Homebirth – a Dad’s perspective

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‘We should, though, get accustomed to homebirth being ever more the norm. To go forward, we should go back to my Grandmother’s world.’

The past is, famously, a foreign country, where they do things differently. When I learned, as a child, that my grandmother was born at home, this felt decidedly the practice of another country. It seemed something that used to feature but, like spam meat, ration books or outside toilets, had so long ceased to that it was the preserve of aliens, never mind foreigners.

When we were expecting our first child, Stanley, in 2011, a work colleague told me that his wife had had a homebirth. This seemed to me alien speak, as my views on homebirth had lain mentally dormant, un-scrutinised since my youth. My co-worker even insisted that homebirth was much superior to hospital birth. This was so otherworldly that I couldn’t compute. I could only explain it in terms of the eccentricities, invariably much in evidence, of the guy who was speaking to me. Crazy man, crazy talk, I concluded.

I thought no more of homebirth till my wife, Monica, suggested it for our second child, Brenna, born on 2 January this year. Monica is not someone whose views I can dismiss as quickly as the person I worked with. And she rapidly won me over. Others that we spoke to during Monica’s pregnancy were, however, befuddled.

“You are,” they’d stammer, “having the baby at home?” “Well, that’s the plan. But the midwife will take you into hospital if there is any need. Planning for a homebirth doesn’t mean you’ll definitely have one. It just gives you the option and you can always revert to the hospital, if that is necessary or what you come to prefer.”

Regurgitating these points, picked up from a ‘meet the midwifes’ session, often brought a close to this conversational line. Presumably, those who moved the conversation on were content to see homebirth as a vehicle for maximising your options. To those who showed more interest, I’d explain how it might help, particularly with the first stage of labour, where being as relaxed as possible assists. The hospital being an unfamiliar environment not tending toward relaxation, while the home, in contrast, is wholly familiar and thus, more relaxing.

This generally persuaded even the most doubtful. One chap, though, insisted that we have the birthing pool on the ground floor, otherwise we risked a ceiling collapsing. This had been heartily dismissed as a possibility at the ‘meet the midwifes’ event, so, I replied, “has that ever really happened?” “Oh, yes,” he maintained, ensuring I had a tiny twinge of concern for our ceiling when I inflated the birthing pool in our first floor bathroom. But, as I did so, fully two weeks before Brenna was born, I pushed aside this misgiving, reassuring myself that the midwifes must know what they are talking about.

‘Be prepared’ is the Scouts motto and, we thought, we were acting in that spirit by getting the pool inflated, and keeping it so, at an early stage. At this time, action stations always appeared on the horizon. I’d go to sleep thinking, “this is the night that our daughter will arrive”. Then wake up the next morning to find that she hadn’t. The action stations were so regularly mirages that I stopped believing in them. There was a part of me that believed Monica would always be pregnant and the birthing pool would forever dominate the bathroom, without ever being used.

A few year days before Brenna’s birth, rather tactlessly when speaking to a German friend, I compared our wait with the Blitz, in the sense that initially it felt like it must end soon. But our wait went on a few weeks, as the Blitz went on for years, after a while, it just seemed normal that Monica was on the verge of giving birth, as grim acceptance marked London’s fortitude in the face of the Blitz. There are no conditions to which a person cannot grow accustomed, as Tolstoy said.

He had, of course, never given birth. That appears to me not a condition to which we accustom. No matter how excellent our midwives are, or how relaxing our homes, it can only be endured. Brenna arrived at 4.45pm, little over an hour after the midwives did. Thankfully, my colleague was right: homebirth was a quicker and smoother experience than Monica experienced with Stanley. But still not, pace Tolstoy, an experience she could be said to have become accustomed to.

