I run down the hospital corridor carrying our bags towards the maternity ward reception. My wife follows some distance behind, immobilised every few steps by another excruciating convulsion.
“My wife… is in labour,” I wheeze urgently at the woman behind the desk. “Contractions… every minute.”
She looks over her glasses at me with a weary expression.
“Take a seat and fill in this form.”
I don’t want to waste time protesting so I grab a pen and hurriedly complete the piece of paper in front of her.
“Take a seat, please,” she repeats.
At which point my wife finally catches up to me, reeking of vomit, and grunting like a wounded bison. She steadies herself against the desk and rests her sweaty forehead on the same form I’d just hastily scrawled all over. A half-digested bran-flake falls from her hair and lands on the desk with a wet splat. The receptionist looks her up and down.
“I’ll get someone now, shall I?”
"I was led to believe I’d be given a net. I can’t remember who it was that told me, but I was sure I’d be given a net."
Our room has an amazing view. I know this isn’t exactly the time for idle sightseeing but we’re right opposite the Houses of Parliament. Westminster Bridge to our right. Lambeth Bridge to our left. If aliens ever attack London the BBC should do its news broadcasts from this room. The Thames glistens in the afternoon light.
At least I imagine it does. I can’t see it because we’re in the bathroom. My wife is crouched next to the toilet riding out another contraction. All the massage techniques I learnt in ante-natal classes currently count for nothing. It’s like trying to massage a gunshot victim back to health. She’s in so much pain that I’m reduced to the status of concerned onlooker. A concerned onlooker feebly waving a battery-operated fan.
The midwife knocks on the door.
“The pool is ready for you,” she says.
We’re having a water birth.
I was led to believe I’d be given a net. I can’t remember who it was that told me, but I was sure I’d be given a net. Like the kind of thing you use for scooping out undesirable objects from a fishtank. Except this isn’t a fishtank. And I wouldn’t be scooping dead goldfish.
Anyway, there is no net. There is, however, what appears to be dozens of little jellyfish. I was scared of them at first until I realised that it was just clear gel (the midwife had rubbed some on my wife’s submerged belly before listening to the baby’s heartbeat). If I’m honest, it’s bizarrely quite pretty.
Against all expectations, the whole setting is rather tranquil. The water appears to have eased my wife’s pain considerably. Every light in the room is off except for the ones inside the birthing pool, illuminating us in a blue glow. Carole King’s soothing tones resonate from my portable iPod speakers. And I have not passed out. We’re doing great.
We’re not doing great.
When you go to ante-natal classes they tell you about a stage of labour called ‘transition’. They speak about it with the same sense of foreboding that I imagine 18th century peasant villagers used when warning each other about werewolves during a full moon. My wife has entered transition. And unlike the werewolf, it is very, very real.
She’s on all fours in the birthing pool, shivering with fear and snarling with menace. The contractions are even stronger now. Each one is met with a prehistoric bellow – far louder and deeper than anything I’ve ever heard outside a zoo. Worse still, there is no silver bullet. My wife has refused all drugs. She tried inhaling ‘gas and air’ earlier but if anything it made the pain worse. I am, frankly, scared. Scared for her. Scared for the midwife. Scared for myself.
"I am, frankly, scared. Scared for her. Scared for the midwife. Scared for myself."
I start to worry about the iPod playlist that I prepared. 90% of the playlist is relaxing chill-out music designed to soothe her nerves; gentle folk songs, acoustic ballads, syrupy soul. The other 10%, however, are songs that I just thought would be funny; Curtis Mayfield’s Keep On Pushing, The Kinks’ Tired Of Waiting For You, The Verve’s The Drugs Don’t Work. Suddenly they don’t seem so funny anymore.
The track I’m most dreading however, is It Was A Good Day by Ice Cube, in which the gangster rapper brags about all things that happen to him in the course of 24 hours. This list includes playing basketball, getting laid, not being harassed by the cops, getting drunk and best of all, not once having to use his AK47. Why I thought it was a good idea to include this song, I can no longer fathom. If it comes on now I’m fairly certain it would end in the kind of bloodshed Ice Cube was so keen to avoid.
The head is out. I can see our baby. It has dark hair. That’s all I can really say because it’s still underwater and well, because it’s a baby; they all look the same, don’t they? Another contraction comes and my wife pushes her last push. The midwife passes the baby into her grateful, shaking arms.
It’s a boy.
I wake up in our hospital room to the sound of my son crying. I toss the covers off the sofa bed and go and tend to him before he disturbs his mother. I reckon she’s earned a rest.
His name is Albert. It’s not been officially agreed yet, but it was my wife’s first choice – and after watching her give birth to the 9lb 8oz creature before me I’m inclined to give her whatever she wants. I pick Albert up and show him the view. Welcome to London, mate.
Big Ben chimes twelve times. Ice Cube was right. (He came on while the umbilical cord was being cut.) Today was a good day.
Sadly (but congratulations to him!), this is Stuart's final column for Stylist - read all of Stuart's dad-to-be columns here, and share your thoughts on this fortnight's column in the comments section below. You can tweet Stuart @Stuart_Royall.