Trevor and Monica were only going in to hospital to see if her waters had broken – but what was going to be a quick check-up turned into in a difficult decision about how to give birth.
“We were just about to start IVF when my wife fell pregnant naturally”
My wife Monica and I had been trying to have a baby for several years. We’d just got all the equipment ready at home to start our first round of IVF treatment when we found out that she’d fallen pregnant naturally. While we were happy, we didn’t quite dare to believe that we were going to have a baby; what if something went wrong?
Because of Monica’s history of infertility and an ectopic pregnancy, we had our first NHS scan when she was just a few weeks pregnant, to check that everything was as it should be. Having the ultrasound and seeing this tiny little thing with a heartbeat was quite incredible.
We ended up having quite a few pregnancy scans, but it’s that first scan that really meant the most to me. Seeing that everything was well with the baby and that it was a healthy pregnancy was the first time we were able to feel genuinely happy and look forward to having a baby.
“I remember saying, ‘the baby could be born any day now’ but I thought we had a few more weeks”
Around halfway through the pregnancy, Monica was told that she had scarring on her uterus from a previous surgery, which meant that having either an induction or a c-section carried additional risks for her health. It was the first time we heard about this issue, and I was quite upset and worried.
If I’d known about it before Monica got pregnant, I think I would’ve said: “If giving birth is going to be dangerous for you, we’re not going to do it. We’ll either not have a baby or adopt instead.” But as we didn’t find out until during the pregnancy, there was nothing we could do but hope that she wouldn’t need to be induced or have a caesarean birth.
When Monica was 37 weeks pregnant, I remember telling my work colleagues: “The baby’s full-term and could be born any day now” but I thought we had a few more weeks to go. Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong because the very next evening, Monica turned to me and said: “I think my waters have broken.”
I called the midwives at the hospital straight away and they told us to go in for a check-up. When we arrived we had to sit in the waiting room for quite a while, and during that time Monica noticed that she had some bleeding. I tried to get the attention of the midwives, but it was difficult because they were busy.
Eventually we were seen and the midwives told us that the bleeding wasn’t dangerous, but that they still wanted Monica to stay in hospital until the birth. We thought we were just going in for a check-up so didn’t bring a lot of things that night. Although Monica had her hospital bag with her, she hadn’t finished packing it yet, and I hadn’t even started getting mine together at that point.
“Choosing between a c-section and induction was very frightening”
We spent the night and the following day in a small room hoping that Monica would go into labour naturally, but it didn’t happen. In the afternoon, we were told that they wanted Monica to either be induced or have an elective c-section, because she and the baby were at increased risk of infection the longer her waters were broken without the baby being born.
It was very frightening because we knew that all options came with risks. The medical staff asked both of us what we wanted to do, but while I could always give my opinion, it was Monica’s choice at the end of the day, it was her health on the line.
The staff tried to give us all the information and make it Monica’s choice, but it seemed clear to us which they would prefer. While both options carried risks for Monica, a caesarean was safer for the baby. She decided that she’d have the c-section.
“I knew my wife would find it reassuring to have me there”
We had to wait a while for the surgery after the decision had been made. Both my sister-in-law and I were in the hospital as birth partners, but for the c-section my wife had to choose which one of us was going to come in with her, as only one birth partner was allowed in the operating theatre.
She decided that she’d like me to be there, and while we were waiting for the surgery my sister-in-law, who’s a nurse, tried to prepare me for what was to come. I was a bit worried about being a birth partner during a c-section – especially about seeing a lot of blood – but I knew that Monica would find it reassuring to have me there.
Before the surgery, I had to put on scrubs. I thought it would be a matter of just pulling them on over my normal clothes – but it turns out I had to change out of my clothes completely. The scrubs didn’t fit very well!
When I came into the operating theatre, Monica was already lying on the table ready for surgery. I sat down on a chair next to my wife’s head so we could talk to each other, and there was a sheet in front of her abdomen so neither of us could see any of the actual surgery. I was very nervous, but I felt reassured by the operating staff. They were very professional and relaxed so it wasn’t as frightening as I imagined it might be.
Owen, our son, was born after about 15 minutes of surgery. My first memory of him was that he cried, and it was an amazing moment. Both Monica and I had tears in our eyes.
The staff wrapped Owen up and handed him to me to hold. He was then given to my wife for skin-to-skin contact, but she couldn’t really hold him. She tried, but it was very difficult because the curtain in front of her stomach was in the way, so I held him again.
“Although the situation got serious, the surgery staff were so calm”
After Owen was born, Monica’s uterus didn’t contract as expected so the surgery took a more dramatic turn. Although the situation was serious and the surgery staff kept calling out for Monica to be given more injections, I still felt reasonably reassured as the staff were so calm. It was kind of like being on a flight when there’s turbulence – if the flight attendants are smiling, then it’s probably all fine.
Eventually, they managed to make her uterus contract and while they finished the surgery I was taken to a different room with Owen. When we were reunited, we were taken to the postnatal ward for recovery. Monica’s pulse and blood pressure were low and she was quite unwell after the surgery.
My sister-in-law persuaded me to go home while she stayed with Monica overnight, which was probably a good decision as I had been up for almost two days straight at that point, and Monica needed a lot of help and support through the night. When I was at home that evening I kept hallucinating that I could hear a baby crying.
“I have happy memories of the postnatal ward”
Monica and Owen ended up staying in hospital for a week, which was a lot longer than we thought it would be initially. After Monica felt better from the surgery, Owen had to have treatment for jaundice, so the days ticked on. I was able to stay most nights on the ward and when I wasn’t there, Monica’s sister was. There was an armchair that folded down to a bed for me to sleep in and it was actually quite comfortable.
There was another couple on the ward who said that they’d chosen to give birth at this hospital because they knew that the birth partner would be able to stay the night, which wasn’t the case at the other hospital they were considering. We didn’t know about the policy of birth partners staying overnight in advance, but I know that having me and her sister there that first week was so helpful for Monica; she would have found it difficult if she’d had to be on her own.
I have quite happy memories of our time on the postnatal ward. In some ways it was awful because it was very hot and babies were crying all the time but on the other hand, it was lovely to get to spend time with our son and be able to talk to other new parents.
All the dads used to go to the same room to sterilise breast pump equipment at night, and talking to the other new fathers, some of whom were in a more difficult position than us, definitely helped to get some perspective on our own situation.
The staff on the ward were also really friendly, nice and professional – I was impressed by how kind they were to us even though they were under a lot of pressure. One of the midwives even went to the trouble of running down the corridor to fetch a knife for us to cut the birthday cake that my parents had brought in.
“I’d thought I’d spend my paternity leave in the garden – not the hospital”
After a week on the ward, we got to go home. For me, it was a really wonderful and happy feeling to be able to take Owen home for the first time, but Monica was feeling a lot more conflicted. She had baby blues and was so tired from the birth and the complications that followed. She burst into tears as soon as we walked through the door.
It was a really hot summer and I’d imagined my two weeks of paternity leave to be spent at home, maybe in the garden. Instead, the first week went on the hospital stay and the second week was really difficult because my wife was still feeling so unwell. Although I have happy memories, that early period with a baby wasn’t at all what I’d expected.
However, the really good thing is that each week since Owen’s birth has been easier and better than the one before. And now that he’s four months old – it still keeps getting better.
- Staying on the postnatal ward: Look up your local hospital to see their policy for partners staying overnight and visitors after the birth.
- Travelling to the hospital or birth centre: Be prepared when labour starts by planning your journey to the maternity unit.
- Making the most of paternity leave: Tips for the first weeks of parenthood – from bonding with your baby to supporting your partner after birth.