of limbs and that was it. She was alive. Apparently having a load of gunk in your lungs means you’re gonna take a while to cry. Who’d have thunk it?
With the baby wrapped in one of the clean towels and handed to Ruth for some skin-to-skin my next challenge was to find a shoe lace to tie around the umbilical cord. As if single handedly delivering her own baby wasn’t enough, Ruth’s trainers were closest to hand so she’s also now one lace down. As I was tying it off, six inches away from the baby, a knock at the door told us that the cavalry had arrived. So delighted was I that someone that actually knew what they were doing was here I pretty much carried the paramedic up the stairs. Relieving his colleague on the phone, for whom we’ll be forever grateful, he immediately questioned my understanding of six inches. Which brought me down to earth quickly from the adrenaline high. Other than that, we got on like a house on fire and he put us at ease from the off. One paramedic eventually made way for two community midwives, each giving us a level of care and attention that’s so easy to take for granted. By about 9:30am, just two hours after my baby-catching skills were found wanting, the three of us were left to get to know each other and, in my case, work out how you wash vernix, blood, meconium and bits of placenta out of a pristine Insta-ready outfit. Of course, my wife gave me the answer. Because what else is there to do after delivering your own baby with zero pain relief other than Paracetamol and limited assistance from midwifery’s answer to Frank Spencer?
Did I also mention she once ran three marathons in three months? See, future boss of the world right there. Or, at the very least, the most amazing role-model my girls could wish for.