The decision to both reduce our full-time jobs to half-time each received mixed reactions. My boss was angry because he knew my lost hours would not be replaced, and my partner’s colleagues were bemused, although after maternity leave it was not uncommon for women to return part-time in her job as a senior lecturer in nursing. But a man giving up full-time work to share the care of his baby equally? That was still different even in 1993. So began our adventure into what was then a relatively unusual parenting arrangement. But I had not bargained on such a dramatic start.
A few weeks before Isobel’s expected delivery date she had complained of back pain. The GP and midwives took urine samples which were all clear and after examination they all put these pains down to normal pregnancy. Except they got worse and Isobel was writhing in pain and jumping in agony. Instinct told me this was not right so the maternity home agreed to admit Isobel early. Again conventional tests found nothing even though I could feel one side of her back was very hot compared to the other. The doctor on duty insisted on discharge but I more insisted on the consultant being called. He duly arrived about 8pm dressed in his dinner jacket obviously at a posh function. He was sceptical but with me becoming more assertive he agreed to keep Isobel in for the week-end and requested a renal scan after I pointed out the heat discrepancy. Part of the pain relief the nurses agreed to give Isobel was via a suppository and it seems that this started things moving because the next morning events moved quickly.
When I received the phone call from the maternity hospital on the Friday morning, I was just about to set off for work. The relatively casual suggestion that I ‘might want to pop along to the hospital’ belied what I was about to experience. The baby was coming early if indeed that was what was happening. I was given no information so I rang work and told them I would not be in today and to cancel my appointments. When I arrived there was already a palpable sense of urgency with a mild undertow of panic.
At the time and for long after what happened, the next hour passed in a blur. I had learned to translate medical euphemisms but as my anxiety began to increase my ability to make sense of what they said was decreasing. Surgery, Theatre, Baby’s heart rate….Surgeon named Al Halaq (a Muslim friend later told me his name means Butcher in Arabic) he was very direct and talked about risk, speed and what a caesarean meant. Ante-natal class had prepared us for this possibility so I looked down at my pre-packed bag of treats, water, juices, ice cubes, etc.. in anticipation of a long labour and realised that this was going to be anything but.