Hello young child

There is a great deal of information to share. Prepare yourselves for an epic tale of apprehension, excitement, trepidation, and other adjectives.

The key members of my readership hopefully are already aware that my new spawn has moved from the safety of his warm, water-bound liquid environment, to the less dense, gaseous atmosphere of the earth. Some photos are here. Also here.

My spawn was not immediately impressed by his new surroundings. Getting born seems like a pretty raw deal – no wonder we don’t remember our own births when we get older.

This edition of the waffle group email will be featured on Paternity Ward because that’s the right place for it. The long tale begins from here…

Jethro was born on the 27 of May, 2008, at 08h07. Yes, we really are calling him “Jethro,” and no, it’s not an elaborate practical joke. Angie and I believe that the name is unusual, but familiar. Some people may think it has something to do with a rock band. It’s possible he’ll get the nickname “Tull.”

If he ever complains, we’ll tell him to be more grateful we didn’t call him Mumphred.

The night before going to the hospital was a little stressful. Expectations and uncertainty were building up. My fight-or-flight instinct suddenly kicked in from nowhere. Since there was nothing to fight, I felt like I needed to run away. Preferably the run was to be quite a distance – and if possible, quite speedy (although a hoping for speedy escape might have been expecting too much, since I only ever managed to outrun Tonny van Dingenen during high school 100m-sprint trials).
It was a disconcerting instinct. This primitive, low-level impulse to run away from impending responsibility wasn’t what I wanted on a cognitive level. I felt ready for the responsibility of the infant I would soon need to care for, and I was excited about his arrival. Yet, I had an undeniable urge to get the hell away and leave everything in Angie’s capable hands.

I didn’t do that though, and I’m really pleased about it. Had I run away, who would teach him where we keep the spoons?

We arrived at the hospital just before 6am on Tuesday, with Angie due for her caesarian section at 7:30. The caesarian had been scheduled due to medical reasons, and she was first in line.
We went straight to the maternity ward, and I was immediately redirected to the admissions to finalise the paperwork. As I’ve said before: no paternity ward.

To be fair, the Sandton Medi-clinic does everything in its power to make the maternity ward as welcoming to fathers as possible. In reality, my perceptions of fatherly exclusion were almost completely unfounded. Short of providing a bed for the fathers, the maternity ward was practically a paternity ward too (and if we’d been willing to pay exorbitant additional fee, over and above that provided for by medical aid, I could’ve got a bed too).

After a little confusion regarding when the procedure was to be carried out, the additional administration was completed, and I made my way back to Angie’s room just in time for them preparing to wheel her off to surgery.

This is where the mild insanity of strictly following rules and procedures kicked in. I understand the point of it, but one still cannot help but shake one’s head at the absurdity of a perfectly healthy pregnant woman walking into the hospital, but needing to be wheeled on a bed to theatre.
Angie received no pre-med, as may have been the case for some other type of planned surgery. Caesarian sections don’t work that way. The idea is to keep the patient (do you have a better word than that?) in full control of her faculties so that she can experience the birth of her child.
It was made even more absurd due to the fact that I was quite welcome to walk from her ward to the operating rooms without getting on a bed. I suppose this must have something to do with the fact that if I trip and fall down a flight of stairs on the way to theatre, it isn’t the hospital’s problem since I haven’t been admitted – I’m just a VIP visitor. They stand to gain a patient should I fall down the stairs, and so on that account I’m surprised no-one gave me a strategic shove.

In theatre, they have magic red lines. They paint these magic red lines on the floor near the entrance. They are approximately a hand-width wide, and run across the floor, wall-to-wall.
If you cross the magic lines, and are not wearing scrubs, you are given a very stern talking to. Would it have been to much to mention the red lines before sending me into theatre?

Off I went to dress appropriately. Having never worn the clown-clothing that these surgeon types wear to work, I was a little uncertain as to whether or not the scrubs just went over my clothes, or I had to strip, or what. Plus, all the doctors were wearing Crocs. That’s right – the ugly ugly plastic shoes. Would I have to wear just foolish looking apparel, in addition to the dorkiness of the scrubs?

