In an ideal world I would have been bitten by a radioactive babywipe as a teenager - suddenly finding myself imbued with awesome, superhuman arse-cleaning Dad abilities. Sadly thats not how I became a Dad for the first time. No. It happened like this.
H informed me, with her usual delicacy, that as I was 40 and clearly not getting any younger, it was time we started a family. This made me happy because it meant that we could do a lot of sex and, as we all know, men are driven by a desire for three things: proper sausages, a really good shiraz and some sex.
I shan't bore you with the sex. There was some juddering, and possibly panting and afterwards, when I asked her if she wanted to talk about her feelings she told me that she was really, really ANGRY and if we wanted to get pregnant we needed to do it properly.
Anyway, we managed to conceived and 9 months later we found ourselves in a cycle that went like this:
1. Labour starts.
2. H calls the hospital and they tell us to come in
3. We get into the car and drive to the hospital
4. Labour stops in the car
5. We arrive at the hospital and, because H is no longer in labour, they send us home
6. Repeat until fatigued
Finally, to prove a point we decided to stay at the hospital and walk round and endlessly round until labour started in the actual place we needed it to.
Allow me a short digression to discuss the National Childbirth Trust. The NCT is a terror network committed to bringing about the downfall of all hospital birth and healthcare professionals. They bring together white-knuckled newbies for a brief period of training in which they laugh at the fathers-to-be for not knowing which end of the cot to put your baby for nap; and scare the new mums shitless about how formula milk will result in the new baby being unable to form meaningful friendships in later life. Their main weapon, apart from the guns and high explosives, is the birth plan. The idea being that as you writhe around on the floor experiencing the sort of agony that feels as though it will tear you apart your birth partner (who is merely a bit bloated from having scarfed all the trail mix) can wave the plan in the air and say, "she doesn't want any drugs!"
So we made a birthplan. Our plan was that we would start off in a birthing pool with no pain relief whatsoever (with the exception of gas and air) and then we would see what happened. But ideally we wanted the whole thing to happen drug-free, in the pool. However, we, unlike many others and unbeknownst to our NCT handler, had a secret plan that went like this: if at any point it starts to get difficult to bear then H will have all the drugs that medical science has yet invented and also any that are on trial please too.
I'm assuming that , if you are reading this then you've either been through labour or you've been with someone whilst they've been going through it. If not then let me tell you, the latter is easier. Labour is sore. A birthing pool - a huge deep, warm-water filled paddling pool of the sort you would NEVER allow your children anywhere near lest they drown - is supposed to help alleviate some of the discomfort. Maybe it does but H had been in labour on and off for three days and was not at her perkiest and it was not long before she requested a toot of gas and air. I had been advised to try some myself for it's benign narcotic properties.
I gave her a quick blast and instantly realised that this was not going to be the route we would take. H did not misspend her youth in the traditional ways and consequently has had very little experience with inhaled drugs. She had a monster whitey. She was beyond tired, in pain, up to her neck in a warm bath and, now, stoned. She was on all fours in the pool and kept dozing off between contractions. As her head drooped towards the surface I had to place my hand on her forehead and raise it up only for it to begin it's slow descent again. Once I let her dip her nose in the water just to see if it would wake her up. It didn't.
Every so often the midwife would come in to check her. H would attempt to perk herself up and give coherent replies to the questions asked but she was not remotely with it. After one visit H looked up and blearily asked, "Was that Morgan Spurlock from 'Supersize Me'?"
"No," I replied gently, "It was the midwife."
A few seconds passed. H started to laugh. "D'you remember when I thought the midwife was Morgan Spurlock from 'Supersize Me'? That was funny."
"Really funny," I told her, "And only ten seconds ago."
The birthing pool was not helping. Apart from the growing risk of drowning, H was beginning to really crave a lie down. We got her out. No mean feat considering she was massively pregnant, off her face and really slippery. It was suggested that, as she was so very tired; was not yet sufficiently dilated; and was in the sort of pain that the entonox wouldn't touch, we should consider a epidural. This would remove the pain which would allow her to rest and possibly sleep which in turn would relax her and allow labour to progress more normally.
Despite being fully paid up, balaclava wearing members of the Leith cell of the NCT we thought this sounded like a Really Good Plan and so we were wheeled into a delivery room and an anaesthetist arrived.
He arranged H, sitting up on a bed so he could get the gigantic needle into her spine. I was asked to stand in front of her and hold her hands. Now I tend to dispense very little advice to other parents-to-be but I'm going to do so now. Gentlemen: if you ever find yourself in this situation do NOT under any circumstances stand legs akimbo with your partner's legs dangling between yours. That man is not an anaesthetist: he is a puppet master and your beloved is a giant meat marionette whom he will force to dance to his own wicked tunes.
