Refresh

Okay, let us slow down for a second and take stock of where we are now, and more importantly, what we thought before we got here. I have re-read the first entries of this Blog and was interested to see that my frame of mind then was quite clear: I knew that in the future I would have no time to myself and my first concern above anything else was to be my newborn son.
This is interesting because although I had typed out those words and must have believed what I was writing, I actually had no clue whatsoever what they actually meant. Obviously I understood the sense of it, but until you actually experience the blur that is looking after a baby, you cannot fully understand what it really takes.

It is like this: when I was a child, a classmate’s mother died. That day I asked myself how would I feel if his experience had been mine… how would losing a parent affect me? Of course I said I would have been devastated and inconsolable, however, I used the words without really knowing what they meant, or their physical impact. It is sympathy not empathy. The truth is you have to go through these experiences to really know what they are about: anything less is just conjecture. Opinions based solely on guessing how you would feel are simply, worthless.

So I read my words with a smile, wishing I could tap me on the shoulder and say: “You don’t understand anything yet”. Now I do. And the funny thing is those of you reading this with children will understand, and those planning a family, will think they do… but you don’t. You child-free readers will have been told by everyone at the point you let them know you are expecting, how hard it is and now many sleepless nights you will have, and you will say “Yeah, I know” – I did exactly that – but you don’t know. Know that. Just know that you do not know and it will probably be less of a shock later. Okay I couldn’t have put that in a more patronising way, sorry. Believe me I would not have listened to these words of reason either, and frankly even if I had, it wouldn’t have made a difference. You get to where you going in your own time; and that is the truth.

So to recap, read these words again: “I would have no time to myself and my first concern above anything else was to be my newborn son”. Just think what no time to yourself actually means. If you have no children, for a bit of fun, imagine now what you do in a 24 hour period: I would guess that from midnight to 7:00 you will sleep soundly and either wake when your alarm goes off or just naturally; you may then eat breakfast, get washed and clothed and go to work, or if it is a weekend, holiday or you do not work, you will generally fill the day with things you like to do. You may just sit and watch TV or listen to music, or go out shopping, or to the cinema or to the pub. At lunchtime you will feel hungry and you will eat something. The afternoon goes along much like the morning. You will then come home and think about your evening meal, or you will go out for a meal. You may have a few drinks and feel drunk. You will come home and fall into bed, have sex possibly and fall asleep, safe in the knowledge that everything is ok. There will be times when you have to do the household chores like washing or food shopping or cleaning, but you can at least choose when you carry them out, to balance your life between the fun and the mundane. It is a very uncomplicated existence, with all events centred on you. Good or bad, you only have to concern yourself with you.

Now, looking at all the events in a single day, imagine that before you do any of them, you have to make sure that your baby is ok first. And by ‘any’ event I actually mean, ‘all’. Everything you do now has a pre-fix; a small mantra if you will – is he ok? And that is the easiest consideration. Depending on the answer it will then open up a myriad of sub-answers that all have to be cross referenced. In essence then, you can’t go to the toilet; dress; have a shower; make a cup of coffee; make a sandwich; go to the shop; sleep; watch TV; in fact you can’t do anything without firstly making sure your baby is ok. You may just want to re-read that again so it sinks in. By the way, “Is he OK” later changes to, “Is he still OK”, but more on that in the future… you are not ready for that yet.

The funny thing is that on paper the situation is a simple one: you have a baby that needs feeding and then cleaning. How hard can that be? The answer is… really, really hard, but day by day it does get easier. I don’t know whether it becomes less hard because you get better at it, or you worry less as the weeks roll on, or whether the baby actually gets better so you don’t have to work so hard. I just know this, the first few weeks as a father, I was a basket case. As prepared as I thought I was, I was not. I don’t know if anything prepares you for it, or whether it is something you have to work through and endure. But read the next instalment for the gory details.

The Birth

This is how it went…

You approach the impending due date as if it is something set in stone. It is a big sign-post given to you by professionals and you trust that it is there for a good reason. You are also told that boys and first-timers are always late. Therefore on the Monday of the week in which the due date is the forthcoming Saturday, you do not expect anything to be happening.
So on the Monday morning as I am getting ready for work, Willy says that she has had a ‘leakage’ in the night. Not a massive amount and it had stopped, so she thought little of it. I said that I would go to work and that she would phone the maternity department and get back to me if we needed to go in. We were both very calm, believing the action wouldn’t start for another 5 days at least.
I drove to work and Willy got in touch later saying the hospital had just advised her to ‘keep an eye on things’. Nothing else really happened during the rest of that day.

