On March 9, 2016, my first child was born. A boy named Finnley Joe Cornick (it was going to be Finnegan but we felt it was a little harsh, and incredibly Irish).
Just like his Dad, he was early (unexpectedly), and he even beat me at that coming three weeks before due date against my two. Just like his Dad, he would share a middle name with Joseph Maher, my Grandad on my mum’s side of the family that died long before I was born while still fairly young. He was also Irish to the core.
As my wife Carolina explained and tells anyone that listens, I am “annoyingly early” to everything. We always agree to disagree.
With many planned afternoon naps and walks to the beach and shops for Carolina to enjoy, the last Monday evening before Finn was born was spent relaxing. Just a few hours later the birthing machine had kicked in.
On that monumental day at around 4am I woke to see a sliver of bathroom light shine into our room and realised Carolina was awake. She returned and looked puzzled. Then paced the room as quietly as she could.
“Everything OK, love?” I murmured. She replied, “I think my waters broke. Or I’ve wet myself.”
“No way darling, come back to bed, you’ve just wet yourself,” I dismissively reasoned, as though this was normal for a 30-year-old woman.
Unable to get back to sleep we lay in bed debating whether to call the hospital birthing suite. Eventually after my refusal to smell a liner to determine whether it was in fact urine, we called. And we were summoned in. “Should I pack a bag?” Carolina asked. “Nah love, definitely won’t need it”.
By 6am we were at the hospital, Carolina being monitored by countless machines. A few hours of not much happening resulted in the conclusion waters had in fact broke.
Our Obstetrician (the irritatingly young, handsome and funny Doctor that I tagged “McDreamy” of Grey’s Anatomy fame) stopped by to reassure us. On reflection I concede he was everything you wanted in a Doctor. Perhaps the best, and I have dealt with hundreds, personal and work-related.
For the first, but not the last time in the experience, I felt cheated and lied to. In the movies when waters break women are driving or in the supermarket and the resulting tsunami of water is followed by ambulances and a frantic rush to hospital.
As though it was the most normal thing in the world, the Nurse explained we should go home and relax and come back by 7 am the next day to be induced if labour had not come on.
Of course we ignored this advice and spent the next three hours buying shelves at Bunnings, at a framing shop getting baby room posters framed, at a baby shop and finally at Country Road exchanging some purchases.
Tuesday flew by as we accelerated three weeks’ worth of tasks into around ten hours, including erecting shelves in the baby room. The vibrations would haunt me and my fractured ribs for days afterwards (that is another story).
A walk to the local Thai later to pick-up our last supper and we went to bed still not absorbing the fact we would be parents in around 12 hours’ time.
For the second night running Carolina woke in the early hours, this time the infamous contractions had started. I was on hand to record them on an iPhone App, thinking this was the best thing since sliced bread.
Then the pain intensified. Leaving it as long as we could we finally left for the hospital at 6:30 am. Carolina did not appreciate me going over speed bumps outside the hospital. Apparently she did try to plead mid-contraction to swerve around it. Strangely of even more concern was the panic brought on about where was her lip-balm?
Heading straight to the birthing suite we were told it would be better if we bypassed the inducement and let it happen naturally.
Based on Carolina’s face of anguish and pain at just 3cm dilated, I was certain she disagreed. The lovely but direct Midwife told us to go for a walk for two hours, “Go to the shops, have a walk around the oval.” She did nothing to hide her hilarious contempt when she realised we had an App to record contractions.
At this stage it was time for a coffee. I headed downstairs to grab one from the kiosk. As I queued, the Portuguese Barista Luis nervously but cheerfully explained to the regular staff customers he served that he was due to take his driving test that day. Everyone reassured him and he remained positive.
Subsequently we only got as far as the hospital lobby, about a 20-metre walk. In between the contractions intensifying and Carolina gripping me as though her life depended on it as patients watched on, we walked around the ground floor corridor of the hospital.
Two hours of the cycle of waves of pain and I got sick of people asking me what was wrong and gritting my teeth smiling. In my head I wanted to scream, “Clearly my wife is pregnant and in the early stages of labour. And no, I am not a bad husband, the Nurse told us to go for a walk!” But I remained dignified.
