A Grandfather’s Greatest Privilege

    When my daughter Melissa invited Di to take photos at the birth of my second grandson and Melissa's first baby, I thought ‘that's great', all the girls will be there, Melissa of course and Stacey her sister, Rhonda her mother, Di the wicked stepmother and the midwife Andilla, a beautiful lady from Samoa who has delivered over 500 babies and of course, Glenn the Dad.

    Over dinner one night we were talking about the up and coming birth and Melissa said "You have to be there too Dad". I said "Sure Melis". I was happy to be invited to be part of it but thinking I would have to sit out on the deck with the dogs and get the occasional report.the-birthing-boys-web

    Melissa had decided to have a drug free water birth at home, which naturally I fully supported and that's why there was a cast of thousands.

    They say that life happens while we make plans.


    My grandson is due to be born on 27th March 2010 and Rhonda has made arrangements to fly in from Perth about two weeks before that date so she can spend some time with Melissa and Stacey; be there for Melissa at the birth and have a couple of weeks with Melissa and the baby before she returns to Perth to start her trip around Australia.

    Early in March Melissa has some cramp like pain and thinks the baby may arrive early, so Rhonda, not wanting to miss the birth, comes over early. Zane, the unborn baby, finds out about this and decides he likes the little cocoon he's living in and chooses to spend a couple more weeks basking in the comfort of his mother's womb.

    In the outside world this is causing lots of problems. Rhonda wants to go home on the 3rd of April and Melissa gets very upset, so her mum stays another week. Everyone is sure this will work out fine - after all, the baby is already a week overdue. Rhonda changes her return flight to Saturday the 10th of April and Melissa is happy because she has another week to have her baby with her mum there.

    Before you know it, the 10th of April rolls around and no baby. Rhonda catches the plane home. Melissa is a little sad but accepts the fact her mum won't be there.

    There is also another big problem - the baby is now estimated to be 14 days overdue, maybe a few days less because it's not an exact science. The general rule is, if the baby is more than 2 weeks overdue, it has to be induced, which means Melissa will have to have a hospital birth - something she just does not want. Andilla and Melissa decide the latest possible date to have the baby is Thursday 15th April.

    Zane hears about this and decides he had better get a wriggle on so, on Monday night at about 9.30pm, Di and I get a text from Melissa saying that ‘something is happening' and she would keep us posted.

    At 1.00am on Tuesday 13th Glenn sends a text saying things have hotted up a bit and if we are awake come on over. How could we not be awake? Di's phone is so loud it woke up the whole neighbourhood. Anyway, by about 1.45am we were on their doorstep.

    Stacey was already there, as was Andilla, along with Sari and Boof the dogs and of course Glenn. In addition to that, not long after our arrival along came Cheri, Andilla's midwife friend who had never attended a home birth and wanted the experience.

    The birthing pool had been returned to the lounge from the baby's room, having been shoved in there by Glenn after it sat in the lounge for over two weeks. If you have never seen one, it's like an average sized six-person spa and made of some type of inflatable plastic. It holds about 300 litres of water and has to be kept at about 37degrees temperature.

    It's full, up to temperature and ready to go.

    Everybody is sitting around chatting and Melissa is having contractions about every two or three minutes and coping very well.

    After about an hour Andilla says its time for Melissa to hit the pool, as the contractions are getting stronger and the time between each one is getting closer - around two minutes apart.

    An hour or so goes by and the contractions are pretty intense. I'm videoing each one, thinking the baby might pop out any minute. Shows how much I know. Melissa is still pretty relaxed despite the pain. It's now about 5.00am and Glenn is running a book on birth times. 6.30am seems to be the consensus, although I'm starting to think it might be about 7.30am, the time I was born. I didn't say anything because Melissa was in such pain and I didn't want her to be contemplating an extra hour.

    Glenn is now in the pool with Melissa, and Stacey is comforting her by holding hands and keeping her spirits up with her quick wit and contagious laugh. Andilla and Cheri are supporting and comforting Melissa; Andilla has a very calming influence over the whole procedure and everyone feels the amazing energy in the room. I am thinking ‘this is just the best way to have a baby, a total family affair. We will all have a special bond with this baby'. I'm loving the experience, taking little video shots and Di is taking the photos.

    It's 5.30am and Stacey has to go and pick up Xavier because Aaron has to go to work. I ask Melissa if the water is warm enough - it's not so we put more hot water in before Stace goes.

    I finish putting the water in and Melissa has another contraction and Cheri, who is holding Melissa's hand, has to check the baby's heartbeat. She motions me to take Melissa's hand. I go ahead and hold Melissa's hand and soon become totally involved in comforting and encouraging her through each contraction.