We should, though, get accustomed to homebirth being ever more the norm. To go forward, we should go back to my Grandmother’s world. As challenging as birth inevitably is, Brenna’s homebirth was preferable to Stanley’s hospital birth, incurring less cost for the taxpayer, as no hospital bed or treatments needed to be paid for. Homebirth can help families meet the challenge of birth and the NHS the cost of remaining affordable in an ageing society.

follow Jonathan on twitter @Jonathan_Todd

Birth Story Of The Week – Dave and Emi

How was everyone’s weekend? Did all the Fathers and Fathers to-be get spoilt rotten with hand made cards and a lie in? My poor husband had to wake up next to his very hung over wife in a hotel in Berkshire after seeing our best friends get married the day before. He did however get treated to a bottle of coke and some Scampi snacks from the motorway on the way home. The kids were pleased to see him and made lovely cards thanks to a very lovely (albeit exhausted) Auntie. He also got to catch up on the Lions game so all in all an ok Fathers Day here.

In the light of celebrating ‘Father’s Day’ this weekend I thought it was only appropriate to hear a birth story from a man. After all it is a life changing event for both parties. This hilarious and witty yet beautifully written story comes from Dave, husband of Susie father to Emi.

Blog: About a Gadabout

Twitter: aboutagadabout

We knew exactly how our baby was going to be born. It would take place at our local Birth Centre, accompanied by relaxing music in a softly lit room containing a pool. Susie’s pain would be conquered by measured breathing and the generous application of my sensitive yet masculine touch.

Turns out we were wrong.

Come with me now to room three on the antenatal ward of Lewisham hospital. It’s early afternoon yet almost completely dark outside. Susie is sitting upright in bed, her worried face drained of all colour. She is surrounded by beige medical apparatus gleaming dully under fluorescent light. The due date came and went over two weeks ago and inductions have produced no result. A scan has just revealed a lack of amniotic fluid around the baby. It’s the 23rd of October, the clock is ticking and it’s tense.

A midwife enters briskly to examine Susie and tells us there has been no change: she is still only 1cm dilated. To put that in perspective I am at a constant state of 0.5cm dilation due to a hormone imbalance. If nothing happens soon we will have to discuss other options.

Early evening sneaks in unnoticed and I ask Susie if she would like something to eat. She replies “I’m not actually that huoooowwwwwaaaarrrAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHOOOOOHHHH!!!”. She is either having a contraction or unexpectedly giving her rendition of 80′s pop classic, ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. I decide that if I do ever write a blog about today this is the point at which I’ll stop writing in the present tense. I also went and and fetched a midwife.

Susie spent the next five hours doubled over in pain, locked in a private agony. If she had been a boxer the referee would have stopped the fight and the crowd would quite rightly have demanded a refund. As I massaged her back for the 476th time (my hands were a bit sore but I don’t like to mention it) she looked at me after a particularly prolonged groan and whispered “epidural”. Having spent the last three nights in hospital with very little sleep, she was worried about lack of energy when it came to the birth. As a midwife was due to examine her in 15 minutes I suggested she could try eating a banana to get her through until that point. We would then know how close she was and take things from there. Susie weighed up my suggestion while fixing me with a stare of primal ferocity. Her teeth formed a solid, unbroken block of enamel through which she hissed those three little words “Ep! Ee! Dural!” I sensed potassium rich fruit just wasn’t going to cut it on this occasion and rushed off to fetch an anaesthetist. The epidural process took about an hour to set up and seemed to provide relief straight away. A banana would have been quicker which is all I intend to say on the subject.

A trainee midwife set about the examination rather uncertainly and hesitantly diagnosed Susie had progressed to 7cm dilated. My spirits rose: this was much better than I could have hoped. The senior midwife repeated the examination and confidently announced the trainee midwife was wrong. My spirits sank: I knew it was too good to be true. She then added that actually Susie was fully 10cm dilated and the baby was on the way. My spirits gave me a ‘make your mind up’ look before soaring to the ceiling.

Frustratingly I didn’t have my camera with me as I hadn’t been home for quite some time. You are probably thinking ‘Dave / David / Gadabout author, why not just use the camera on your phone?” The fact is my phone doesn’t have a camera and I’m afraid that is something we are all going to have to come to terms with and move on.

I calculated I could get to our flat and back in 20 minutes by taxi to collect the camera. The midwife assured us that nothing would happen for at least an hour as the effect of the epidural had to wear off first. The buzzy high offered by a banana wears off almost instantly which is all I intend to say on the subject.