During the early hours of the Tuesday, Willy was awakened again, this time with muscle spasms. She had thought that she was experiencing these during the evening of Monday, but as she had never had contractions before, thought that these spasms couldn’t be them. However, as I awoke on the Tuesday morning, she was pretty sure the contractions had started. I got my trusty Contraction Timer app on my iPhone and started counting… 7 or 8 minutes apart. We had been told that unless the contractions are at least 5 minutes apart you would probably not be admitted to a birthing room, so we sat it out. Willy attached her tens machine and applied the boost button every time the contraction reached its height. She seemed totally calm and in control. She later told me she was in total denial.

Within an hour the contractions were about 6 minutes apart. I say ‘about’, as Willy was telling me when she started to feel them and when they ended; sometimes the timing was a little out – at times 6, at others 5: once it may have been 4. When Willy became more and more uncomfortable and The Wright Show was not enough of a distraction, I suggested her getting into a warm bath (this was something I had remembered from ante-natal classes as a good alternative pain relief), and this she did. However, no sooner had she lowered herself into the warm water, she became fully aware that she was fully in labour and it was time to go. It was at this point that she began to look worried: really worried, as if we were not going to get to the hospital in time. Labour really seemed to go from nothing to go,go,go in a very short time,

As you would expect when you are in a rush when driving, every obstacle in the world is set before you. Traffic lights turn red; pedestrians step out and cross the road slowly before you; lorries and cars drive at 23 miles per hour in front of you. The journey to the hospital seemed endless and with Willy gripping onto her seat for dear life, I thought we would never make it. Luckily we arrived still intact as two people and I was able to park in a temporary parking space by the entrance. We carefully walked into the hospital, up the lift, through security and onto triage. Then things really started to escalate.

The reception for triage is at the end of a long corridor. I begin walking to the glass hatch to sign ourselves in and am aware that I am on my own. I stop and turn around to see half way back up the corridor; Willy is leaning against the wall, her eyes imploring: ‘Wait! I can’t go any further’. Luckily a nurse emerges from their reception and we are ushered into a room, where Willy can rest. The time now is approximately 11:00 in the morning.

In this first room Willy is examined and it is confirmed that she is 5cm dilated. We are amazed and thrilled in equal measure, knowing she is half way there and her only pain relief over that time had been a tens machine. The mid-wife offers Willy some additional pain relief now that the contractions are getting closer together and more difficult to bear: gas and air is accepted and after an initial moment of extreme dizziness, Willy is satisfied and uses nothing else for the remainder of her labour.
We are then advised we have to move to a birthing room and can Willy walk there. She is in no fit state to walk, so is wheeled down the long corridor, down another long corridor into our room. She is plugged back into the gas and air line and is asked whether she wants to lie on the bed, sit on a ball, or rest on a birthing mat. Willy asks if she can just stay in the wheelchair. She is probably joking, but the mid-wife says calmly that this is not possible. We had hoped for a birthing pool and this was on our ‘Birth Plan’, but as it had just been used and had to be cleaned, it was not an option. In hindsight, Willy could not have climbed into the birthing pool anyway at this stage, so far gone was she.

And this is what I mean when I say birth is a rollercoaster. You can plan all you want, but on the day, it happens despite any well-laid plans… and it can happen quickly. I think we had foreseen labour as hours of waiting in the hospital, utilising our relaxation techniques to bring on the contractions, playing music, phoning our families, however, nothing on earth was stopping our Theo from coming out that day and all we could do was go with it and help him out.

This Willy did with absolute dignity and poise. It is not the most graceful situations for a woman to find herself in, nor is the actual physical position; however, my heart was so full of pride as she brought our son into the world with hardly a bad word and almost no complaints. I had pictured her directing all her pain and discomfort at me in the form of expletives and physical punches (not that this is her usual nature), as this is the image that is presented to us by the media and the mythical stories of friends: this, we are told, is how women act during labour. But no, Willy, using only gas and air throughout, did no more than shout into her pain relieving gas and air mouthpiece and grab my hand; only occasionally leaving her fingerprints and nail prints embedded into my skin – a very small price for me to pay.

Our mid-wife was supportive and calming throughout, and we both are full of appreciation and gratitude she was the one who was there for the start of our family. Luckily she didn’t need to interfere too much as Willy and Theo were doing everything that was necessary themselves, but her calming commentary on how he was progressing through the birth canal was reassuring for us both. When she said his head had become visible I knew we were close to his birth and that Willy’s pain was almost at an end. She had done such an admirable job so far that nothing was to stop this happening soon.

