…………The baby was placed into one in the corner. I felt sick again as I quickly sensed this was a high intensity environment. Each incubator had a small baby inside with tubes poking into their tiny little bodies. Other devices attached to them monitored heart rate, blood flow, oxygen saturation. There were alarms going off and monitors with digital readouts and different coloured lights. Our baby was hooked up to a battery of monitors and an oxygen mask placed over her face. Another nurse explained that she needed warming up and I saw her adjust the temperature controls on the side of the incubator. Then she asked my permission to take blood samples which I agreed to although I winced when they stabbed her little foot with a needle. I noticed as they left her in the plastic incubator that her breathing was deep and erratic. I asked what was the matter and a nurse said she was irritable. I wondered about that word for weeks after. What does irritable mean? I associated it with an adult who was bothered by some external problem such as the weather or an item on the news. How could a baby be irritable, she was barely able to breathe let alone consider any troubling environmental problems. I said I wanted to hold the baby. The nurse looked at me but my expression must have convinced her not to argue. Instinct was driving me now as well as knowledge about the birth process and the need for a baby to have a sense of security. Especially a Caesarean who had not experienced the force of vaginal muscles pushing her out into the World. So I was handed the baby after I put on a sterile gown and washed my hands.
…Things were moving fast and soon in a room away from the operating theatre another nurse was ready to take charge of the baby. She quickly attempted to pass a naso-gastric tube down the baby’s mouth. More horror from me. How could they do this it looked barbaric. But the nurse explained that she would need this to take liquids and medicine if required and it had to be inserted now. But she was having difficulty and I could see the stress on her face as I watched like a hawk every move she made. After what seemed like ages she called another nurse over and this lady was a sister and very easily passed the tube down through her nose. She measured the length and explained that it had to be right in order for the infusions to reach her stomach properly. Once in place tape was applied next to the nose to ensure it stayed in place. Then we were off as the baby was placed inside a plastic box on wheels. We moved quickly through a corridor up a flight of stairs in a lift and then into what must have been a recovery ward and then brought up to where I could see Isobel laying. They wanted Isobel to see her but explained that she would have to go quickly to the Special Care Unit. I took the baby in my arms and held her up to Isobel’s face. She was barely conscious her eyes seemed out of focus. But she knew it was me and I said: Look Isobel we have a baby a baby girl!” Isobel smiled and later told me that on hearing the news we had a girl she felt her whole body warm through right to her toes. I explained we had to go the Special Care Unit and so we hurried along again into a lift and down to ground floor, along more corridors and into a large room with about six incubators.
..The midwife said: “Well there’s nothing wrong with her bowels,” as she revealed a big brown stain on the towel the baby had been placed. This was changed and the midwife started to rub the baby who I noticed had remained quite silent throughout her delivery. She was born a blue/grey colour and gradually began to turn pink, but very slowly. The midwife asked her to give her a big breath which I translated as meaning that she was not able to breathe properly. This triggered further panic and anxiety. Could I take any more anxiety? I felt like fainting as the midwife began to tickle the tiny child’s feet. It seemed such a sweet simple technique that for a moment I was relieved of the pulsating anxiety and intrigued to see this intervention. Then the midwife tool a length of tube attached to an instrument placed some of the tube in the baby’s mouth and I immediately heard a gentle sucking noise.
The midwife looked at me and explained that they had to ensure there was no fluid in her lungs. The surgeon had mentioned as he looked inside Isobels tummy that there was a lot of mercanium as if to confirm my information that Isobel had been in pain for weeks. I was later to discover that this was a sign of foetal distress but in addition that she had been affected by the raging infection on Isobel’s kidney. This was discovered when she eventually had the renal scan later. Meanwhile the midwife seemed happy and wrapped her firmly in a clean towel, placing a cotton hat on her head. I asked the midwife what sex the baby was? If anyone had said the minute she was born I did not hear. I remember staring at the clock as the operation began. It was 11.15 on Friday 29 January 1993. By 11.35 the baby was lifted out of her mother. So the midwife took pink plastic ID tags and carefully placed them around her wrist and ankle and said: “Look a girl, it’s pink for a girl.”