We decided there was no risk of me missing the birth and it was important to have a record of the moment so I rushed off and jumped in the nearest cab. I explained the situation to the driver who sported the kind of moustache worn by a man who has always had – and will always have – a moustache. He sped off with real urgency which was encouraging although a major downside was the unavoidable fact we were going in the wrong direction. Despite my protests he insisted this was the quickest route and pressed on. It eventually turned out it was indeed the quickest route but regrettably to an address other than my own. It seemed he had misheard me. Performing a U-turn that would make the Dukes of Hazzard car sick, we roared back in the direction we had come. He promised to make up the time with a ‘shortcut’ and went blazing down the backstreets. We didn’t get very far before stopping short at an aggressively stationery line of traffic.

“That’s right, the road ahead is closed. I was here earlier, I should have remembered that. The problem is I haven’t slept in over 24 hours”, explained the driver calmly.

As I thought about my anxious wife alone in hospital about to give birth while I sat trapped in a car with a stranger clearly unfit to drive, I felt a warm glow of contentment wash over me like a million silken caresses. I felt a strong urge to express this emotion by attacking and killing the driver. I restrained myself as I still needed him to transport me and because I am a physical coward.

I told him to reverse and follow my directions. We finally arrived outside my flat and I jumped out saying I would be no more than 30 seconds. 30 seconds later I was back with the camera to find him leaning against the car lighting a cigarette. I interrupted this disturbingly post-coital scene by getting in and slamming the door shut. He took a long puff, giving me a sideways ‘hello Mr Selfish’ look before begrudgingly easing his frame back behind the wheel.

After setting off in strained silence he apologised for the earlier mishaps and offered not to charge me for additional driving time and waiting period at my flat. It was all I could do to stop myself kissing him directly on the mouth in gratitude.

Eventually we screeched to a halt outside the hospital. I noticed the cab didn’t have a meter so thrust a handful of notes at him and graciously told him to keep the change. He graciously told me I was £2 short. There followed a brief and frank exchange of views during which I’m delighted to say he agreed to act as Godfather to my first born child.

I sprinted through the hospital swing doors, went bounding up the stairs to the fifth floor and burst into room three gasping for breath. Susie was stretched out on the bed in exactly the same position as I had left her. Bit lazy.

The midwives made their preparations while I stood next to Susie and gripped her hand. She looked focused, determined and much calmer than I felt. This was it. Baby stations. All hands to the bump. I knew what my role was in this situation and threw myself into it. “You’re doing really well wow that’s amazing fantastic not long now almost there you’re doing brilliantly keep going EXCELLENT WELL DONE THAT WAS BRILLIANT PUSH PUSH PUSHPUSHPUSHPUSHPUSHPUSH!!”. I suddenly realised we were only 30 seconds in and I had started way too big with the encouragement leaving nowhere to go when things really started moving. I considered taking it down a notch by throwing in the odd “yeah not bad, seen better” but fortunately there was no need as with a sudden rush at 11.32pm we were joined on planet earth, Lewisham Hospital, room three by our little baby daughter,Emi.

dave-and-emi

From what I had been told and read, I’d expected our newborn to look like a little blue alien creature when she first arrived. Instead here was this pink, beautiful baby with ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes each evenly segregated into four clumps attached to their relevant limb-ends. For me, the moment my protective Dad instincts kicked in was four seconds after she was born when she looked at me with an expression that said “well I did not expect this when I awoke. Please explain what is happening”. The thing is I was in no position to explain anything to anyone at that moment.

I cut the cord and she was given to Susie to hold for the first time. Whatever further gadding about awaits the three of us, looking at Susie and Emi together was the most monumentally happy event in my life so far. Susie was pale, exhausted and bathed in a feminine glow (sweaty). She cradled our baby, looked up at me and laughed “I think I’m ready for that banana now”. I laughed too but unfortunately it seemed an unknown person had selfishly eaten all the bananas during the course of the evening. Despite subsequent wild accusations there is no way of proving who that individual may or may not have been and that is all I intend to say on the subject.

Daddies Rule!

