For the first nine months the pregnancy was relatively straightforward, with only a couple of minor scares along the way. After nine months though, things became more complicated as our child seemed curiously reluctant to leave the warm, comfortable environment that he was dozing in (no one knows from where he might have inherited that trait). We had multiple stretch and sweeps (men: don’t ask, don’t google), we tried stretching and walking a lot, we tried bouncing on a giant ball (I fell off) we even tried reflexology. The reflexologist told us that most of the overdue mothers-to-be that she worked with gave birth within a couple of days of seeing her. A week later we went to York Maternity Unit to have labour induced.
We were there for about a day and had failed to induce labour, so the decision was made to break the waters and to chemically start the contractions. It was then that we discovered that contractions are, in fact, somewhat painful and, after a brief discussion we decided to amend our birth plan and go for an epidural. A decision which Briony announced to the midwife and much of the rest of North Yorkshire by bellowing “I WANT AN EPIDURAL! I WANT AN EPIDURAL!”. They administered the epidural. After about ten hours of labour it became apparent that the cervix wasn’t opening quickly enough and Byron’s heart rate became erratic. It was clear that we needed to get him out there and then and the decision was made to have an emergency caesarean section. Ten minutes later we were in the operating theatre.
There is very little in life that prepares you for the experience of watching your wife and unborn child undergoing major surgery and I knew that I needed to put my natural squeamishness aside and remain calm and positive and try to be a comfort to my anxious wife, who would be conscious throughout.
There is absolutely nothing in life that prepares you for the moment during pre-op that yet another surgeon wearing a cap and scrubs enters the theatre and it turns out that he’s your hapless husband (the one with the fear of blood). I tried to reassure Briony that I wouldn’t be performing any of the surgery myself – not even the minor bits – but she seemed a little unconvinced. I fancy that she expected to wake from her weird and terrifying dream at any moment. She did not.
They erected a screen and between Briony and I and the area where they were performing surgery and commenced proceedings. We were quite happy staying up at the head end and chattered amongst ourselves rather than listen to the team saying things like “incision” and “forceps”. I began to wonder if they’d ever considered referring to their instruments and procedures by using less intimidating code-words. I know I’d have been much happier if I’d been listening to “banana…trousers…hand me the wobbly-spoon” coming from the other side of the screen. Soon though, my thoughts were interrupted, as the surgeons called for the midwife, who was handed a purple baby and tore past us into the next room. He wasn’t breathing. Fortunately for Briony, she couldn’t see into the next room where (unfortunately for me) I was able to watch the midwives clearing his airways and attempting to resuscitate him. Eventually after what seemed like many minutes - but was probably only twenty or thirty seconds – they were successful and he began to scream. That was the best sound I have ever heard, and probably ever will hear.
The midwives set to work cleaning him up and, while the surgeons carried on with their work, they then asked if I’d like to go and see my son. But there was a problem. I could already see my son and I was quite close enough. In fact, I realised that I’d been slowly backing away.
Many people talk about how universally beautiful babies are and I’ve never really agreed: Sure there are beautiful babies, but there are also average looking babies and ugly babies. My son, however, was in a whole new category called Run For Your Lives! He was bright red with thick dark hair, a wonky nose, uneven ears, what appeared to be a black eye and a completely square head. It looked like Frankenstein’s monster had sired a child that had just taken part in a particularly gruelling and arduous prize-fight. I moved tentatively toward it. Him! I mean him, doing my level best not to display any fear. “Don’t worry”, said the midwife, sensing my discomfort, “that’s just swelling. It will go down quite quickly.”
“So he won’t grow up with a square head then?”
“Oh, thank god. His head looks like the classic movie version of Frankenstein’s monster”.
“Yes! That’s who he reminds me of.”
She handed me the baby and I took him over to show Briony (who was still being worked on). “Look, that’s your son”, I said to Briony who was regarding him with some suspicion, “Don’t worry, the swelling will go down”. She smiled.
I sat next to her cradling my son in my arms; a child who was only by that point several minutes old and had already – in his short life – been almost strangled to death by an umbilical cord that was wrapped four times around his neck, been savagely beaten and bruised by the forceps that were necessary to extract him in a hurry and almost rejected by a cruel and monstrous father for not fulfilling some sort of arbitrary aesthetic criteria. As I looked down at my son and he looked up at me, I knew that any child that could survive all that would be robust enough to survive anything (including having me for a parent). I told him not to worry and that it would all get better from now on. And it will.
I’d very much like to thank the team at York Hospital and in particular the many midwives for whom nothing has been too much trouble. Midwives are amazing - and are fuelled entirely by biscuits - and, if it weren’t for them (and the surgical team) my son wouldn’t be alive today. I’m very glad he is. I’d also like to thank Briony who was amazing all through pregnancy and labour and is right now doing very well at early motherhood. Mother and baby are expected to return home tomorrow.
For fans of facts - or if you want to play Baby Top Trumps against us - here is some data.
Name: Byron Sebastian Fearns
Born: 24th March 2011, 2:08am.
Weight: 8lb 13oz (or 4 kilograms)
Time in labour: Bloody ages. A very, very long time.
Hair colour: Black.
Eye colour: Green.
Feet: Larger than those of any other human baby. So large that everyone who sees them says “Blimey!”
Hobbies: Sleeping, sleeping and sleeping.
Number of staples in mother: 17
Favourite bird: Owls.
Days late: 14
Health: Absolutely fine.
And here are some pictures (now that the swelling’s gone down a bit).
|Byron with idiot. He's about half an hour old here. Byron, obviously.|