Gas and Air and Haribo: A Dad in Labour

Witnessing the birth of my children as a father was an odd experience in some ways. It’s the most momentous, brilliant thing that will ever happen to me but at the same time it wasn’t about me at all. It was about my wife and the medical team assigned to extract the peculiar little creatures living within her. I was a minor character in the action, an extra loitering at the back of set. Albeit with a small cameo towards the end.

My wife had issued me with the remit to sit quietly and only speak was I spoken to, like a Victorian child. This chimed with my passive, reactive nature so throughout both labours I squirreled myself away in a corner with a multipack of salt and vinegar Hula-Hoops, playing puerile games on my phone and awaiting any instructions.

Unaccountably both my sons were reluctant to come out and meet us and had to be induced. There was no high-octane dash to the hospital on either occasion, just a measured journey to be admitted to the induction ward.

The induction ward is what I would guess an olden-days military field hospital was like. On the induction ward you are never more than a yard away than a woman beginning to experience what I imagine is the acute sensation of having her undercarriage dismantled from within. Most mothers-to-be at least suffer these early ravages in the privacy of her own homes, but during induction only a thin vinyl curtain separates them from a strange man awkwardly immersing himself into a mobile version of The Sims. Naturally I felt that my presence on those wards was intrusive.

During our second trip to the induction ward, there seemed to be urgent demand for Entonox, or gas and air. Unfortunately it was only available in one canister which had to be passed around the ward via a nurse like a suspicious cigarette at a student party. My wife’s pain was exacerbated by an ovarian cyst, a situation noted by a kindly midwife who ushered us discreetly through to an unused ward to provide my wife her own space and crucially her own drug supply.

Midwives are among the best people I’ve met. The ones I’ve worked with most effectively are able to adapt to each delicate situation by either offering sweet reassurance or a full and frank slap in the face. Like a good cop and a bad cop in the same well-pressed uniform, a person who might greet you with a lovely warm meaningful hug but then punch you in the tit for not hugging hard enough.

I am convinced that the addition of a few Haribo Tangfastics rendered the gas and air more powerful that night. During the first birth, my wife inhaled a small cloud of the stuff but described the feeling as ‘being a bit pissed’ but with no reduction in pain. Another unforeseen side effect was a bizarre misplaced paranoia that she sounded like the American drag artist RuPaul. This lead to a temporary obsession with RuPaul and his career.

The disappointing impact of the Entonox on that occasion was partly the reason that my wife decided to have an epidural. She viewed this as some kind of failure, but she was the only person in the room that thought this and we all gave her our fulsome support. We were also a bit tired of RuPaul.

The epidural was left in the needle second time round and the delivery team explained that the option of a water birth was available. I’ve heard stories about dads stripping off and getting in the tub with the mums or being equipped with a net to fish poo out like the worst fairground game ever. But my responsibility was to remain outside and hold my wife’s head so as to prevent her plunging underneath the water as she pushed, thus avoiding an impromptu witch-trial.

Before the first birth I had resolved that during the final pushes I would station myself close to my wife’s head and away from the business end. But when it came to it I was magnetised towards that area, until I my face was only a yard or so away from the action. What I witnessed there was like the greatest magic trick I’ve ever seen. More specifically being taken step by visceral step through the greatest magic trick and still having no clue how it was achieved. The miracle of childbirth may be a cliché, but it’s definitely true.

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NCT Classes: Come For The Biscuits, Stay For The Friendship

Overall I found my experience of NCT classes much like donating blood: painful and draining but with free biscuits. My bleakest memory of that time was the requirement to wipe a dollop of French mustard from a doll’s bum. It’s not even my favourite type of mustard. Presumably French mustard was selected as it most closely colour-matched the real thing, although with the experience of my own sons’ output I can tell you that an entire Pantone chart of colours is possible, covering all the mustards: English, American and most dispiritingly, wholegrain. Lurid yellows, greens, blacks and obviously browns, browns beyond the comprehension of the human eye.

The doll experience provided scant preparation for cleaning up my sons’ bottoms. The mustard didn’t expand and loom like a B-movie monster appearing from a lagoon. And the doll didn’t gyrate its way through a variety of yoga movements with the seeming intention of smearing the mustard down into the crevices of podge up the back and on the thighs, knees and arms.

I found that NCT was scant preparation for anything. I was mainly enticed by the prospect of free lemon squash and of course custard creams. And to support my wife obviously. It’s expensive. Our course cost £320, which worked out at £40 for a two-hour lesson. £40 which could have been spent on a cheap dinner out or a cinema date with popcorn and pick-n-mix or preferably just a really really big bag of pick-n-mix.

It May Not Be These Actual Biscuits
It May Not Be These Actual Biscuits

Our course leader was a Dutchwoman who railed against national stereotype by being stridently anti-drugs. Anti-anything to do with hospitals actually. I think if she had her way all babies would be delivered not only entirely naturally, but in a lovely forest by squirrel-doctors and badger-nurses administering only dock leaves for pain relief. Like a suggestible cult member I actually got slightly caught up in all this ‘midwives-are-evil’ nonsense, writing up a laughable birth plan which planned to preclude my wife from taking anything stronger than an aspirin for her pain. With the benefit of hindsight it is bizarre that I should have any opinion on this other than wishing for the safe delivery of my baby and whatever my wife wanted.

The NCT course has an unhealthy preoccupation with labour, given that it represents on average about 0.0002% of the time it takes to raise a child. Six of our eight lessons were given over to the birth, meaning that for a lot of students learning about the event takes longer than the event itself.

One of the other lessons focused on breastfeeding which happened on the evening I was due at Excel to watch the Olympic boxing tournament, the only Olympic tickets I had managed to secure. On another occasion the discussion became so involved, so heavy, so vaginal that all the menfolk were corralled off to the pub to talk about cars and the footy and birds. This suited one man in particular, who earlier in the course had hit upon the winning strategy of turning up half-cut after an afternoon session on the lemonades. He spent the most of the lesson in a grinning stupor, the sinister teachings of our leader just bouncing off him.

At the beginning of the course I took stock of my male colleagues, who between them gave off a heady combo of fear and diffidence. One guy appeared to have started blushing before the word ‘breast’ had even been mentioned. It later transpired that his wife was employing a doula to support her during her labour which made total sense given his apparent total discomfort at anything to do with fannies.

As a kind of icebreaker the Dutch lady asked each couple to conceive a way in which the dad could offer physical support to the mother during the birth. To my surprise a variety of vaguely tantric positions were rolled out with gusto using walls, floors, a chair and a fire extinguisher. My wife and I unfurled your everyday common-or-garden hug. Both through a lack of imagination and because fundamentally that was what I really needed at the time.

A few weeks after my son was born, perhaps as some sick practical joke, my wife revealed to me that she had agreed for us for speak to the students of the next course to talk them through our experience of childbirth and to show them what a baby looked like. I informed an increasingly aghast semi-circle of men that most of what they had learnt up to this point would probably fly immediately out of the window the minute their partners went into labour and then within a couple of days become completely obsolete.

And after all this we found our NCT classes indispensable. A lot of friends have said to us that their classmates the course went on to form a slightly synthetic, yet nourishing community of comrades alongside whom to go into parenting battle.

By a geographical quirk our course was held in salubrious Notting Hill so our course was mainly constituted of French and American financiers, who were all transient workers with light affluent tans and talk of private maternity suites. Most of them have left this country now.

Happily there was one couple who looked normal and relatively poor. We naturally gravitated towards them and have remained friends ever since. They are our community. And yes, obviously it was the drunk man.

 

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