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Happy Father’s Day to all you wonderful Dads and Dads-to-be out there! You are all amazing even though we don’t tell you enough and moan when the kids are dressed in the most hideous collection of clothes you’ve ever seen, often clothes you didn’t know they owned! Or when it’s their turn to cook them tea and it’s either fish fingers or chicken nuggets (ie anything from the freezer than requires minimal preparation) what is that about?!

But really, despite all of that you are fabulous and my girls are SO lucky to have such a wonderful Daddy in their lives. Our little family couldn’t work without you. Today is bitter sweet for me as my own father (we called him Papa) died 2 years ago. Oddly though we didn’t celebrate Fathers Day in our family but we will never forget how wonderful he was to myself and my brother and sister.

I thought today I would re share a previous post my husband wrote in the blog for Dads-to-be, in his own words. Here is his Top Tips fo Dads-to-be.

Before the birth – The woman you’re with is growing a baby for you inside of her – that’s pretty bloody amazing. Just take a second to think about that. She’s the one that carrying the extra weight, suffering from mood swings (although you’ll see the blunt end of those), feeling dreadful and generally having a bit of rough time so just make life a bit easier for her. She’ll moan at you and nothing you’ll do will be to the standard she wants (as if it ever is) but just make that bit more effort than you normally would around the house and maybe rein in those drinks on Saturday nights with the boys – she’s not going to be out on the smash is she, so be sympathetic.

Be interested in what she’s been reading about – invariably your other half will have been looking up stuff on the internet (hopefully from this blog) and want to share it with you. Don’t just pay this lip service as this is obviously important to her / scaring her stiff. The more you understand at this point the less likely to are to get completely freaked when all the blood and guts stuff starts happening. Things to learn include all the birth options, the birth plan if you have one and which drugs do what – (get a go on the gas and air if you can – awesome fun!)

During the birth – Realise from the outset that you’re probably going to be in the way and whatever you do will probably irritate her. I remember pouring warm water over my wife’s back while she was in the pool, I then cracked a joke about it being like pouring gravy over a big fat turkey -the phrase ‘like a lead balloon’ doesn’t do it justice.

Be brave – if your partner wants you to get involved and have a look at what’s going on, then grow a pair and have a gander – that’s your child coming into the world. At least you’ll be able to then look at your child when you’re older and say “I was involved and encouraged your mother to be active in birth” rather than “I got a cup of tea and a floppy cheese sandwich and when I came back you were there!”

After the birth – not that you wouldn’t anyway, but kiss your partner and thank them for what they’ve just done for you. You will probably never do anything on the same scale for them so make them feel like a million dollars.

Get the house ready – clean it, and that means actually get out those cleaning products (even though the likelihood is you don’t know which one is for which job) and make that house sparkle – all helps with the nesting process and making you partner and new addition feel at ease. (My wife has just told me to include flowers on here so do it)

Push present – Now this one is an area of debate for me. The debate isn’t on whether you should get your partner a present or not – you really should. The debate on how much to spend. I know some dads that have spent a grand on a new handbag and some that have just got a pair of cashmere socks. Whatever it is, put some thought into. Flowers from the garage just won’t cut it.

Get ready for the shock – your life is going to change irreversibly so don’t fight it. Nights out with the boys on Brick Lane will become limited and you’ll be tired all the time. But the upsides massively outweigh the downs – of course, I won’t bore you by going through those. I’ll leave you to discover them for yourself – that’s what being a Dad is all about.

Labour Bag Essentials

We’re off to a celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday this weekend, him and his wife have hired a beautiful house in North Somerset for 35 of their friends and 17 children! It will be loads of fun but I’m already panicking about what to pack. I’m a terrible packer, mainly because I always over pack and my husband then makes me re pack ‘You don’t need 2 sets of pyjamas for one night away’ and ‘why the need for 3 jumpers when we’re going to Greece’ are common sentences heard. I just HATE not having the right things, or thinking dam I wish I had thought to bring that! The reality is I end up getting it right for the children; wellies, coats, hats, gloves, bike, scooter, buggy, travel cot, beaker, bunny, spare bunny (you get the gist) that I always rush packing my own bag and get it so wrong.