Back in the birthing suite I did my best to act as a human-sized stress ball for Carolina. She protested that she could not give birth to this child. It was impossible with the pain.
As the Obstetrician examined her, lunch was brought in for me and I made sure everyone knew, looking up at the process, mouth full and innocently asking, “How good is this quiche?”
Agreeing we would definitely now bypass an inducement, the anaesthetist was summoned to administer the Epidural. Just 20 minutes later Carolina went from “nearing death” in her words to feeling like she was riding clouds.
The next two hours were simply a hazy, slow-motion show-reel. I do remember talking to the midwife about my day job recruiting Doctors and Nurses in healthcare.
Then Carolina mentioned she felt some slight pressure in her leg and before I could react we were in labour. Cue the Obstetrician’s pep talk of, “Well your best mate did it in 21 minutes so we’ve got to beat that”. This was like a red rag to a bull, given Carolina’s competitive nature.
Not planning on a front row seat of the birth canal, I stood gripping Carolina’s hand and reassuring ever so quietly. Between laughter and some ridiculously relaxed rests between pushing, the midwife pulled me closer to her and gestured to look at the money shot.
I was completely transfixed. Before I knew it my son’s head emerged and a push later was on Carolina’s chest, sliding around like a day at “Wet ‘n’ Wild”. Relief, happiness, disbelief. He was crying, alive and well with his skinny behind wiggling away.
As ceremony dictated I gladly took the scissors to cut the umbilical cord. Remembering it could be the consistency of a “tough sausage” I cut once, then twice. The cord flicked back like a hose and missed everyone else around the bed except it spurted a generous blood splatter all over the Obstetrician’s business shirt (he had just been Consulting and was due to return to his rooms).
I was completely transfixed. Before I knew it my son’s head emerged and a push later was on Carolina’s chest, sliding around like a day at “Wet ‘n’ Wild”.
The following days in our hotel-style deluxe “suite” were welcome but merged into now what seems a distant memory. Three great meals a day, snacks, drinks, linen, midwives and nurses on call to help with every query, educational and practical classes. A double-bed so I could stay the whole time and truly caring staff made the stay a costly but welcome one.
Despite my humble roots I can safely say I have never felt more secure in a clinical environment and if I have enough resources in a couple of years’ time I would do the same all over again.
Visitors came and went, around 25 nappies were changed and I learnt how to bath my son for the first time. Described by a midwife as a deluxe womb-experience our boy instantly collapsed into a starfish-style pose in the water. My imagination wondered if babies could speak he would ask for a cigar, a whisky and some female company to go with his spa.
At some stage I made an urgent dash to the Toyota service centre to get our baby car seat fitted and later on a coffee run downstairs I discovered Luis the Barista telling every customer that listened he had passed his driving test the day before. Inside I was high-fiving him and it felt bloody brilliant. To be happy for a man I did not know was a measure of my emotional state.
Back upstairs and in between our son weeing on his own face while I changed his nappy, Carolina and I delicately held him but were at first stunned by the staff’s confident handling. Although completely harmless and essential for medical checks I could barely look as the Paediatrician swung our boy by his arms like a monkey and exclaimed: “Look how strong he is!”
When we finally left the hospital and walked out the entrance door into the real world, reality hit home. 20 minutes of fiddling and adjusting the car seat meant our boy was now ready for a feed, but had to put up with daddy’s excruciatingly slow driving.
Back at home we realised quickly that routine was going to be the name of the game. Our lives had been replaced with feed, wind, feed, change nappy, wind, sleep and repeat. With punctuations of “learning on the job” about colostrum, nipple pads and covers, ice packs for breasts and the almost magical powers of baby wipes for all household clean-ups.
After a few days of this cycle, the moment I got to “burp” him after a feed became my addiction. Dismissive of the cloth wraps I discarded these, placed him on my chest and secretly pretended to Carolina he still had wind so he spent longer there. I wondered (hopefully) if my Dad had ever done the same.
To describe that feeling adequately is impossible. All I knew was the first time my son lay on my chest, his tiny heart beating, chest rising on mine and his arms wrapped either side of my ribs, it all made sense for once.
This article was previously published on Terry’s website, Mr Perfect, and has been republished with permission.