Becoming a dad for the second time

Having become a dad for the second time a grand total of four hours after my last post, I would like to announce the arrival of Rosie Grace Drew into the world. Weighing in at 7lbs 13oz, she was born in a blisteringly quick six hours from start to finish, meaning I was finishing my blog while my wife was in labour – shh, don’t tell her! In my defence, I thought it was another false alarm, such as we’d had the day before, during which we’d spent eight hours in ‘labour’, including five in hospital. Also, I was timing the contractions while hiding on the landing to write, so…no. No excuse. My bad.

Anyway, becoming a dad for a second time, and in such a quick and easy fashion, has given rise to a number of observations.

Firstly, your understanding of birth clearly relates to the manner of birth you experience. After the traumatic arrival of our first daughter, my impression of birth was as an incredibly stressful, dramatic and terrifying ordeal, a medical process involving tubes and tools, a score of specialist personnel, massive aftercare, and the ever-present fear of death. Indeed, whenever I heard about people giving birth at home, I’d think: are you freaking nuts!?!

This second birth couldn’t have been more different. When we arrived at hospital, my wife was 3cm. Ninety minutes of sweating, shivering and grunting later, the midwife said, ‘You know what? I don’t think you’re in established labour yet. I think we should probably give you some pethidine, you go have a sleep, and then we’ll resume this – it’ll be hours yet.’

Here we go again, I thought. But she decided to check before administering the drug.

‘There’s your show, and there’s your waters, and you have no cervix so you can push anytime you want.’

And four pushes later, out plopped Rosie. These experiences don’t really give you confidence in NHS midwives, do they?

As a result of this birth, which was quick, easy, and entirely carried out under my wife’s own steam, I now see childbirth – the uncomplicated kind, at least – as a very natural, everyday process. An incredible process, to be sure, but a biological function rather than a medical intervention. Having a baby at home? Why wouldn’t you have a baby at home?

In fact, she arrived so quickly, we weren’t ready. We were waiting for something to go wrong – for my wife to be rushed off to theatre by people in blue scrubs, for our daughter to be put in a perspex box and dragged off to NICU, for weeks of eating petrol-station sandwiches and trying to sleep in hospital chairs – but we had none of that. Instead, we sat in a room with a baby that only a few minutes before had been inside my wife’s abdomen, and were left alone. We’d only been in hospital two hours. We could have gone home after another hour. It all seemed rather surreal.

After the first birth – at least, one the way we had it – you see childbirth as an awful thing. After the second, we saw it as a beautiful thing. As with everything, I imagine the truth is somewhere in between.

As we’re a high-risk family, we had to stay in for 48 hours for the baby to be monitored, lest she develop respiratory problems (she didn’t). It was on the postnatal ward that I realised that having a second child is completely different to having the first.

It’s amazing how chilled you are the second time round. You really notice it when you’re surrounded by first-time parents hovering over their babies, stressing about every little thing, treating them like porcelain dolls that’ll break whenever they touch them, constantly checking to make sure they’re still alive, struggling to feed them, agonising about whether breast truly is best or if they should switch to the bottle, and being thoroughly unprepared for being up half the night, every night. You know, all the stuff I did first time round.

I did none of that this time. Other than ensuring she’s neither too hot nor too cold, looking after a baby is mostly a case of putting stuff in one end and cleaning it up when it comes out the other. So while we were in hospital, I fed little Rosie, burped her, and put her back in her cot, waited three hours, changed her nappy, fed her, burped her, and repeated this for two days. In between I’d watch the other parents fussing around their kids, freaking out over every cry, and fretting through lack of sleep, and think: I’m so glad I’m a second-time dad!

Having experience makes the return home that much easier too. The first child, it’s like someone swings a wrecking ball through your life. Everything changes, and until you manage to adjust, you get caught in a baby bubble where the baby and your status as a parent are the only things that matter. No matter what you do – driving her in the car, bedding her down in the Moses basket, taking her out in the pram, giving her a bath – it’s the first time you’ve ever done it, so it seems like a massive obstacle you need to overcome.