When it came to my own labour bag I knew I had to get it right. I felt I had a head start on what you really need, and quite frankly what you really don’t. People always over pack, especially the food bag as most of the time once in the throws of labour you can’t bear to think about eating those Jelly Babies the NCT seem to promote so much.

I love babies, but I couldn’t eat a whole one

I have seen so many fathers to-be desperately trying to find a hair band that his partner needs ‘NOW’ in the bottom of the bag, whilst flinging out baby blankets, maternity pads and extra large M&S black cotton knickers. You see, women generally pack their labour bag during the last weeks of maternity leave. The time to meet girlfriends for lunch, have a pedicures and afternoon naps. Most women enjoy packing their bag, it’s all part of the nesting period. But the men, well they are at work trying to finish those big deadlines and hoping the baby won’t be late so they won’t lose any of their paternity leave. So when the contractions start they are so set on supporting their partner, timing the contractions and remembering where the hospital car park is, that they have no idea where that hair band is.

I think it’s easy to forget what you actually need as the woman. Whether you’re planning on having a water birth or epidural there are some things that everyone should have in their labour bag, and they don’t take up much space. So here is my Top 10 Essentials for your labour bag.

My Top 10 essentials

  1. A pillow, and not your best White Company pillow case on it. Just a cheapo one from Primark will do.
  2. A mirror, I really wanted to see the baby’s head crowing when I was in the pool, but for the rest if you who aren’t so mental it’s always good to check your reflection before the in laws arrive to meet the new baby.
  3. A wide head band, this was great for getting my fringe off my face when I felt hot in labour.
  4. ipod. Most delivery room have Cd players but I really liked having the headphones on my ears during labour and blocking out the sounds around me. (See Push Music Post for my birth playlist)
  5. Dark chocolate, I ate the entire bar just after my daughter was born, it was like little squares of heaven and it’s full of iron so a fantastic way to increase your iron levels without feeling guilty!
  6. Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour cream perfect for dry lips after too much gas and air- the average length of labour for a woman having her first child is estimated between 12 to 18 hours, so this cream only needs to be applied 2 and a half times, perfect!
  7. Ear plugs to block out the sound of your annoying partner, only joking! The postnatal ward is notoriously noisy at night with other babies crying so these might help you catch a few seconds sleep.
  8. Lavender oil. This is an all rounder essential oil, for massage during labour, putting on your maternity pad to help perineal healing and onto your pillow to help with relaxation and sleep.
  9. Facial mositure spray. This can be in the form of a ready bought product or as simple as water in a spray bottle. Either way I felt really hot in various stages of my birth and my husband used this on my face and neck to cool me down.
  10. Warm socks or slippers. Weirdly feeling cold is also very normal in labour and putting these on whilst I was still mobilising around the room before getting into the pool made me feel cosy.

And remember, make sure you show your other half where all these things are in your bag. There’s nothing more annoying whilst your contracting having to show him what you mean by ‘side pocket, zip up section purple wash bag’.

What labour bag essentials do you swear by?

Top Tips for Dads-to-be

*Warning this post contains an image of a half-naked man*

Now that that’s got your attention…………

We arrived in hell, somewhere just South of Forest Hill. The satnav directed us here bright lights, roaring music and a LOT of sugar intoxicated screaming children. I’m terrified. We’ve brought our children to Gambados. Actually without sounding like a total snob it’s fine for a grey wet Sunday, the 4 year old is lost in the giant soft play and the toddler is throwing herself off soft building blocks. Perfect opportunity to be creative and attempt to think up my next blog post whilst closely making sure the toddler isn’t licking every ball in the ball pool (which to be honest if it wasn’t for her already nursery acquired every 3 weeks snotty nose I would care a bit more, maybe).

I watched One Born Every Minute the other night, something I’ve sort of stopped doing as I usually work on a Wednesday and the thought of switching that on having just done a 12 hour shift is not exactly ‘unwinding’, but for some reason I found myself catching the last 10 minutes. Next thing I know tears are streaming down my face. Ok not that unusual for a midwife but having spent quite a full on day with an amazing woman and her husband getting them through a very long and difficult, labour I thought most of my tears had already been wept. In fact it was this burly tattooed Northern guys reaction to seeing his little baby being delivered which set me off, a reaction not that uncommon for me. Seeing men cry at the birth of their baby is so emotional I find it hard to even say the words ‘congratulations’ as I blubber away searching for a tissue whilst trying to pull myself back together into midwife mode.