My sense of joy fought against the dread and anxiety that had overwhelmed me. Although we had never openly expressed a preference we both really wanted a girl so at last there was some light in this dreadfully dark experience. She started to explain what was happening and in my hyper-alert state I felt another wave of dread crash over me. “The baby is cold so we need to warm her up, she will go to the Special Care Baby Unit, please come with me.” I looked back at Isobel and remembered to ask them for her Placenta. Isobel had made this a specific request. The team looked at me and then each other and carried on. As we moved towards the exit I took a last glance at Isobel feeling such pity and horror at what had transpired. I felt hopeless to do anything or help her and now torn away to stay with the baby.
One of the nurses was unhappy when I asked to be present in Theatre. The surgeon was called over. ‘Have you seen open surgery before?’ Well…I’ve watched some on TV and although I am very squeamish I insisted I had to be there. He agreed and asked me to get dressed for Theatre. So wearing surgical shoes, gown and mask I entered a scene which immediately struck me as a kind of garage workshop. Lots of noise, metallic sounds as instruments were dropped into metal trays and shiny steel buckets. It seemed rather cluttered.
Bizarrely, a radio was playing Radio 1. Not long after when my daughter was cut from her mother’s body I noted the time and the song playing on the radio was Joe Jackson’s ‘It’s different for girls..’ But between then and when I was sat next to the Anaesthetist- a large man who exuded pure calm and professionalism, time really did seem to slow down. He explained what he was doing and asked whether my partner had eaten breakfast. The midwife had explained to my partner that she would be shaved prior to the anaesthetic which for some reason appalled me. Little did I know what was about to transpire.
The surgeon asked if everyone was happy? ‘Yes’. The female Registrar nodded, so did the female Midwife. A young man was scuttling about fetching instruments and sheets- the Theatre Nurse. The surgeon painted some brown liquid all over Isobel’s belly, he even tipped up the bowl and drained the last few drops onto her skin. ‘Waste not want not’ I thought. He said the word ‘knife’ I looked at the clock- 11.15 a.m. and my heart raced so fast I felt I was going to faint. The midwife on the ward had told me that the baby was ‘in distress’ and this was going to be an emergency operation. So to say I was in a state of pure anxiety doesn’t come close to describing my feelings as the surgeon pressed his thumb and drew what seemed like a crescent shape- except it quickly turned red and at which point I closed my eyes and prayed to a God I did not actually believe in.
In the next 10 minutes the team were very focussed, words I did not understand, a kind of shorthand code I could not decipher. But I saw with my own eyes what they were doing and my heart rate increased I could hardly breathe. Isobel had been in pain weeks before and all tests failed to explain why, so it was put down to ‘normal backache prior to labour’. They were later to make a gruesome discovery. The baby was ‘fully engaged’. I saw Mr Al Halaq and the Registrar looking concerned at each other. Then things got rather dramatic. A probe had been put onto the baby’s head to monitor something and I think I heard the surgeon say with more than a sense of urgency that they were going to have to proceed very quickly.
I thought my wife and baby were going to die in front of me. To say the next few minutes were the worst in my entire life is exactly right. I don’t even remember breathing, my head was swimming yet my eyes were locked onto the unfolding scene, praying more yet hating my hypocrisy at the same time. I remember the two surgeons pushing and shoving, then asking for forceps. It looked like mediaeval torture and I felt I was going to explode because I could not contain the emotions that were overwhelming me. It looked like they were hurting Isobel and the baby, time stood still and everything went into slow-motion. I could not hear clearly what was being said – I was in some other state of consciousness. The baby was lifted away, the cord was cut and the baby was very quickly handed to the midwife holding a towel who immediately placed her onto an angled tray. This was just the beginning of the drama which unfolded in the next 10 days and the subsequent 20 year odyssey which was to contain many surprises.
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.
These are the further adventures of a Man who became a Dad and who together with his wife and daughter embarked on a way of living which was not typical. As parents we decided we were going to raise our daughter equally, meaning we would both reduce working hours to half-time and each care for our daughter half the week each. Simple. 50/50 all the way. Well, maybe not so simple, because as a Man holding the baby half the week I found myself in a largely female world which was not used to male presence, and as a new Father I was not used to negotiating the culture and practicalities of being a new parent. What follows will be a series of events, anecdotes, laughs, sadnesses and quite tricky experiences and challenges I faced. How I managed and what I learned from those experiences, how it changed me and what I am still learning, I hope might be helpful to others.