At 3.27 this morning a new human being slided gently and peacefully on to the planet like a feather being laid on to a snow drift by a fairy’s fart (this might not be an accurate description of birth). We had been debating the name for some time and provisionally settled on Ernest. Having met him that did seem very apt, as he looks like quite a serious and thoughtful little chap. So this is Ernest Christopher Patrick Herring or Ernie for short and this means his first Edinburgh Fringe show can be called “The Ernest Herring Way” and his second one can be called, “The Importance of Being Ernest Herring” and so on. It’s important to give your kids a good start by ensuring they have titles for Edinburgh Fringe shows.
We had gone back to London for the birth, a bit like Joseph and Mary (very like them as it turned out as there was no room at the inn), partly so Ernie could still be a citizen of a free-London and part of the EU post the civil war between the past and the future and partly because we’d really liked the hospital the first time.But mainly because in the chaos of the last few weeks we hadn't managed to get referred to the local hospital in time.
I don’t know if we were just unlucky or if in the last 32 months the cuts on the NHS have really taken their toll, but it was a very different experience this time. The staff were still wonderful, of course, but resources seemed stretched to an almost dangerous level. Apparently there were a lot of mothers in labour on this particular night/day, so it might just be poor timing and we were told in the morning that the midwives had been at breaking point themselves with a couple of them in tears. But I wasn’t far off having to deliver the baby myself. It all happened very quickly and when I finally managed to locate someone and convince them that things were speeding through very quickly, we had a frantic and slightly comical dash down to the floor below (amongst the blind terror I felt was a genuine but sardonic laugh when they crashed the trolley into a wall) for Catie to give birth very quickly (and without pain relief) in a room so small that she had thought might be a corridor (and didn’t want to open her eyes, just in case it was, to spare her the indignity of the gaze of passing strangers).
Ernie was practically shot across the room like a tennis ball from one of those tennis ball machines, but luckily someone caught him before he hit the wall. It was maybe 25 minutes since I had been in our cubicle trying to find someone to help because my wife was saying she was giving birth.
Last time there had been a big team of midwives and doctors and an anaesthetist and some experts called in to advise and we’d been allowed to stay in the big room we’d been in for about six hours after the birth, before being moved across to our own room for observation. This time is was a crack team of three or four midwives who had rushed in from different rooms on the floor like crack commandos to complete this task, before disappearing off again to help someone else with a baby stuck up them (as is the understanding I have, learned from Ian Stereophonics). I am not sure that we even met a doctor in the whole 32 hours we were in hospital.
We were taken to another tiny room by one of the midwives who said she’d be observing us for two hours, but then someone else required the room for another baby stuck up a woman and we were taken back upstairs and put in one of the little curtained-off cubicles that we’d been waiting in before. No one observed us and there was barely anyone around to advise us about how you kept a baby alive or what you were meant to do.These amazing midwives were being called away to other situations like ours. None of this was their fault. They were incredible. The place was just woefully understaffed. Maybe it was an exceptional night.
An annoyed woman in one of the cubicles kept complaining about the noise from us and our baby because she wanted to sleep. I presume she hasn’t yet had a baby. Or maybe the hospital was earning some extra money renting out beds to tourists and it must have come as quite a shock to find out she was surrounded by expectant mums and brand new screaming babies.
We spent nearly all our stay in one or other of these cubicles, apart from the hour that we were having the baby and dealing with the aftermath. It was a kind of living Hell for lots of reasons. Before we had kicked off properly we were surrounded by the sounds of other women in various stages of pre and post natal pain as a pre-warning of what was to come. And afterwards as we waited to be discharged, which seemed to take forever, you heard women back in the early stages of what we’d just been through, which if you are suffering from post-traumatic stress is not the best thing in the world. But it did at least confirm that everyone went through pretty much the same stuff, said the same things and were largely fobbed off in the same way.
As the husband/partner things are infinitely worse than they are for the lucky women who only have to give birth. Oh yes, the snowflake pregnant ladies get a nice bed to lie down in and someone bringing them food, but the partners have to sit in a very uncomfortable chair. I can’t think of anything that could hurt a body more. I don’t expect luxury, but something like a little pull out bed or just a chair that would recline slightly would surely have made things a bit more bearable. I maybe managed 30 minutes sleep in little five minute bursts before my arse skin was seared by the horrible plastic on the chair and I woke up.
And yet when I told Catie how tired I was, she seemed caught between anger and laughing hard in my face.
I have to say that my respect for my wife, which was high enough already, went through the roof. She had had her birth plan crapped all over by a laughing Jeremy Hunt and no one really listened to her when she gave them the correct assessment of where she was in her pregnancy (because they had too many ofter burning plates to spin and so didn’t really want to listen or even check if she was right), and then bore the painful consequences of all of this with incredible bravery.
And Ernie is amazing. He’s more timid than his sister and didn’t scream the place down (at least to begin with) and looked like a very old man, and then a splodgy potato and then a cartoon character. It took a while for him to open his eyes (but the same was true for his mum and perhaps it’s best that neither of them saw what was going on, because it was fucking crazy, but he winked and then blinked up at me. I have forgotten all about looking after a tiny baby, but hopefully it will come back to me. I’d also forgotten how amazing it is to hold them against your shoulder and smell their tiny heads.
I nearly went mad with frustration as we waited for all the forms and tests that would allow us to go home. I’d initially been told it would all be done by 10.30am, but we weren’t actually clear until 4.30pm. And then we weren’t allowed to go as we hadn’t brought a car seat (and had mistakenly thought it was OK to have a newborn in the back of a cab in a sling). So we had to ring our family and wait for Catie’s brother to drive down to get us.
By now at least the ward was much quieter, luckily for anyone having a baby over night. But I felt like we’d never get Ernie home to meet his big sister.
She was in bed by the time we got back. We had a little champagne and some food and then an early night. Not that that really matters with a new born, but still.
Not even a day old. What a magical and strange place to be.
But welcome to the family Ernie. Sorry about all that you’ll learn about us.