About 2am and we’ve already been in the hospital since about 10pm, the contractions are getting more frequent and the midwife thinks things are about to get started. Barely slept in the past 24 hours but it’s all good; we’ve done all of this before, I know the routine and I’m at ease with the situation.
The midwife, her assistant and my wife are all talking their own language – once medical people find out she’s a nurse, they have a tendency to talk to her like a colleague rather than a patient. I quite like this, it makes me proud of her, but it does mean that I’m left out of the conversation, so I just hold her hand, stroke her hair and tell her how well she’s doing. We’re still in the warming up for the main event stage when the mood in the room changes suddenly and I don’t really know why, something about the baby’s heartbeat.
The assistant midwife hits a big red button on the wall, an alarm sounds and within seconds the room is full of doctors, nurses, more senior midwives, paediatricians and others. The crash team. Lots of serious conversations take place between them all and a young woman, who appears to be the boss doctor and looks like she means business, tells my wife that she’s worried about the baby so it needs to be delivered extremely quickly. She pauses. “Don’t I know you?”
“I think we worked together a few years ago?” suggests Wife.
A flicker of recognition. “You understand the situation.” she says, matter of factly. I guess at some sort of unspoken professional courtesy, an implied promise to avoid any sugar-coating, Janet & John explanations, Hobson’s Choices and other niceties that might be required for civilians, but to just do what needs to be done without wasting time on unnecessary bullshit. Wife gives a “don’t worry about me, just get on with it” nod.
The next eight minutes are extremely tense. Boss doctor works with the senior midwife (a formidable Nigerian lady who looks like she’s seen things that would make hard men weep) to get the baby out. A team of baby doctors waits behind them, ready to spring into action as soon as possible. Various other professionals look similarly ready to do critical things should the need arise. Wife talks calmly and professionally with boss doctor, taking instructions and providing feedback. Unpleasant things happen which, unless you ever give birth yourself, you should do your best to remain happily ignorant of.
I stand at the head of the bed, the most useless person in the room, elegantly reminded that no matter how smart, capable and in command of your own destiny you think you are, so many of the most important things in life are completely, hopelessly beyond your control.
Under normal circumstances it should have taken an hour or so, maybe longer, but they got the baby out in eight minutes and despite all the drama he was perfectly fine. Before I can thank boss doctor and the rest of the crash team, another alarm goes off and they all run from the room, leaving our original midwife and her assistant to finish the job. Wife goes into an adrenaline crash, all pale and shaky, so I hold the baby for an hour while she recovers enough to give him his first feed.
Eventually I get home at about 4:30am, pour myself a glass of Scotch and, despite being dead on my feet, take a little time to enjoy it before climbing into bed.
I head back to the hospital in the morning to see how they’re doing, and stop off at the labour ward reception to drop off a box of chocolates and a thank you card – I want the team to know that I didn’t take their skill and professionalism for granted, and even though they were just doing their jobs, it means everything to me that they helped bring our second-born into the world safely. The receptionist barely makes eye contact with me as I hand them over. “Thanks” she says, casually, adding my gift to the pile behind the desk and then turning back to her computer screen.