I was a fifth wheel

LAST UPDATED: 23 Oct, 2010 @ 16:03
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ABOUT five hours in, I noticed Loli had begun to wince with the contractions. Then she started to bite her lip. She still tried to pretend there was nothing the matter.

Ten hours in and there was no more pretending. She lay there wreathed in sweat, trying to hide the tears in her eyes, emitting heartbreaking whimpers as the contractions began to come with greater regularity.

This part is the suffering men must go through during birth. While in no way comparable to what women endure, seeing a loved one in terrible pain and being unable to do anything is not the most pleasant sensation in the world.

The feeling of hopelessness it causes hits the male ego right at its weakest point, the belief we will always be able to protect our loved ones from harm. But worse was to come.

“It was like winning a very messy, protracted legal battle: an absolute nightmare while it is occurring but bringing an enormous sense of relief and joy when it is all over.”

Loli was moved to the dilation room, the last stage before actually giving birth. The epidural was administered. However, it in no way removed all of the pain. In fact, she seemed to be suffering more.

This part of the process was another eye-opener. My wife, in common with most women, is very skilled at maintaining her feminine mystique.

Her toilette always occurs behind firmly closed doors and on days when she waxes her legs, I’m not even allowed to be in the house.

But now, here she was, stretched out on a bed in the most dignity-robbing position imaginable, puffing, panting and sweaty, surrounded by tubes, drips and bleeping machinery. She looked like some huge, overturned cyborg beetle. I didn’t know where to put my eyes.

At this point, Loli began to lose patience with me. I tried to do my best to participate in the process, but there are only so many times you can offer your wife a sip of water or tell her not to worry before it becomes irritatingly repetitive.

But there’s not really anything else a man can do. It wasn’t that I was made to feel a fifth wheel: I was a fifth wheel.

Loli’s humour wasn’t improved by the sudden eruption of Red Indian-style, ululating screams from a room further down the corridor. “That’s a Moroccan woman giving birth,” the midwife explained.

“Those cries are their way of dealing with the pain, like we have deep breathing.” And does it work? I enquired. “Well, they all seem to do it, so I suppose it must.”

At this point, an enormous argument broke out in the room opposite us. A young gypsy girl was about to give birth there and as often happens with gypsy families, she was accompanied by around 15 relatives.

However, when the person with whom she was sharing the room complained about all 15 of them trying to crowd in at the same time, the girl’s grandfather took umbrage.

Violent oaths drifted down the corridor, as the gypsy patriarch strode up and down banging the wall with his walking stick. Only the prompt intervention of the hospital security staff saved the scene from escalating.

The birth of my daughter began far less dramatically than I imagined it would, but my first impressions of the hospital weren’t that good.

Many of the nurses seemed to have a rather lax interpretation of the no-smoking signs and the hospital’s stairwells had been designated as unofficial smoking zones. Having to push through groups of nurses puffing away on cigarettes did not do a great deal to reassure me.

The attempts to induce the birth began next morning. I was a bit worried about what this would entail as the Spanish use the verb provocar el parto (to provoke the birth) which sounds slightly aggressive.

As it was, it basically consisted of a tampon-like thing soaked in hormones which is supposed to start the contractions off, whereupon the natural process takes over.

The process began. We waited. And we waited. Twelve hours later a cheery midwife told us that the first attempt had failed. “But we’ll try again in eight hours.”

This is one of the things I noticed about giving birth, everything happens in huge slabs of time. Those seemingly interminable 20 minute waits at train stations or for taxis are nothing compared with giving birth. If you get a mere five hour wait between one stage and the next, think yourself lucky.

At three the following morning, the process was tried again. This time it worked.

The first contractions were greeted with childlike fascination by Loli. I placed my hand on her tummy, we enjoyed them together.

“Oh, they’re nothing at the moment,” Loli smilingly told me as a minor contraction rippled through. Luckily Loli didn’t catch the look of the midwife, who had overheard her. It was a look that said “they aren’t all going to be like that, lady”.

After spending eight of the longest hours of my life in that room, the moment of truth arrived: Loli was taken to the delivery room.

Having painted a somewhat bleak picture so far, I have to say the actual birth was nowhere near as traumatic as I feared. I had expected to come face to face with Nature, red in tooth and claw. But the doctors and nurses went about their work in such a calm, professional, friendly way it did a great deal to sooth my nerves.

I will spare you the gory details. Suffice to say from the moment my wife was wheeled into the birthing room to the moment little Inés lay there in the incubator, roughly 12 minutes passed. Loli only had to push four times.

Of course, this is all from the male perspective. The four pushes I mention with such nonchalance were the four hardest things my wife has ever had to do (her words). But still, I was amazed at how quick the process was.

All in all, I would say giving birth is like fighting and winning a very messy, protracted legal battle: an absolute nightmare while it is occurring but bringing an enormous sense of relief and joy when it is all over.

It was Loli’s first child and she suffered. However, prolonged, intense pain is nothing compared to the Tsunami-like force of the mothering instinct. Proof of this came as we sat in the recovery room and Loli took Inés in her arms for the first time.

This would have been about 20 minutes after enduring the agony of giving birth. The first thing Loli said as she gazed down at our child was ‘I want more of these’.

I’ll keep you informed.

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