A dad's eye view
Natural? Caesarean section? Two fathers talk birth experience. 
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Hearing a mom retell her birth story can be magical, but we often forget that on the day a baby is born, so is a father. In honour of Fathers’ Day, we chat to two dads about their children’s ‘birth’ days.

Paul

Take one

Aidan’s birth was a fundamental life experience for me. He is my first child and his birth was a drug-free, natural birth. It was amazing; very, very long,but amazing. I was very involved in the whole process, held Tracy, my wife’s, hand and breathed through the pushing with her. Seeing Tracy in pain was hard, I felt helpless and you do just want it to end. Aidan came out with a hand held up against his face – the memory of seeing Aidan crowning, with his little fingers peeping out, is burned into my mind. The relief as he was born was immense. I am sure for Tracy it was so much more intense, but that moment for me was incredible. I was on a high for hours afterwards. The birth of your first child is definitive and no birth no matter what kind, equals it. Tracy holds the fact that she birthed Aidan naturally as a badge of honour – as she should. It is an ordeal and I have the deepest respect for women who birth naturally – it is a full on process: ‘non–stop party action’. It was a deeply primal experience for her, she will say that it felt like the archetypal female experience; like a rite of passage, experiencing the extreme pain of labour and birth – she is much more eloquent than I am, but for me, it was a pretty intense, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Take two

With our second child, Kael, Tracy was keen to have another natural birth, but this time she said that she wanted to have an epidural, early. I could sense that deep down she was scared to go there again –she was scared to go through that level of intensity and pain again. She went into labour in the middle of the night and we went straight to hospital, but she was only one centimeter dilated. We opted to stay at the hospital rather than go home, so that Tracy could access pain medication as soon as she needed it. The next morning, Tracy was induced and immediately given an epidural. Then the tone of Kael’s birth changed dramatically.Tracy was really nauseas and out of it – I think she was given a sedative, as she seemed pretty drugged. There was a slightly off-colour dimension this time round. When our doctor told us that the baby was in distress and we needed to get him out, the whole birth became a medical process, which I hated. I felt really disconnected from his birth, like we were not a part of the process.

The final chapter

I certainly had many ideals around parenting and birth before I had children,now I am much more pragmatic, which is why when it was time for Ella’s birth I really did not have a strong opinion on how she was born – despite my hating the medical nature of c-sections. My general philosophy is to have faith in nature and I would default to that but where birth is concerned, I would now say do what you need or want to do. We did consider a VBAC but once you have a child and have experienced a birth, you realise that the actual birth is just the beginning of the journey, not the end of one, so we opted for an elective c-section. Ella’s birth was very calm, practical and the atmosphere in the theatre was jovial. The mystique of child birth is in a way lost by the third child; yes, perhaps for me it was because we had natural first then c-sections, but I think more so because we knew that what really matters starts at birth. It was great to experience all three types of birth and I don’t feel that my bond with any of my children is significantly different as a result of how they were born; and neither was their ability to breastfeed, nor are there any differences in health between them despite the fact that they were all born under such different circumstances.              

Jurie

Take one 

All of my daughter’s births seem to blend into each other, but there are a few things that stand out for each. With my eldest, now six, who was born naturally with an epidural, I remember being really surprised by how long everything took and waiting, a lot. My wife Louise went into labour – well her waters broke –while we were having dinner. I took her to hospital around midnight but I was sent home to sleep. The next morning, Louise was induced and given an epidural – it was really fascinating watching this and seeing how it all worked. Louise was also given a sleeping pill that really spaced her out, so I spent a lot of time reading my book. My advice to any Dad is do not read a book while your wife is in labour– Louise was so irritated with me about it but only told me long after Jessie’s birth.Watching Jessie crowning was really amazing – I was completely caught up in the moment. I am not at all squeamish,so for me it was amazing to watch. The actual birth feels really surreal. We decided not to ­find out the gender before the birth, so I remember being a bit panic struck when the gynae asked me “what is it?” as she held this naked child up to me – I was sure I would announce the gender wrong. Thankfully I didn’t. Looking back, despite our second child being born via an emergency c-section, Jessie’s natural birth seemed more hectic somehow – there was more uncertainty, the people around us were more stressed. During the pushing it felt like crisis mode ,then a sudden calm as she was­ finally born.

Take two 

What stands out the most for me about our second daughter, Sadie’s birth, was the moment of decision-making: to have a c-section. Louise had been so ill– with what was eventually diagnosed as pancreatitis – leading up to her birth and of course we had Jessie, who was19 months old at the time, so it was a hectic time. Louise went into labour and was then induced. She laboured for about twelve hours before the doctor told us that the baby was in mild distress. Although the doctor did say we could try labour for another ­five hours, the decision was clear to me. Louise was exhausted. I understand all the medical bene­fits of labour and natural birth, if all goes according to plan, but I do not see the sense in letting risk in – at the ­first emergence of risk to mother or baby, it needs to be shut down immediately. So I made the decision to have the c-section. Sadie’s birth immediately became a medical fact, and it all became quite clinical after that. There was no panic or trauma, in fact I remember the doctors were all talking nonsense which we felt was disrespectful – only our anaesthetist talked us through the birth. As they stitched Louise up – which I had not realised would take so long – Sadie was given to me to hold. I remember the excitement that she was finally here.

The final chapter

Louise’s pregnancy with our third child, Lucy, was by far the worst in terms of morning sickness. We fell pregnant while living in the US, and Louise was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum– there were days when she literally could not get out of bed. Because we were in the States, without a support structure, it meant that I became our older girls’ primary caregiver – which was a great bonding experience for us. Back home, we did explore the idea of a VBAC, but we opted for an elective c-section. Everything leading up to the birth was so calm and it really was a family experience – our older girls were really excited about their new sibling too. We decided to keep this new baby’s gender a surprise, which also really added to the anticipation. I got a little impatient and was keen for the birth to happen sooner, I think because by the third child you realise that the birth is where it all begins – not ends – and the anticipation of meeting your child, rather than the process of birth is much more important. At the actual birth, I was much more blasé and knew what to expect of a c-section, so I was cracking all these jokes: the nurses were not amused. The moment of birth was silent, as we had requested, and our gynae held the baby half out and asked, “is it a girl or a boy?” and then birthed our third daughter. What I remember with crystal clarity about Lucy’s birth, was holding her for a long, long time and within minutes of her being born.

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