And there it is… at 13:20 on 4 September 2012, with one loud and blood-curdling cry from Willy, our Theo joined the world. He was passed to Willy momentarily before being checked over by the mid-wife and then as he was a little blue, she advised for the cord to be cut so he could be seen to. This I did after checking Willy did not want to do it herself. Theo was then taken to the warming lightbulb and wrapped up before being placed back in his mother’s arms.

This was the second big issue from our ante-natal classes that caused Willy weeks of guilt – the ‘skin to skin’ beneficial start for the baby. This is when naked baby and mother are together immediately after birth and essential anti-bodies flood from one to the other. It is also a time they say when the baby may route for food and breast feed. This may happen in a perfect world, but it is not our experience and because it did not work out as we had wanted, there was a time when we felt let down… we then felt cheated by the ante-natal classes as almost setting us up for a fall. Many mixed emotions after, but at the time it was just joy. Admittedly I also felt a huge relief, firstly that Willy was okay and also that Theo had all the bits he should have and looked to be in perfect health.

Due to Willy having a slight tear, the mid-wife confirmed that she would need to be stitched immediately. Therefore, the mother and baby bond had to be broken for a while so that Willy could be seen to. This was good for me as I was able to hold my boy for the first time and stare into his beautiful eyes. I admit I was torn though, as I wanted desperately to be with Willy while she went through the ordeal of having stitches – I began to realise then that before Theo, me and Willy were there for each other, now Theo was always going to be first before we would consider ourselves.

Again at this point another part of our birth plan did not come to pass. Due to the situation it was necessary for the afterbirth to be artificially induced with an injection. Willy had wanted the placenta to come out naturally; when asked and advised what needed to be done, Willy agreed and what seemed like just moments later, and with a lot of bloody discharge, there was the placenta. I never imagined it was so big.

So having just gone through the agonizing pain of childbirth, it was almost a double blow for Willy, as she was up in stirrups being sewn and not able to be with her baby, and me, who had done nothing really, was enjoying the early moments with our son. Luckily, there will be plenty of time for us all to enjoy as we all grow together.

And I will leave it there for now, but just add this before the next chapter… I had considered that the most stressful, painful and troublesome of times would be the birth. I believed therefore that only easier times were ahead and we had got through the worst; I was so wrong. But what is odd is that nothing bad happened after, it was just a case of believing we were prepared for parenthood and being very, very wrong.

Physio, ante-natal classes and the final months

So, let us go back in time. Let us for the moment forget that my boy is 6 weeks old now, and return to the days when he was still a bump; receiving the constant care and attention of life inside the womb.

I left you on the last entry with Willy having her referral for physio. At the time, we thought her Pelvic Girdle Pain would be cured after a few visits, in stead she was treated like a number, not an individual. She was told by the lady treating her that she seemed to be at full term and must be having a massive baby (this was something Willy had worried about and didn’t need some unqualified and uncouth person spouting nonsense). Needless to say Willy came home in floods of tears and returned only one more time to attend an aqua exercise class, which was not completely suitable for her condition and as it was a group class, she had no opportunity to get the specific help she needed. Again the physiotherapist made out it was Willy’s fault for not asking for individual help during the session. Believing the care given at the local hospital was never going to help; Willy did not return and sought private help. A local osteopath ended up being the answer and after a few sessions, the pain was eased; but never completely disappeared until after the birth.

At around this time, we began our ante-natal classes at a local children’s centre. Six Saturday mornings full of all the information you could need about how the birth would happen.

Now then… if you had asked me before the birth how good these courses were, I would have been overflowing with praise. Having been through the birth, my opinion is totally different. The thing is, the course gives you a lot of information and that is brilliant – it also shows you how to be empowered during the birth – it also gives you calming and relaxing techniques for the time after the contractions have started… this information you are sure will help you during the birth. For the most part it doesn’t – nothing prepares you for birth: it is like a rollercoaster, grab on and hold on as tight as you can.

There are also things raised during the courses (like ‘skin to skin’ and breastfeeding) that are shown to you as the best start for the baby and almost saying that without them, it would be detrimental to the baby’s start in life. If these things work out, then everyone is happy; however, when they don’t, the weight of guilt the woman feels is almost unbearable. More on this later.

I must say that all the trainers were extremely helpful and well informed. They were all enthusiastic and we finished the course thinking we would be excellent during the birth: this we were, however, I am not convinced now that if we hadn’t completed the course, would we have done it any differently… I think not. The birth happened and went really well, but all the things we had planned, did not happen. It is certain though, that we were glad to have been at least fully informed, and although I would not advise against doing the ante-natal classes, I would always advise anyone taking them to know that they preach the ‘perfect birth’, and this is never available: you just do the best you can on the day.

