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Childbirth:Two Sides of the Same Story

By Janet and Pat Albertson

When Christine Albertson came into this world, it wasn’t exactly a Hollywood-movie like birth. Her parents Janet and Pat share the story of their firstborn, each one how they experienced Christine’s birth in a South Island West Coast town.

Janet’s Story:

When you are pregnant with your first child, you expect everything to go smoothly.

If I knew what really can go wrong at the last minute there is no way I would have had our child in a small country town with no backup. What most people would consider to be a normal birth, i.e.: a show, waters break, labour starts and up to 12 hours later a new baby is born, did not happen to us and we were not at all prepared for what did happen.

I had a “show” on the Thursday evening and we thought that everything was going to start. Pat even rang up to arrange Friday off work.

However, this was not the case and I had irregular contractions till about Sunday lunchtime. Up until then I thought to myself “I don’t know what everyone is going on about, these contractions aren’t that painful” – until I got my first real contraction. Boy, did I get a surprise!

I contacted the midwife again and she didn’t really seem that interested. By 6pm the contractions seemed to be coming every 10 minutes and because we thought the baby would be born that evening, we asked the midwife to admit us into the hospital. But we were told to go for a walk.

So we went for a walk.

But going for a walk when you are having major contractions every 10 minutes or so is not fun. After about an hour we contacted the midwife again, who finally admitted us into the hospital. During the night the duty midwife got Pat to write down how far apart the contractions were. Then she told us to try and get some sleep, but we ended up getting very little.

By 7am things still were not moving that much, the contractions were getting stronger and stronger, but it was a very long process. By about 10am we were in the labour room where I finally started. I was offered some gas, but found it not very useful.

By about noon I was getting really tired and asked the Doctor for some help (who had turned up about an hour beforehand to see how things were progressing).

He looked really annoyed about this and the only option was the ventouse: after a small cut a suction cap is stuck on the baby and it is basically sucked out.

It seemed ages before the doctor came back and next thing I knew I had a drip in my arm, my legs up in stirrups and being given a local and a huge cut. Once the ventouse was in place, the doctor told me to wait for a contraction to help push the baby out, but I only wanted to get it over with so I started to push.

When the baby’s head came out the doctor muttered something about the shoulders being around the wrong way and he put his arm up to turn the baby. (Thank goodness I didn’t have a mirror to see it all). After a bit of a struggle a healthy 8lb 14oz baby girl came out (born at 3pm!).

And if the birth wasn’t bad enough the doctor didn’t have the facilities to stitch me up properly so I had to go to the nearest main hospital in an ambulance with baby “Christine”. After an hour and a half ride in the ambulance I then had to wait till 11pm to get restitched up under a general anaesthetic!

One thing I was really pleased about was the fact that they let Pat stay with me the whole time, even when we were transferred to the hospital where we were living at the time. I found him really supportive and I think it’s a real shame that husbands/partners are generally not allowed to stay with the mothers especially if they have had an awful birth experience.

Our daughter is now 3 years of age and the oldest of three children and we all have recovered from this ordeal. I am just really thankful that Christine was not scarred in any way.

Pat’s Story:

“Christine had an unusual start to life right from the beginning since we found out only two hours before my graduation that we were soon going to be proud parents.

I remember that we had just enough time left on our phone card for me to ring home and quickly gabble, “Hi Mum I’m graduating with distinction and we’re going to have a baby goodbye!”, before our money ran out.

Flashing forward another seven and a half months, I had got a job in a small town about five hours from home and, for the first time since before our marriage, we had managed to find ourselves a real home with just the two of us and plenty of room for a third.

However, the newest member of the Albertson family was not that keen to make an arrival into the world. The due date came and went and there was still no sign of anything happening.

My employer had generously agreed to give me the two weeks unpaid parental leave that I had requested, but it was getting very difficult to keep working in the knowledge that I may be called away at any moment and not be back for a couple of weeks.

This was even harder since I was a community health worker covering a very wide rural area and I was getting very reluctant to make any appointments that required travelling too far from home. I was therefore very relieved when, some time in the evening, Janet told me things were underway at last.

I remember that we had just gone to bed an hour before and we thought the baby would probably come at any moment, just like in the movies. How naive we were…

That night came and went, and it was followed by another day of inactivity. After yet another day passed and it was still all quiet on the Western Front. Until that evening when things started to get into gear again.

We spent a restless night in the hospital and things seemed to be getting more and more painful for Janet with no signs of progress. There did not seem to be any way of relieving the pain and I think that maybe only a father can understand how agonising it can be to have to watch his wife go through excruciating agony while knowing that there is nothing at all he can do about it.

This was definitely not the way it went in all those Hollywood movies!

The hours dragged by and eventually I did not even care about our baby any more; I just wanted all of it to end and to have Janet back in one piece. Finally, the baby started to appear and I almost fainted with relief that it would all soon be over for Janet and me.

However, our beautiful birth experience turned out to be more like the breakfast scene from “Alien”: There was a stunned silence as the baby’s head appeared and then a whole lot of health professionals started rushing around and yelling things at each other while blood spurted across the room in all directions.

I was holding Janet’s hand, sick with fear that I was going to lose the best thing that had ever happened to me. It took some fast work for the doctor to handle the situation, and he was as shaken as the rest of us.

Thanks to him, Christine was born without sustaining permanent shoulder injuries although we did not find out till later how serious the situation was.

One thing that I can remember is taking the obligatory newborn baby photos; however, the one with Janet holding Christine did not make the album because she had lost so much blood she was as white as a sheet (I even asked the camera shop to print it darker because I though I must have mistakenly overexposed the negative!)

Straight after the birth, mother and daughter were transferred to a larger hospital for a patch up job, and I was to follow by car as soon as I had got everything sorted out at home. I staggered home to feed the cat but a friend insisted on driving me down since I was in no condition to make the 90 minute journey down the twisting and turning hill road on my own.

Of course when I arrived in a strange town I knew nobody and did not even have a car or easy access to a telephone, and the nurses kindly gave me a mattress so I could sleep on the floor in Janet’s room.

The next morning shift of nurses were not so pleased to see me but by then I was already camped on the floor and so I was tolerated for the rest of our stay.

Altogether we spent a couple of weeks in hospital, during which time we started to get our shattered nerves back together while learning how to be parents to this little bundle of joy that we had brought into the world.

Friends and workmates would ask me how we were managing and I used to reply “Christine is doing well, Janet is okay and I am still recovering.” People would promptly laugh and tell me that I had it easy and that it was Janet who had to do all the hard work while I just sat around drinking cups of coffee.

If only they had been there they would have seen that, although the father can never go through the physical pain of birth, the emotional trauma is very real for him.

After such a difficult start to life, Christine is now a happy healthy three year old who has quickly found a special place in our hearts which goes to prove what it says in the Good Book about “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child has been born into the world”.

“I don’t know if the apostle John, who transcribed that line, ever had any children of his own but maybe he should have spared a thought for the fathers, too!”

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