After the birth of my first child, my son, I had been left feeling like I’d had no real role, like a spare part, and feeling guilty about not knowing how to support Steph through the birth… It was this experience which led to me founding DaddyNatal so other men got the support and information they needed to be the birth partner they wanted to be.
Several years down the road, this is the story of the birth of our third child, born at home, from my dad’s perspective.
Saturday 3rd August was the third day after our due date. Although we knew there was a good likelihood of going past this date, I wanted to try and keep everyone feeling happy and not focusing too heavily on dates. So we had planned lunch out (a treat for Steph) and then exploring a local maze (a treat for our kids!) A spanner was slightly thrown in the works by Steph announcing first thing that morning that she had just had a show… going by our previous children was the sign that things were about to happen, but with no other obvious twinges, we went on as planned.
We had a lovely day out, with no signs of anything happening until we started back home, when suddenly Steph was experiencing contractions and discomfort. The journey home was about 30 minutes and for Steph must have seemed like hours, as every bump or turn was very uncomfortable, and the “twinges” were more frequent and longer.
We got home around 6pm and instinct told me things were starting, so I busied myself giving the children their dinner and getting them to bed while Steph was resting on her birthing ball. Steph wasn’t feeling hungry at this point so decided we would sort ourselves out later (this was a mistake, and I should have known the fact she wasn’t hungry was a sign!!)
We started off in the living room watching some TV, I was massaging Steph’s back as she was feeling contractions there now, another sign things were progressing. The contractions were still coming irregularly but with a lengthening of their duration. Being ever prepared (not) I downloaded a contraction timing app at around 8.10pm to start to keep track on what the contractions were doing. I timed the first contraction at 8.19pm and although irregular, the contractions were anywhere between 30 seconds – 1 minute long and 2 – 5 minutes apart.
At 8.49pm, I went in to the dining room which we had transformed into our birth room, and just did the final checks to make sure it was ready, taking the cover off the pool and checking the temperature of the water,lighting the candles, and just making sure all the little things we had prepared to set the environment for labour were in place. This setting up and then maintaining the environment to keep it conducive to birthing is a key part of dads role as protector which I emphasis heavily in DaddyNatal.
I do remember being surprised at how calm I felt. Although the home water birth had been our choice from the start, until the moment is upon you I don’t think you can ever be totally certain how you will feel. I think, as men the comfort we get from knowing that the medical profession are near to hand cannot be underestimated. This time around though I felt calm and confident, confident in my abilities as birth partner and Steph’s abilities to give birth.
Contractions now were running at between 35 – 50 seconds but now between 2 – 3 minutes apart, there was no doubt this was it and at some point in the near future our son would be joining us. At 9.40pm, Steph moved into the birth room and wanted to rest on the bean bags. We tried to get her comfortable on them, which was near impossible due to the pain in her pelvis which she had suffered with throughout the pregnancy. We just couldn’t find a position that was comfortable for her, so ended up settling her into a position which was not ideal but manageable. I was still timing the contractions, guessing when the started and ended, from the changes in her breathing and sounds, as she was very deeply concentrating now.
Steph decided it felt right to get into the pool around 10.20pm and I texted our community midwife Alison, just to say that things were definitely happening tonight and although we were not ready to call anybody to attend us at home yet, I just wanted to let her know. This was because we knew Alison was on call that weekend and if at all possible we wanted her as our main midwife for the birth – Steph and I had a good relationship with her from our antenatal appointments and the opportunity to have her at our birth was fantastic – providing a birth environment with supporters who were not strangers but people Steph knew and trusted.
From 11pm, contractions were now running at over 50 seconds and down to 1 – 2 minutes a part, Steph was amazing and was just breathing her way through them, with some grunts and groans ( I’m sure she thinks she was a lot louder than she actually was). At around 11.23pm. I suggested to Steph it was time to call in to the delivery suite and she agreed. The phone call itself took me completely by surprise as it is very normal that once you have rung through the midwives really have no interest in talking to us dads, they will patiently listen to us and then ask to talk to mum. This is what I was ready for and yet it didn’t happen, I gave our details confirmed our address and midwife, the midwife confirmed Alison was on call and would ring her and that was that.
At 11.55pm, Alison arrived. All I heard was a very gentle tapping on the front door, and I think that from that little thing I knew she was the right midwife for this birth, and everything was going to be just fine. On letting Alison in I gave her our Birth Preferences to read – another key part of the dad’s role that I teach in DaddyNatal is about being an advocate and making sure that the professionals supporting the birth understand the birth preferences. While she read through what we had requested, I returned to Steph.