Taking Rosie home was no big deal, because we’ve done all of that hundreds of times before. Nor do we worry so much. Having been a good feeder, she’s suddenly grazing every hour around the clock and is incredibly unsettled, but instead of panicking, we simply carry on, aware it’s just the day-ten growth spurt. It’ll settle down, as it always did with Izzie. (Note to first time parents: watch out for growth spurts, and try not to worry!)

In fact, coming home with a second baby is something of an anti-climax. Partly this is because instead of the mountain of cards, banners and balloons that greeted your first, your second is met with widespread indifference, but mostly it’s because you’re expecting hell, ready to march through a field of flames for the foreseeable future – but it isn’t anywhere near as bad as that. The only real hardship I’ve encountered is that the nights seem to take more out of me now than they did two years ago, probably because two years ago I was fresh, while this time I’m starting on the back of around 800 nights of broken sleep. But hey ho, I’ll adjust.

But there’s one thing that is exactly the same no matter how much you worried about it – the amount that you love them. You don’t love them the same way, because they’re not the same, but you love them just as much. It took me a couple of days to get there, I’ll admit – I didn’t feel as strongly for her the moment I set eyes on her – but your fatherly instincts kick in soon enough and you realise you’d die for the second just as you’d die for the first.

And like the first, she’s already a daddy’s girl, and beautiful to boot. What can I say? I make great babies.

Toddlers, on the other hand…but that’s another story.

Post Traumatic Birth Disorder

All prospective parents are prepared for a number of things: the labour will be hard, the birth will be insane, the mum will be sore and hormonal for a long time to come, and the first few weeks will be a whirlwind of nappies, feeding, screaming and sleeplessness. With a few perks, of course, like being able to say you’re a parent and getting to use a new parking space at the supermarket. Or, if you’re really lucky, that moment the baby pees on your partner and not you.

Nobody prepares you for the psychological aftershocks of the birth itself. Now that we’re starting to get used to parenting – that is, we’ve realised we’ll always have at least one too few hands for every task – we have time to process what happened that day. And I think I preferred it when we were too busy to think.

Every time Lizzie goes to the toilet she has a flashback to the labour. It started 6am when she woke in agony and started vomiting. I ran her a hot bath but it did little to help. We went to hospital, were sent home because they thought she wasn’t in enough pain to really be in labour, and Lizzie sat in another bath and vomited some more. She had a bloody show, started to shiver, and still the hospital told us she wasn’t in labour yet – these were just pre-labour ‘twinges’. Then she started to bleed.

There was no answer from the delivery suite, no answer from antenatal, no answer from the birthing unit, no answer from the community midwives’ office or mobile, no answer from the back-up hospital and no midwife at the local surgery, so I rang for an ambulance.

The single-crewed paramedic panicked the second he saw her, called for backup because birth was ‘imminent’, apparently, and within minutes there were three paramedics, three midwives and two grandmothers crowding around the tub. Lizzie was six centimetres dilated, so they piled her and the midwives into an ambulance and set off with blue lights flashing. This was four hours after being sent home from Maternity, and less than an hour since the hospital had told us they weren’t even contractions.

For Lizzie, this was the worst of the ordeal, and now the bathroom stirs unpleasant associations of pain, blood and fear. She isn’t really bothered about the public nudity, but then pregnancy and prudishness don’t go together. Trouble is, she can’t exactly avoid the bathroom.

For me, I have a single image that haunts me: my beautiful angel Izzie lying alone in an incubator in Neonatal ICU, hooked up to all kinds of monitors, a drip in her arm and a feeding tube up her nose. She got stuck in the birth canal for two hours as she was back-to-back.

Downstairs, Lizzie was recovering from haemorrhaging on the operating table after a failed ventouse and forceps birth. I spent the rest of the night and next day bouncing between the two. At the time I simply did what I needed to do and put one foot in front of the other for forty-three hours. But now, when people ask about the birth, I come to the moment when Izzie went into the incubator and I can’t go any further. I can’t talk about the four days in ICU; the three days in Transitional Care; the day I cried because my girls weren’t coming home; the day Lizzie begged me to stay but they still made me leave at midnight.

So how do we get past these thoughts and feelings? For Lizzie I guess we need to fill the bathroom with happy memories to replace the bad, such as baby bathtimes, or else it’s as good an excuse as any to get a new bathroom suite. And as for me? I just need to hold my daughter as much as I can and assure her she’ll never be alone again.