Dad Chris Ryan learned you should always expect the unexpected when a child is born.
After seeing my wife deliver our first kid, I thought I was a bit of an expert when it came to childbirth. I was down with the lingo – from dilation and sweeps to inductions – and had cut an umbilical chord.
If you were generous, you could almost say I had delivered a baby. It would only take a few weeks doing an online course, and I could probably get a gig as a doula, helping hippies in Byron Bay give birth to bubs in their backyard pools.
If we had stopped at one child, that might still feel like an option (though a very bad one). But three years on we were back in the delivery ward and the experience couldn’t have been more different than the first time round.
I’ve realised I know SFA about bringing a baby into the world. Despite that, I reckon I have an even better sense of what a husband can do to help his wife during that momentous time.
Our first baby was two weeks overdue and had to be induced. I compared that birth to a heavyweight title fight. It dragged on for hours after oxytocin, a hormone, was given to my wife to bring on contractions.
This time my wife started having contractions two days before a scheduled induction. She called the midwife, who told her to hang around at home for a while.
The next day our toddler was shipped off with my parents and we waited for the big moment. I massaged pressure points that were meant to ease my wife’s pain and bring on the birth (I was sceptical but helpful).
We lay in bed and listened to meditation music, with the sounds of waterfalls and whale song. It was all very relaxing; I nodded off twice, and copped an elbow in the ribs when I started snoring.
I don’t know what my wife was feeling at that early stage – it’s impossible to judge another person’s suffering – but I made pancakes for lunch. I don’t believe pain can be too crippling if you wolf down half a dozen pancakes smothered in maple syrup.
At around 4pm, things did start to get intense (I was told). By 5.30pm we were rushing through the hospital foyer, ready for action.
In the delivery suite, my wife sucked back some happy gas to dull the waves of pain. She shouted, ‘”I can’t do this,” just as she had last time. Five minutes later, just like last time, the baby was out. It was only 7 o’clock and our happy and healthy baby daughter was born.
Compared to the first delivery it almost seemed too easy. This wasn’t so much a heavyweight title fight, as a charity boxing match between two out-of-shape footy players.
I found myself less in awe of my wife’s toughness, and more impressed by her no-nonsense delivery. I made a bigger racket when I waxed my chest hair on a dare – a mistake I’ll never repeat as long as I live. We didn’t know then that the real dramas lay ahead (for the birth, not my chest hair).
“Our baby lay in her bassinet at the edge of the room, oblivious to the commotion her birth had unleashed.”
We floated along the hospital corridor, pushing our baby in her bassinet to the post-natal ward. We chatted about names, stared at the baby, and I took an Instagram pic of the “Please do not store placentas in this fridge” sign in our room.
Come midnight, I clocked off – exhausted.
At 4am, I woke to find myself in the bathroom. I don’t know if I rushed there when my wife called my name, when she hit the emergency call button by the toilet, or when I heard staff coming in to help.
My wife had fainted and was on the floor. I helped hoist her into a wheelchair, then lift her back onto her bed so she could be examined.
Staff had raced into the room. There were obstetricians, an anaesthetist and nurses. You don’t have to be a fan of Grey’s Anatomy to know that’s not a great sign. Our baby lay in her bassinet at the edge of the room, oblivious to the commotion her birth had unleashed.
My wife had suffered a postpartum haemorrhage. It’s relatively uncommon, treatable, and very dramatic for someone who has no idea what is happening. While she was examined I held her hand and told her she was going to be okay. Together we focussed on her breathing, like we had practised in a birthing course over three years earlier.
As I helped push the bed through hospital corridors to an operating theatre, fluorescent lights flashing overhead, I told her I loved her and everything was going to be alright.
Then I went back to our darkened room to sit with our sleeping baby girl, and desperately hoped that it was true.
It’s an experience that has become easier to relive every time I tell it, but at the time I was shitting myself.
Some hours later, a doctor told me the operation had been a success. My wife was in the acute care ward, where she could be closely monitored. She had lost a lot of blood – litres. In the days to follow she would get an iron infusion, then a blood transfusion.
Over the next few days, I had the privilege to stay in the hospital, helping to care for my wife and the baby. The situation had changed from the birth, but the role was similar.
My job was to be a shoulder to lean on, a hand to hold. I followed the guidance of the nursing staff – who were absolute stars – on how best to help.
If well-meaning visitors lingered too long, I played the bouncer and ushered them out. If a hospital meal was grim, I made a food run. I gave my wife space to rest and heal, while standing by to chase up anything she might need.
Five days after the birth, we were home. My wife was still weary but every day was better than the last. Weeks on our little unit has found its rhythm, our firstborn is learning to enjoy the new arrangement, and it feels like we’ve always been a family of four.
It sounds strange, but a small part of me is thankful for the dramas we went through. After those hours sitting with our baby in the dark, and the nights that followed, watching my exhausted wife sleep, hooked up to beeping monitors and a saline drip, there’s no way that I could ever take my family for granted. I feel like the luckiest man alive.
READ MORE FROM CHRIS RYAN:
- How I found myself hostage to a toddler and his turds
- Second sentence: The 5 ways our firstborn prepared me to go again
- Trying to be a good dad, but falling short