4th September 2012

I will have to delay this blog’s next sequential entry for the next few weeks, as my son was born on 4th September.  I have little, or no time at the moment, but will fill in on the last few months of the pregnancy and the actual birth soon.  Followed by these first few weeks with a new born.  It is what they say; a blur of emotions and exhausting. Stick around for the next instalment please.

Pain and the Second Scan

And now begins the period in the pregnancy when the experience felt by the man and the woman starts to diverge, dramatically.  At first the excitement and stress is almost equal for the two parties as they consider their futures.  But soon, the real physical changes begins for one, whereas the other remains unaltered.  As the little life inside the woman grows little by little, aches and pains follow with alarming progress.  Slight twinges develop into almost disabling agony.  Walking becomes more than an uncomfortable, standing is only possible for short periods and sleeping, which was once so peaceful, is now a matter of turning from one aching side to the other.  Obviously this is different for every woman, but Willy soon came to feel pain in her back and groin that could not be passed off as just acceptable pregnancy discomfort.  And it was pain that was not going away or easing.

Before making an appointment with our GP, Willy searched the internet for some comfort in shared experience.  She found information about a condition called ‘Pelvic Girdle Pain’.  It is described in terms of the pelvic girdle not being balanced or effectively allowing movement of the legs without excess strain at the pubic symphysis joint, which could shear or separate, causing pain.  Willy also noted that the web was full of horror stories about the condition being ignored by most doctors as just a symptom of pregnancy and something that will get better after the baby is born (not encouraging when you have four months more of searing pain in front of you), or worse , evidence that some women have ended up on crutches.  With this in mind Willy visits the GP hoping for a physio referral.  What follows is a indication of how poor some of the services offered by our NHS are.  Now before I get a million comments saying this is an unfair criticism, just remember that this is our experience, and not necessarily the experience of everyone.

The 1st GP’s response was one of taking painkillers; the 2nd GP was an attitude of ‘pull yourself together, you are pregnant, it will be painful at times’; the first mid-wife was yes you can be referred for physio, but the hospital will not allow referrals until you are further into your pregnancy, so just suffer for another six or eight weeks.

Within these weeks, we had our 2nd scan and this is the day we learned if we were having a little Hazel or a little Theo.  I remember having conflicting thoughts on whether I really had a preference:  I didn’t, but I did have reasons in place for being happy whatever the outcome.  I did want Willy to have a girl, so her grandmother’s name could live on and so Willy could share a similar strong relationship she has with her own mum.  I also selfishly thought that Willy would then have a greater responsibility in the future for those sensitive conversations, that would have been very difficult for me to have.  I also wanted a mini-me; a boy who I could share my love of guitars, Star Wars, motorbikes and post-modern art.  There was also a small part of me that thought that ‘men’ have boys, so to have a son was a sign of maximum virility.  I later learned that this is nonsense, but it kept me amused for a while thinking it true.

And so it was that on the day we learned our fate and welcomed this new identifiable life into the family, I had to deal with a massive loss to our existing family.  Before making the journey to the hospital I spoke to my dad and found out that my sister’s husband had died during the night.  He had made a brave fight against cancer that lasted many months more than he was originally given, and he was and remains an example to all in how to fight that terrible disease with good humour and dignity.  He is sadly missed.  With heavy hearts we travelled to the hospital, the excitement and nervousness of the scan, mixing with intense sadness of the loss of my brother-in-law.  He was on our minds the whole time.

The scan is a blur now, but everything was as it should be and we were treated to seeing out little baby sucking his thumb (a rare sight apparently).  All the tests were fine and he was shown to be doing very well (as was Willy).  Ah yes, I just gave it away didn’t I…?  The sex of the baby was shown very clearly in an image of the space between his legs:  unmistakeable.  A little boy.  Our little Theo – the bump finally had a name.  We had been calling it Thozel (our two chosen names mixed together), but now we knew it was Theo and the little man’s character began to form.  It is very odd that when an entity has a name it becomes more real than when it was just a nameless life:  maybe this is a part of the human condition, and why names are so important to our sense of self.  From that day, we had our own little The-man – Master of Our Universe.  It is interesting that at the point I knew we had a boy, that there was an image in my mind of little Hazel disappearing into nothingness and little Theo becoming clear.  It almost felt like losing a daughter in the millisecond of gaining a son.

