People travel to all ends of the Earth searching for new sights and experiences. Not in my life have I ever witnessed anything like this before, though. It was quite an extraordinary sight to see the squished face of a baby literally stuck between my wife’s legs. ‘He’ (as he later turned out to be a girl) was not breathing yet his whole face was out in the open. At this point the umbilical cord was still delivering all of the nutrients and oxygen that the baby needed to survive yet I was petrified that he wasn’t able to breathe!
I remember the smell, an almost raw, animal like smell of the baby, the amniotic fluid and all the other bits and pieces. Not offensive at all, just raw and earthy.
At the immediate point, though, the baby’s face is vertical so that the fluid can drain out of the airways. But at this unbelievable and very abstract juncture, my wife started to ever so slightly freak out. And understandably so. She had a baby half in and half out of her. Weird way to be. In fact, it was the one time in the whole process she kind of lost it for a second. It must be a weird sensation yet motivating to get the job completely done... ASAP. I suppose that has two forms: one, this baby is almost here, the miracle is almost complete, and two, this is freakin’ weird. Get it out! Get it out!
What struck me about the whole process is that a woman’s body and the baby just seem to know how to be born. It’s actually quite a complicated series of twists and turns that ultimately grant your baby freedom, an escape only possible through a horrible maze that might face Indiana Jones in an ancient Aztec silver mine, yet everything just seems to happen instinctively. With modern technology and whizz-bang hospitals we have gotten so far away from nature that the quintessential act of nature—birth—seems odd. As I looked around the delivery room with all the strangers buzzing about I thought about the videos of home births I’d seen and couldn’t help but think what a more peaceful experience that could be (assuming everything went well!).
The last piece of the puzzle is the shoulder. Once the baby wriggles its leading shoulder into position, your bachelor days really are in jeopardy. You’ve got a few seconds left. Despite repeated attempts, the ‘denial button’ no longer works. Even with the head and shoulder protruding you’re still unaware of the baby’s gender. The anticipation becomes almost unbearable and your mind races and your eyeballs start to sweat.
I was shocked at the speed with which she almost literally shot out onto the hospital table, like a ping pong ball in a Bangkok bar.
In one of the most surprising, miraculous, speedy, memorable moments of your life; you witness a little person emerge from the vagina of a big one. It seems stupid in the cold light of day to describe that, but it is a seriously unusual sight. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before or since.
Once the vital head and shoulder combo was out the way I was shocked at the speed with which she almost literally shot out onto the hospital table, like a ping pong ball in a Bangkok bar.
As the baby exits her lungs are compressed, forcing out the liquid that was in there and thereby creating a vacuum. This vacuum forces the baby to take a big breath in, kickstarting the rhythm of life as we know it, a rhythm that I hope lasts for one hundred years or so. It’s that same rhythm that you and I have been clinging to so far. It’s a genuine miracle how it all just happens as it’s supposed to.
I didn’t expect her to be so purple ... as purple as Jeff the Wiggle’s skivvy. Purple, covered in a creamy white substance, blood and a surprising amount of hair—I’ll say it: UGLY at first glance! You wouldn’t be the first bloke to take the midwife aside and say, ‘Hey, it’s OK, you can tell me, what’s the matter with him?’ If it’s a boy, he may have super gargantuan nuts (yes, you want him to have a penis like a baby arm holding an apple but nuts the size of ping pong balls at birth are something quite unexpected!). Then there’s the head. When a baby is born its skull is soft so it can contort in the necessary shape to get out.
If you ever wondered where the idea for the movie Coneheads came from, wonder no more. I’m reassured all the bits on him or her will settle down, as will the cone head, purple flesh, pink spots, white heads and yellow skin. Yep, there’s no doubt that your bun fresh from the oven isn’t pretty, but I guarantee it will be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen!
But here she was. The breathing gave way to a scream. I guess it’s no wonder that babies cry: I’m sure it is a frightening journey that ends with light and noise and cold, but at least Mum and Dad are there and hopefully always will be. Then there’s a big set of boobs to latch on to so they soon work out that life ex womb ain’t all that bad!
Matilda let out her scream, and the entire weight of the world came off my shoulders. I mean all of it. In the closing scenes of Being Dad you can see me visibly rejoice, stumble and gush all over this moment. All of the worry was gone. The baby was here and fine and my wife was the MOST AMAZING person in the entire world. I’d have anointed her captain of the Australian cricket team, prime minister and world chancellor had those powers been available to me. Life had never been better and we, together, had completed one of the world’s biggest transformations. A steely new resolve washed over me and I literally felt a new wave of pride and protector wash over me. In that instant I understood what it means to be a parent.
It’s time to man up and admit to two things that I have previously denied.
Firstly, with about an hour to go till the pushing started and Stacey asleep, I was overwhelmed with nerves and a racing mind as to what was in store. I think it is too easy to blame the tiredness, because I had a creeping worry that had been lurking in the back of my head for weeks. The whole process of birth seemed frighteningly uncontrolled. Anything could happen, and all I could do was watch.
I suppose my biggest, barely-thought-through fears were:
1. Stacey would die.
2. The baby would be die.
3. The baby would be born with some disability or severe abnormality.
4. There would be some horrifying panicky moment where the baby had the cord wrapped around its neck.
I’m not a religious person, but in the quiet few minutes in the darkened hospital delivery room, with my missus asleep and my baby on the wrong side of the ‘great divide’, I went downstairs to the hospital prayer room and prayed. I prayed the clumsy prayer of a deathbed repenter and was really looking for the protection of my little family.
I think, in hindsight, my (apparently very common) desperation reveals much about the first-time father. He has to do something. It’s also interesting to note when it happened:
I hit my most thoughtful and most desperate when all was completely serene. When there is nothing physical that can be done, the nervous male has to do something to help.
And I felt like I had done something. I certainly felt better and more centred. Whether it’s a walk around the hospital garden or a brief moment in a prayer room, I seriously recommend a quiet moment to yourself if you can find one.
Something that helped me out as well was a visitors’ book sitting in the prayer room. It held the ramblings and prayers of people who had done the exact same thing as me. Some were looking for help before a major operation, others for the speedy recovery of a loved one, others were blokes expecting the birth of their first baby. Reading the stories of bravery and courage in the visitors’ book really helped me to centre myself.
My second oft-denied secret was that I cried. Shortly after the birth I moved just out of camera shot and lost it. To this day, I’m not sure why I reacted like that. Not everyone does and it’s not right or wrong, but it happened to me and it happens to the vast majority of first-time dads. I’m not talking about your sweaty eyeball, mini sob and quick wipe with a Kleenex moment. I’m talking a flat-out blubbering, snotty-nosed, chestheaving mess. It’s the shock at being a dad, overwhelming relief that your wife and baby are safe, that you’ve made it through the day, and just a general emotional volcano. To be quite honest, I’ve become a more emotional person since that day. I want to cry when I see sick kids, can’t bear ads for the RSPCA.
I don’t think I’ve ever had as much respect for another person as I did for my wife at that moment. No matter what happens to us, our relationship or the future, I will not ever forget that: what she did or how she was on that day.
Despite all the pain, fear and uncertainty during birth, when the baby comes out it’s as if your wife never felt a thing. I don’t know whether it’s adrenaline, relief of some other physiological occurrence, but holding her baby was like the world’s greatest pain reliever.
Despite all that was going on and all that had happened, amazingly our baby started breastfeeding, everyone settled in and it became time to pass the news to the family and friends who had congregated outside. And there’s not anything much more fun than that.
Edited extract taken from Being Dad by Sam Holt and Troy Jones. Published by Allen & Unwin, August 2010. RRP $27.99.