Seven years ago today, my first-born, my eldest daughter was born.
After what seemed like an endless wait – which no doubt seemed even longer for my wife – and a confusing, mucky and exhausting time of labour, (ditto times several thousand for my wife), our little precious bundle was born.
It’s called an NRU, or Neonatal Resuscitation Unit, and I distinctly remember thinking two things about it:
1) Thank goodness such machines exist, and that the hospital has enough that there was one in the room, and
2) Please don’t let us need one of those!
After the usual chaotic symmetry, bizarre humour and apparently choreographed mystery that is mammalian child birth had taken place, I looked down at my daughter with shock.
I’m slightly colour-blind, but even I could tell that the grey colour of her skin was not as things should be. If I hadn’t noticed that, the complete lack of movement and spine-shuddering limpness of her body would have told me all I needed to know…
The midwifery team were excellent. With out apparent alarm, or any kind of movement that would have alerted my wife to the issue at hand, or panicked me further, they swiftly carried the unresponsive body of my daughter to the NRU, which was instantly a sea of medical staff working efficiently to bring my daughter (back) to life.
I felt as useless as a useless thing.
It is a well-noted fact that there is pretty much nothing as much a spare-part as a male partner in a birthing room: We know nothing, nothing of the female genitalia at times like these; We have no comprehension of the physical and other gymnastics our partner is going through, only that is is somehow our fault; The midwives view us – in a kindly and completely understandable way – as some kind of thankfully malleable and moveable item of furniture that has inexplicably been brought into the labour room by the mother-to-be; Our partner has finally realised that she never, ever, wants us to go anywhere near her again.
Although our right hands do offer a brief opportunity to see if the delivery hormones really do increase her strength enough to break human bone. The answer is: not quite, but there can be some impressive bruising.
But I knew my role. I was to stay enough out of the way while the messiness went on; say encouraging words like “you can do it” gently and often, (mostly, it seems to give your partner opportunity to deny this/shout obscenity back at you as often); and then to be the one who proudly wipes the sweaty hair off my wife as she holds our child for the first time.
Which didn’t happen to us.
The next few hours were blurry, tearful and strangely disconnected from anything else. Our daughter had contracted a Group B Strep infection in utero. She was revived, thankfully, quickly and taken off to the Special Care Baby Unit in the hospital, where she remained for almost 2 weeks.
Compared to most of the other babies in there – many of whom were born significantly earlier than they should have been – she was a giant; when she let out an indignant cry in response to the latest injection or test, I was glad she was around to cry.
My “Song Of The Day” * is “Wires” by Athlete; carefully chosen as it records a similar situation in the life of the songwriter (his nephew, I believe). But it has added resonance for me as it was also the song that came on as I started up the car for a long and lonely drive back to an empty house on that first night as a father. I was leaving my daughter in a plastic box, hooked up to wires. I was leaving my wife in another ward. I was meant to be happy, but i was exhausted, fearful and alone.
I turned the ignition off and wept like the proverbial baby.
My daughter fought it off – not all newborns do. To look at her now you’d have no idea, and the main legacy of it for us as a family was an increased awareness of the Group B Strep issues, and an occasional tendency to be over-protective of our children.
This song still brings tears to my eyes.
Happy Birthday precious.