Now, it seemed most obvious that Angie’s gynae should show me what to wear and how to dress, but she was already scrubbed-up, and proclaimed her general ignorance of the state of the men’s change-room, but the required garments would surely be there; also put this on your head and these over your shoes; what are you waiting for?

Angie had previously complained about how stern Dr Sharpe was, but this was the first time it had been directed at me. Thankfully there was someone in the change-room, and he kindly gave me some guidance. Hint: In case it isn’t obvious to you, you only wear the scrubs. Take off your clothes (I left my underwear on though, but only because the scrubs were not kilt-like).

Nobody pounces as I cross the magic red lines, and I make my way over to Angie, lying on a bed in the corner, also dressed in a silly hat. She looks nervous. I squeeze her hand. I feel thirsty and a little nervous myself. Can I do this, even though I’m not doing anything? My job is to be present and remain conscious. Is it really that hard?

I need water. Angie says not to leave her, but I really need water. I promise not to go far, that I’m not abandoning her to her fate in the operating room.

I find a nurse. She eyes me suspiciously and asks who the water is for. She does this because patients cannot drink water before going into surgery because they’ll vomit. In Angie’s case, she’d vomit on me.

She leads me to the kitchen that is clearly marked “Doctors Only.” I’m not one of those, but it doesn’t seem to matter. I get my water, drink it and rush back to Angie. The kitchen was further away from her than I had thought.

She is relieved to see me return. When I get there the anaesthesiologist is bantering with her. Banter banter banter. He’s very light-hearted. He tries to put Angie at ease. He says inserting the drip is the worse part of the whole procedure. I don’t believe him, but he banter banter banters. It is good though. I think it helps Angie. It doesn’t help me.

He says the drip is to help maintain her blood pressure during the operation.

I feel like I need one too

Then we’re moving. Moving down the passage to the operating room. I scurry after the bed on wheels. This is when I notice the Crocs. Everyone has Crocs. I don’t like Crocs. Can I trust surgeons who wear Crocs?

The rubber on the wheels squeak squeak squeak down the sanitised cleanly cleanly antiseptic passage (except for my bag and my camera – they don’t need funny covers like my head and my shoes do).

We’re in the theatre. They say put your bag here. They say sit there. I do what they say. I hold onto my camera. I hold onto Angie. I squeeze her hand. I stroke her leg. She sits up on the table and leans forward. I sit on a chair in front of and to the left of her. The anaesthesiologist sits behind her. He banter banter banters. I watch him. I watch him as he injects a needle into Angie’s spine, but I don’t see the needle, and I don’t see the spine. I just see him. I just see the beads of sweat pearling on his brow, under his silly sanitised hat. More and more beads appear, flock together, and run away.

Run away.

I think about mentioning the anaesthesiologist’s perspiration and concentration to Angie. I think again.

They lie Angie down. Her legs start to go numb. She says she can’t feel them. They’re moving her legs around. Any moment they’ll cut her open.

I sit on my chair.

I look at her face.

I squeeze her hand.

I feel her anxiety.

I feel her dizziness.

I feel her sense of going far far away.

I think it how strange it must feel for her – so intensely detached from herself, and almost in someone else’s body entirely.

They ask me if I’m ok.

They all look at me – deeply concerned.

They ask me if I would like something sweet to drink.

I realise that it isn’t Angie who feels detached and faraway faraway Far. A. Way.

Angie says its okay. Go. Go.

They ask whether I’d prefer tea or coffee with three spoons of sugar.


I float out of the room. Perhaps they hold me up.

They took me back to the doctors’ tearoom, sat me down on a comfy chair, and pushed syrupy tea into my hands. I slowly sipped it. It tasted really good, and I don’t normally like sweet things.

