The Birth

Alright, it's five in the morning, your partner is tensing at regular intervals and you're seriously wishing you hadn't been sucked in by a late-night showing of Aliens: Special Edition. Why didn't you just go to bed? Why didn't you get on with the decorating? I mean, it's not like you hadn't seen it three times before, and, OK, that was the theatrical version not the director's cut, but still, there was no reason to spend your last few waking hours of freedom watching it again. Surely there were better things on and it's not like Sigourney Weaver is even that cute. Although, then again, action has been somewhat limited lately, what with the practical difficulties and everything, but that's just heading towards thinking about the bit where... Why did it have to be Aliens? It could have been anything. Total Recall hasn't been on for at least a month. Why couldn't it have been that? Or a re-run of Buffy? TNG even. Why did it have to be a film where... Argh, is the bag packed? Is there a bag? I want to be sick. I need a bag. Who am I? What's going on? Who is this woman? Why is her stomach doing that? It shouldn't be doing that. It looks almost like that bit in... Run! Run away! It's coming! Run awa... Trip... Thud ... Oh. There's the bag... Baaaarrrrfffffffffffff!

That's better. Breathe. No, not her - you. Deep breaths. Stay calm. Everything's going to be OK.


Get the bag packed early. Your partner will have a list. Essentials include: nightie, maternity bras and slippers for her, vests and babygrows for the baby, coming home clothes for them both, toiletries for her, bodywash for the baby, nappies for the baby, nappies for her, breast pads, maternity pants and cottonwool. Since maternity wards vary in temperature between tropical and suffocating, you will need shorts and a t-shirt. You will need change for vending machines, phone calls and parking. You won't be able to use your mobile in the building, so you'll need a list of phone numbers for those people you want to call. If your partner is renting a Tens machine that should be organised at least a month in advance to make sure there's one in stock and to give time for a practice. Sticking the pads on is a bit fiddly and it's best to check the thing works while you still have time to get a replacement. Pack spare batteries. Stock up on film or memory cards for your camera. Have ipods charged and ready to go.

Note: Don't listen to your favourite music during the labour. You might not be able to listen to it again for a while without triggering a nasty post-traumatic stress disorder. Take some Cliff Richard or something. (Your mother-in-law will have some).

Discuss the birthing plan with your partner. Make sure you understand all the possible courses of action in different circumstances and that you know your partners preferred options. As you will see later, this is important. It is your job to make the plan happen. Tip: You are also guardian of the actual physical plan. After reading it and discussing it do not leave it on the table and use it as a coaster. Pack it.

If you're intending to drive to the hospital then you're going to need to stay sober, just in case. If you live in town, consider getting a taxi. It will save stress and having to find a parking space, etc. Probably better to calmly ask for the hospital than phone up and specify the maternity unit in a blind panic, though. You will need a baby carseat with you when it's time to come home.

As in all things to do with children, time for prayer is never wasted.
Don't forget your sandwiches.

Your Role

Remember that birthing plan? It's your job to make sure that, as far as circumstances allow, the plan is followed. For the next few hours, your partner will be away in her 'happy place' and won't be particularly good at making choices or expressing opinions. There's a good chance you will discuss the plan with a healthcare professional before your partner is entirely flying on pain, drugs, hormones and adrenaline, but there's also a good chance that said healthcare professional will go off-shift before anything much happens. She may take the birthplan with her, possibly to Bermuda. Best to have the details memorised anyway.

Of course you may be thinking, 'As long as the baby comes out without anyone getting hurt (much), what does it matter?' Stop it. This is in fact one of the Great Tests of Motherhood. If your partner should perceive herself to have failed it in any way then YOU will be in big trouble. You will never hear the end of it. Conversely, if you can help her through, look after her and preserve some semblance of her dignity then you will be a Hero. She will be grateful forever.

If the plan has to change for medical reasons, then you will need to sensitively, but firmly, move things forward. Bear in mind that most healthcare professionals will refuse to tell you what to do. They will present options and let you choose. Here's an example:

Midwife: Things are moving very slowly. An epidural will allow you to relax and speed the process along.
Partner: Do you think an... (Long pause. Much breathing)... epidural would be a good idea?
Midwife: It's certainly a sensible option.
Partner: So you think I should have one?
Midwife: I would support your choice if you were to want one.
Partner: But do I need one?
Midwife: Do you think you need one?
Partner: I don't know. Do you think I need one?
Midwife: It might speed the process along.
Partner: And that would... (Long pause. More breathing)... be a good idea?
Midwife: I think so.
Partner: OK.
Midwife: So, shall I call the anaesthetist?
Partner: If you think it would be a good idea.
Midwife: If you're happy it's a good idea.
Partner: I don't know. Should I be happy?
Midwife: It's not really for me to say.
Partner: So you don't think it's a good idea?
Midwife: Er... (She looks at you imploringly).
Partner: ... (Long pause. Even more breathing. Some grunting)... What do you think, dear/honey/slimeball/dead-man?

What to say:

You: I think you need an epidural.
Partner: If you think so.
You: Yes, I do.
Midwife: (to your partner) Shall I call the anaesthetist?
Partner: If you think it's a good idea.
You: That's a yes. Please call the anaesthetist.

Things not to say:

Sorry, I dozed off for a minute there. Did I miss anything?
Does this TV work?
munch... munch... sandwiches... munch...
Do you mind repeating that into the webcam? We'll do an internet poll.

The three options

1. I'm coming out.
This is by far the best option. It works smoothly if the baby comes out head-first and face-down. Your partner might need some stiches but there's every chance she will be up and about and able to change nappies within hours.

2. I'm coming out... I'm coming out... Hang on, I think my head's stuck. Call the fire brigade.
Not good. Your partner is in pain for hours, nothing much happens and time stands still. Then healthcare professionals start telling you what to do. Sign this! Wear these! Meet us in the operating theatre! Uh, OK. Just don't look at what they do with those forceps. Lots of stitches. Your partner could be in hospital for days and discomfort for weeks. (Maybe more than for option 3).

3. You want me to fit through where? I'm not coming out.
Some children are just awkward, stay the wrong way up and dig their heels in. (I'm looking at you Sproglette). If the due date is approaching, then a couple of doctors can try some shoving from the outside to sort things out. (My wife reckons that this was actually more painful than giving birth to Sprog2. The doctors don't prod - they really shove). If this doesn't work, just book the Caesarean rather than waiting for the midwives to mutter about how they could try a normal delivery but that it might not work and so end in an emergency C-section anyway. It'll save time.
You may still have to go to the hospital very early in the morning for no apparent reason but everything will be strangely civilised - epidural, sticky plastic sheet with a dotted line, sharp knife, yank and stitch. A few days in hospital and your partner will be feeling OK. Just make sure she doesn't do any heavy lifting and don't make her laugh. Seriously. Stop it.