My husband is very emotional, I remember once, him coming in half way through Marley and Me to me tutting and muttering ‘God I just loathe Jennifer Aniston and this bloody dog, this film is crap’. Next thing I know he’s curled up in the fetal position on the sofa sobbing ‘I need to be held and loved this is too much for me to cope with’, I didn’t quite know what to do or say…………..

Anyway, it didn’t quite feel right for me to write this next part of this post as he has been there for both our daughter’s birth making him pretty much an expert. He really was amazing and I couldn’t of got through those contractions without him, here he is doing skin to skin with our first daughter minutes after she was born, all together now ‘ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh’

So with a certain amount of apprehension (similar to when I leave him in charge of cleaning the house and looking after the kids whilst I have a mani / pedi and come back to find the kids drawing on the carpet, wet washing still in the machine, his tools out on the kitchen table, grease on the new tea towels and him watching the rugby) I hand over to my husband to share his wisdom.

Hello all, I’ve been roped in share my insights into what Dads should be doing/ thinking about/ not doing etc in the run up, during and after your lovely partner has done all the hard work and brought your newest mini me into the world.

First things, first – I’m going to be breaking this down into 3 stages: before, during and after. There are a million things I could write but I’m going to limit to a choice few so as not to scare / bore you.

Before the birth – The woman you’re with is growing a baby for you inside of her – that’s pretty bloody amazing. Just take a second to think about that. She’s the one that carrying the extra weight, suffering from mood swings (although you’ll see the blunt end of those), feeling dreadful and generally having a bit of rough time so just make life a bit easier for her. She’ll moan at you and nothing you’ll do will be to the standard she wants (as if it ever is) but just make that bit more effort than you normally would around the house and maybe rein in those drinks on Saturday nights with the boys – she’s not going to be out on the smash is she, so be sympathetic.

Be interested in what she’s been reading about – invariably your other half will have been looking up stuff on the internet (hopefully from this blog) and want to share it with you. Don’t just pay this lip service as this is obviously important to her / scaring her stiff. The more you understand at this point the less likely to are to get completely freaked when all the blood and guts stuff starts happening. Things to learn include all the birth options, the birth plan if you have one and which drugs do what – (get a go on the gas and air if you can – awesome fun!)

During the birth – Realise from the outset that you’re probably going to be in the way and whatever you do will probably irritate her. I remember pouring warm water over my wife’s back while she was in the pool, I then cracked a joke about it being like pouring gravy over a big fat turkey -the phrase ‘like a lead balloon’ doesn’t do it justice.

Be brave – if your partner wants you to get involved and have a look at what’s going on, then grow a pair and have a gander – that’s your child coming into the world. At least you’ll be able to then look at your child when you’re older and say “I was involved and encouraged your mother to be active in birth” rather than “I got a cup of tea and a floppy cheese sandwich and when I came back you were there!”

After the birth – not that you wouldn’t anyway, but kiss your partner and thank them for what they’ve just done for you. You will probably never do anything on the same scale for them so make them feel like a million dollars.

Get the house ready – clean it, and that means actually get out those cleaning products (even though the likelihood is you don’t know which one is for which job) and make that house sparkle – all helps with the nesting process and making you partner and new addition feel at ease. (My wife has just told me to include flowers on here so do it)

Push present – Now this one is an area of debate for me. The debate isn’t on whether you should get your partner a present or not – you really should. The debate on how much to spend. I know some dads that have spent a grand on a new handbag and some that have just got a pair of cashmere socks. Whatever it is, put some thought into. Flowers from the garage just won’t cut it.

Get ready for the shock – your life is going to change irreversibly so don’t fight it. Nights out with the boys on Brick Lane will become limited and you’ll be tired all the time. But the upsides massively outweigh the downs – of course, I won’t bore you by going through those. I’ll leave you to discover them for yourself – that’s what being a Dad is all about.