At about this point Steph did tell me off for not being encouraging enough! (See, no one is perfect!) I realised that I really had been very comfortably sitting there in silence just listening to Steph’s progress and trusting completely in her and our decisions. I still said very little but made sure that my presence was felt though, gently stroking or holding Steph’s arm, sitting there head to head or stroking her hair.
Alison was brilliant and as per our birth plan, basically just left us to get on with things and was happy to stay in the hallway listening to the progress. She came in a couple of times and asked if it was ok to listen to babies heartbeat and also checked Steph’s pulse. It was all done very respectfully and with as little intrusion as possible. I was passing Steph drinks now between contractions to keep her hydrated, another dad-essential role!
Our room was by now very dark, just lit by two candles and the faint light coming in from the hallway. A few times I used a torch to just quietly check the pool, but also to see if there was any sign of Steph developing a purple line of labour which is a good indicator of progress (we had been interested to see if Steph experienced this as a sign of dilation as she had requested no internal examinations, but turned out she is one of those women who also doesn’t get a purple line!)
The noises Steph was making during each contraction changed at around 12.20am and became much more guttural, as we sat Steph on all fours in the pool and me with my hands on her arms and head to head, contractions coming thick and fast. Then all of a sudden Steph made a noise which sounded like pain and then almost relief, and she told me her waters had broken. I turned on the torch to check the pool water and then went to tell Alison that the waters had broken, we both checked the water and I think both were relieved to see the water still very clear, no sign of meconium.
After the waters broke things stepped up a pace again, this was a pattern I was now very familiar with as the previous two labours had followed the same pattern. Steph’s noises again changed, still guttural but also seeming a little more determined. We were still very much head to head saying very little but just being close together. Still I had absolutely no concerns and nothing but total admiration for the way Steph was progressing, instinctively everything was just feeling right.
Suddenly Steph shouted “it hurts” and for the first time sounded a little upset and no wonder as at that point (about 1.06am) Brock’s head appeared. Alison had again realised something had happened and appeared in the room. There was an absolutely amazing moment as I shone the torch in the water to see Brock’s very white head there in front of us. I was in pure awe and as we watched, Brock started to slowly rotate ready to be born. Even Alison seemed to be quite awestruck but she didn’t leave the room, just quietly backed up into the background. There felt like a slight pause at this point, while his head was out, as Steph rested on the side of the pool. Suddenly, without warning she changed position and was kneeling in the pool and in blink of eye, and a quick grunt,he was born. Steph reached down to pick him up saying the immortal words “I’ve lost him.” For a split second and for the first time I felt momentary pang of fear and sensed Alison start to move, but then Steph started to lift Brock up. As he came out of the water we saw the cord was round his neck and so I gently slipped my fingers inside to unwind it and free him. Again I cannot believe how calm I felt as I removed the cord, and full appreciation to our midwife Alison for not jumping in and giving us the time to just sort things out ourselves.
Officially Brock was born at 1.08am on Sunday 4th August. After we had removed the cord from his neck we just sat there together with Steph holding Brock, basking in the afterglow of the birth. I cannot remember ever feeling so elated and yet so calm ever before in my life, I looked at Steph in total awe, she had been simply amazing. As much as I might like to think I was a great birth partner, it was something very special to see how Steph just very naturally and confidently birthed our son, it was her confidence in her own abilities and the way she handled labour which also allowed for me to feel so calm and confident. I still find myself thinking back to those few minutes of the birth and smiling and feeling calm.
Brock gave a very hearty cry once the cord had been unwrapped, and as he got skin-to-skin with Steph he quietened. When I did touch Brock I remember how slippery he felt, and then noticing that he had quite a coating of vernix, this surprised me as officially he was past due date (or was he?!). Finally Alison asked us gently if we wanted to wait longer or did we want to cut the cord. He had been born 8 minutes before Alison asked the question and we were happy for cord to now be clamped and once again I had the privilege of cutting my child’s cord.
Brock’s birth had been an awesome experience, and a million miles away from how I had felt during the birth of my first son. During that first birth I had felt like I didn’t do much because I didn’t know what I could do, this time I knew that it there was not much which needed to be done, other than to protect the birth space so Steph could do what was natural and instinctive. Funny how two different experiences of ‘not doing much’ can feel so different and have such a different impact on the birth experience for mum.