The nurse offered to take my camera back to the operating room so that someone could take photos of my son being born. Not for the first time I cursed my DSLR I customise its settings quite a bit, which makes it impossible for people unfamiliar with SLR photography to take any photographs that are in focus. The number of buttons one needs to press to get the camera back to simple point-and-shoot settings is challenging enough when I am in full control of my faculties, let alone on the point of oozing away into a puddle of uncoordinated spasms on the floor of the tearoom.
My semi-useful tutorial completed, the nurse disappeared with the camera, leaving me to my sugar-saturated tea.

Doctors passed in and out of the tearoom. Some sat at the little kitchen tables. They talked about things I felt only half aware of. My mind drifted to my performance as a father so far.
My son was about to be born down the passage and I wasn’t going to be there to witness it. FAIL FATHER!
My wife was lying on an operating table, and although I was allowed to be there with her, I was not present to support her. FAIL HUSBAND! (Although, she’d seem quite relieved when I agreed to leave the operating room).

As my blood sugar levels returned to normal, I started to become quite depressed. Jethro, not yet born, had a FAIL FATHER. I believed that this was an obvious indication of my capabilities as a father. I was unable to carry out the simple task of just being there. How would I be able to do anything else?
This sort of thing really wouldn’t do. I felt perfectly fine, so I got up and went looking for the operating room I’d been led away from. I found the room that I thought Angie was in, but I decided it would be rather poor form to just barge in on the surgeons. I looked around, desperately trying to find a familiar face who would be willing to lead me back into the operating room.

In the end, the familiar face spotted me, and I was led back into the room just as Jethro was born.
The paediatrician took the more gory photographs, but I could probably have done it myself. I no longer felt like I was unattached to my body. I felt very present. Very alive. Very involved. I even cut the umbilical cord
I realised that the blood itself had never been the problem. The problem was the cutting into living flesh that would result in a flow of blood. It is the action, not the substance, that bothers me so greatly.

Before cutting the cord, I was assured that there would be no blood spurting around the place. Peculiar scissors they use for that job – all bloated and rounded at what should be the pointy bit. And blunt. Or possibly the umbilical cord is just really difficult to cut through – like rubber.

Jethro started out a little blue, and generally unhappy with being pulled out of his former warm environment. His lungs required suctioning. He needed oxygen for a little longer that would normally have been necessary because this new atmosphere thing wasn’t his idea of a good time. He got cold, and needed a couple of hours in the warm air of an incubator. More fundamental problems with the nature of a gaseous atmosphere. He wasn’t impressed at all, and maintained a grumpy scowl for most of the first few hours of his life out of the womb. Looks like he’s taking after me in that respect.

Thus far, parenthood is treating Angie and me really well. Compared to pregnancy, Angie is elated and practically on a permanent high. The C-section cut, although painful, hasn’t slowed her down at all. She’s up and about, losing weight, can see her feet, can reach her feet, and glows with a fabulous contentment.
We brought Jethro home from the hospital on Friday, having received thorough training from the highly capable nursery staff at Sandton Medi-clinic. They were absolutely outstanding, and equipped as well for the time ahead at home.
Feeding, bathing, changing, and especially loving Jethro is coming so easily at the moment. He’s almost a week old, so he’s supposed to sleep most of the time anyway. Apparently more crying is to be expected in the coming weeks, peaking around six weeks.

The night-shift isn’t too bad – but we’ve only had two nights of it up until now, so my impression of the difficulties caused by sleep deprivation may change with time. I’m back at work tomorrow and I know I’m going to miss my son terribly.

These small infant creatures – they’re actually pretty damn cool. It’s just that you don’t realise it until you make one of your own.


3 Responses

  1. […] If you haven’t received an email, you may like to read about it on paternity ward. […]

  2. Congratulations! He is beautiful. And well done on getting the birth story written down. Its taken me 18 months to write most of mine down and the memories and smells and sounds fade so quickly. Enjoy this new, exciting time!

  3. […] last time I published something substantial on Paternity Ward was just after Jethro was born. Since then I just haven’t had much time (and in cases where there was time — no […]

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