Still dazed from the overflowing emotions and the sense of loss and gain, we arrived home and I phoned my dad again to let them know our news and check that my sister was coping.  I guess in some ways our beacon of light was some distraction that day from the grief felt by all:  the way that new life brings hope when hope seems evasive.  Through sobs and tears I let dad know he has a grandson on the way and that we have named him after his own grandad: Theodore.  I heard my mum and sister in the room behind dad express their approval and I later put down the phone exhausted.

So, remember then that during this time Willy is still experiencing massive groin and back pain and we had been counting the days until we can get a referral?  Well the day finally came for one of the mid-wife appointments, and this was at a time when the referral could be given.  The mid-wife happened to be different from our usual one, and when asked about a referral replied in the affirmative.  Willy explained that she had been in pain for weeks and the mid-wife asked why it hadn’t been dealt with before as she refers her ladies for physio as soon as it is needed!  And this is our experience:  ask one person, get one answer; ask another get a totally different answer, sometimes diametrically opposite.  And so the referral was given.

It turns out not to be absolute solution to Willy’s aches and pains, but at that point she was relieved that some help was being sought.  On that day, despite the frustration of not being referred earlier, it was enough.

Building a Nest

The first couple of months of pregnancy are a strange time.  For the woman there is a whole host of almost imperceptible changes occurring in her body and clearly she is preparing herself for the time ahead:  for the time when everything is bigger and everything is more difficult to do.  For the man, it is a real state of limbo; a time when you are really surplus to requirements.  It is at this point therefore, that as a man, you start thinking of what needs to be done, as a way of feeling necessary.

It is with this in mind that I become focussed on practical issues… practical; technical; manly things.  Things that I can investigate and study, compare and make judgements on.  Things that I can feel important about.  I am talking about cars.

My issue being that we were a two car family, and we each had 3 door hatchbacks:  cars not suited to the daily task of baby car seats and the constant in and out of a small sleeping person.  Although it is doable, it is easier with 5 doors.

So I went in search of a car that would suit both me and Willy; that had to have 5 doors and a decent boot, and had ISOFIX fixings.  It also had to cost no more than both our cars as part exchange.

I can’t tell you how having this project made me feel:  looking at cars with a mature outlook, instead of purely on looks; looking at safety rather than acceleration; checking miles per gallon rather than top speed…  it made me feel like my own dad; it made me feel I had responsibility – it made me feel that I had to consider others before myself.  I started to feel like a grown up.

I checked a number of different garages and models and checked with Willy about whether she would be comfortable driving certain models.  After looking at a handful and test driving a few, the decision was made.  And on a snowy Sunday in February, we said a sorrowful farewell to our own cars and came home with one car:  Our car.  The family car.

It was interesting to remember our feelings at this stage because this was the thin end of a wedge of future changes.  I recall thinking that this small change was nothing compared to what would happen in 7 months time, and the fact that we were dealing with it so easily was extremely reassuring for the real upheaval to follow.

With the transport sorted out, the next big job was changing the spare room into a nursery.  This may sound like an easy transition, however, the room was being used at the time as a music studio.  I had all my musical equipment in there and initially imagined that this would be relegated to the dark attic.  After discussions with Willy, it was decided that a corner of our own bedroom would be set aside for a mini-studio for me.  This meant compressing all that I had into a space a quarter of its original size:  another project to keep me occupied.

The first thing to do was sort our own bedroom out and within a fortnight me and Willy decorated and moved the room around to free up the corner that would be my studio.  It remained ready like this for a few weeks because I knew that to fit in all that I wanted, I would need to install a couple of big shelves.  Not being particularly gifted in DIY, the thought of undertaking the job was more frightening than actually doing it.  Plus, I needed to buy wood and before that, I needed to measure and plan out the structure of the shelves.  I guess what was holding me back was the idea of the physical change of my world:  very selfish I know, and although I was happy to do it, unconsciously I was probably delaying the actual move because it was a symbol of an era ending.

The weekend finally came when I got myself together and sawed, drilled, hammered, screwed and then stood back to admire a fine set of strong shelves. In addition, I also put up the spare TV on a wall bracket and wired the cable for the aerial.  Months later, everything is still solid on that wall, so I can now say that I did a good job.

This demonstration of my DIY skills was followed by moving my musical equipment into place and storing away things that were not in constant use.  Somehow I managed to do it and am still able to record my music with very little inconvenience.

With the spare room now reduced to just a chest of drawers and a small settee, we started decorating what would be our baby’s room.  As Willy was still in the early stages of pregnancy this was not too much of a chore for us, but it was clear during the painting that Willy was beginning to suffer from what we would learn to be Pelvic Girdle Pain.

More on that next week.