I was holding her hands and trying to not look at the massively long needle he was waving around behind her back. I was just worrying that it might go straight through her and skewer me too when H's right leg shot up between mine and hoofed me right in the testicles. "Sorry!" called the anaesthetist, cheerfully whilst making energetic stirring motions with the needle behind H's back. I was in unspeakable agonies but this is not something that you can complain about when your wife is in labour. No one will give you any sympathy. As I ruminated on this ironic state of affairs, H's leg shot up again and, with unerring accuracy caught me a full volley in the plums.
"Ha ha! Got you again? Sorry about that," called the man with the joystick in my wife's spine, "I think I've got it now."
And indeed he had. He turned a tiny plastic tap and industrial quantities of drugs were administered directly into her central nervous system. H looked suddenly relaxed. She lay on her side and went immediately to sleep. I sat and held her hand for a minute until my eyes, too, closed.
A few hours later the midwife woke us up. H was fully dilated and it was time. Never let anyone tell you that the day their children were born was the happiest day of their lives. Firstly, it doesn't leave much for the poor kid to do in later life in the making-you-happy department and secondly I don't associate bleeding and screaming and throwing up into a cardboard cowboy hat with being the happiest I've ever seen my wife.
As a man witnessing your beloved giving birth you feel utterly useless. I was expecting to feel this way, we'd discussed it to the point that I'd suggested I sing whale song to H at critical moments. At the time this had seemed like a hilarious idea. Not so much anymore. I had also suggested that at the moment the baby's head crowned I should cry out, "What about me? What about MY needs." I wasn't really up for that either.
Everything happened too fast for any of that. They attempted to help the baby out by use of a Ventouse Cap - basically a medical toilet plunger. The suction cup is fitted to the top of the baby's head and the Obstetrician pulls as hard as she can. What is supposed to happen is that the baby comes out. What isn't supposed to happen is that there is a loud comedy pop, the Ventouse cap shoots across the room and the Obstetrician falls on her arse. They tried forceps next - all a bit panicky now, you don't want to leave a kid hanging about in the birth canal for too long, they might try to breathe. In order to gain ingress they needed to make a cut. Yes. That's right. There. I'm willing to bet that all of those men who secretly think women make a bit of a fuss about birth would rapidly change their minds if offered a quick slit administered to their perineum.
We were in the final stages now. All NCT ideals shoved roughly out of the way like a thin man in a chip shop after closing time. H was in classic hospital birth position: on her back, propped up, feet in stirrups. Midwife along side saying, "Well done, good girl, you're doing fine, aaaaaannnnddddd PUSH."
I was stood on the other side, one aching arm supporting her back the other being crushed to a bloodless pulp of skin and splintered bone by her mighty grip. On every push she leaned forward and gave it her all. For my part I tried to help by pulling her up into a sitting position as she pushed. This provided me with an excellent but intermittent view of the emerging baby and the part of my wife from which it was emerging. Let me share this one detail with you (and look away now if you are at all squeamish): remember I mentioned cutting? Well there are not supposed to be any places on the human body where neat right angles occur but I was seeing one with every push that was made. There was no point at which I felt like I might faint but this small detail truly shocked me.
Many women become unfeasibly sweary during birth. H avoided this. Her greatest profanity at this time was, "Jeez Louise." I am inexplicably proud of her for this.
And then suddenly a small wrinkled, curled up person is there except that it's not a person; it's a monochrome photograph of a person projected somehow onto the surface of a squishy purple balloon. This lasts a split second, the ballon bursts and the image falls onto the object inside it and it becomes a baby. It is lifted, face-down away from me, trailing it's cord and then it disappears into a huddle of nurses and doctors. As it rises over their heads I see it's rear end. I spot a plump vulva and think, "Testicles! It's a boy." I turn back to H and say, "It's a boy!"
"No it's not," a business like voice declares, "She's a wee girl."
There is no point trying to explain. I am too tired and this is not about me. The little girl is passed to H and she lies on her chest amidst tubes from the drips all pink with blood that has been pushed back up them by the pressure of H's labours.
Both of us held our new daughter. I had a perfect, bloody imprint of her on my tee shirt. Soon the midwife gently took her from me and cleaned and dressed her. I had clothes with me for her. New clothes carefully bought and packed but it didn't occur to either of us to mention them. She was passed back to H and the midwife motioned to me, "come with me, I've something to show you." we left the delivery suite and walked into the waiting room. I looked out onto the hospital car park. It was 7 in the morning on the 1st March 2005 and the whole world was white. Whilst my daughter was struggling into the world it had snowed.
Later, as I drove slowly home, the traffic tearing past me on the M8, too dazed and tired to really do anything but engage auto-pilot I wondered at the terrible smell in the car. I must have left a half eaten pork pie in there for the last three days or something. Whatever it was it was rank. It was only after I got home and pulled my tee shirt over my head that I realised that the bloody image of my new child had not mixed well with my three day old body odour in the overheated environment of the hospital. I stank.