My Wife in Their Hands
By Jack Lyden

The birth of our first child in Ninewells Hospital Dundee in April 1999 was a far from satisfactory experience, not because people were unkind - although a few were, not because of the final outcome - Niall is a healthy and happy little boy (he's just interrupted me to show me just how successful he's been in covering his hands with glow in the dark paint in order to 'be like the hulk' - let's hope there are no serious long term side-effects) and not because we are the type of people who always expect too much and pick faults with everything.

No, the main problem was that from the very moment Elaine entered the labour ward alone (while I had to park the car in a visitor's space), late in the first stage, we seemed to be swept along by a chain of events we felt we had little or no control over - foetal distress was diagnosed (from an 'abnormal' foetal heart rate) less than five minutes after Elaine's arrival during a 'routine' examination, blood gases were taken from a scalp 'stab' (which later indicated a good level of oxygenation - alas too late to alter the course of events) and a scalp electrode was subsequently attached to the baby.

The baby's condition during and after each contraction was monitored continuously using a C.T.G. machine and this necessitated Elaine lying on her back throughout the remainder of her labour. Continuous monitoring meant the hospital pool we had previously learned to set up for pain relief could no longer be used.

No one asked Elaine how she had felt just before labour commenced, no one asked about the muscles she had pulled in her back earlier in the pregnancy, leading to weeks of very little sleep and a fair degree of physical/mental exhaustion before labour had even started.

Towards the end of an extremely prolonged first stage 'internal' examinations were carried out hourly to assess progress and, after what seemed like an endless succession of these dreaded visits by the doctor, things were 'helped along' using the Ventouse / Vacuum extraction technique accompanied by a pudendal nerve block for pain relief swiftly followed (all too swiftly) by an episiotomy.

Elaine couldn't speak for most of the first hour following the birth, couldn't eat the toast she once thought she would anticipate with such relish, couldn't even muster any interest in giving her first born a name - she was too deeply traumatised by events. She even had to be catheterised - no one suggested that she should empty her bladder during the first stage and now she just couldn't manage despite her own best efforts.

And so up to the ward with the baby, only one nurse being kind enough to ask if she should take the baby away for an hour to let Elaine rest, the only breast feeding mother in a bay full of blissfully sleepy bottle fed babies. Only a few depressingly lonely days to survive until both she and the baby were passed as 'fit to leave' and returned home.

No wonder we waited so long to conceive a second child and made very different arrangements for her birth !

Jack Lyden July 03

Jack and Elaine's second baby, Hope, was born at home in July 2003.

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