    Melissa and I have always been very close and I instinctively know this experience will bring us even closer. I love her for her total commitment to the family and being the catalyst for bringing us all together. The enormity of me sitting there helping her through this momentous event in her life hasn't really hit me yet, but it does in the next twenty four hours.

    Glenn is such a cool dude - although I don't think too much about what a fantastic job he is doing, supporting Melissa through all this. He's a rock; despite seeing Melissa in such pain, he is supportive and encouraging at the same time and I'm absolutely over the moon being his team-mate.

    I've lost track of time now - I think it is about 8.00am. Stacey came back with Xavier and Di is looking after him out the back, he is running up and down the drive and playing on the scooter. The dogs, including our two, are outside with them, they know something major is going on and all want to be part of the action. It's great to have Stacey back; there is plenty for us all to do.

    Melissa and Glenn are both exhausted, so Andilla organises to make a bed on the couch and they both lie down for a much earned rest; that is, as much as they can rest with Melissa having violent contractions every couple of minutes. Melissa is not fully dilated so she still can't push, even though every instinct in her body is telling her to push like crazy.

    Xavier is in the bedroom now with Di and playing with Stacey's iphone. He is getting stressed hearing all the screaming and wants his mum. Di comes in to tell Stace and then has to go out and calm the dogs, as they are all clawing at the door. When Stace reaches the bedroom, Xavier is sitting on the bed listening to Melissa and saying "push, push". Stace can't believe it. How would he know that?

    It seems like no time at all, but probably another hour goes by and Melissa and Glenn are back in the pool; the contractions are violent and Melissa still can't push because, although she is almost ready, there is some sort of a lip that is in the way of the baby finishing his journey. The fear is, if Melissa can't stop the urge to push, this lip will become swollen and will mean she will have to go to hospital and have a caesarean - which she just does not want.

    Andilla is trying to get the lip out of the way but it is too painful and Cheri, who is also doing a fantastic job, has given her a homeopathic remedy that will help reduce the swelling. Melissa is in so much pain now she can't bear it any more and is crying out for something to relieve the pain. Andilla calms Melissa down and tells her that if she can breathe through the next five contractions - which means ‘no pushing' - there is a good chance the baby can be delivered and she won't have to go to hospital. Although she is totally spent and in so much pain, Melissa is inspired by this thought and, with her last remaining bit of energy and an enormous amount of courage and willpower, she breathes and screams her way through the next five contractions. We are all trying to encourage and help. Her grip is vice-like and I feel like I'm in an Indian arm wrestling match with Wonder Woman. Andilla is struggling to hold her legs in position and Glenn is getting squeezed into the wall of the bath.

    Unfortunately, the lip doesn't move and our little man can't move. Melissa is absolutely exhausted, the pain is unbearable and she wants to go to hospital. Her head is on my shoulder and, in a moment of lucidity, she whispers in my ear, "Dad, I just can't do this anymore, I can't go on". I cuddle her and tell she is doing a great job and it won't be long now.

    Andilla explains what will happen when the ambulance comes and what will happen when they get to hospital. Melissa is only interested in getting rid of the pain and wants to know if they will have something to relieve the pain.

    Andilla goes off to make the call and seems to be taking a long time to come back. Melissa is in so much pain and Glenn is starting to get very stressed. I am sure he can't stand to see Melissa in so much pain and not be able to do anything. He wants to know where the ambulance is and lets us all know he's not happy it's not there.

    Melissa's head is on my shoulder and she is talking to me again. "Dad, I won't be able to go through this ever again, I won't be having another baby". I said "yes you will love, you will forget this in the next three weeks and then you will be planning the next one". "No I won't" she said, and went into another gut-wrenching contraction.

    The ambulance arrived. Again, I have no real idea what the time is but it's probably around 9.30am. Melissa and Glenn are out of the bath now and ready to go and, can you believe it - even in this state she wants to go out and say good-bye to the dogs. Di and Stacey are trying to pack a bag for Melissa's stay in hospital; naturally they can't find anything while under this sort or pressure. Before you know it, Melissa, Glenn and Andilla are in the ambulance and gone. I have made arrangements to take Glenn's car in to the hospital and bring the cameras for the first shots of the baby.

    Di and Stacey decide I should go in alone and they would stay back and clean up the house.

    Driving in, it hits me just how surreal this whole experience has been, such intensity and then nothing. I am thinking I will probably be sitting in the waiting room for the next few hours, wondering what's happening and wishing I could help.

    I get to the hospital and my parking genie is looking after me as always and I get a park just down from the front door. I grab the cameras and a couple of things that Di and Stacey gave me for the overnight stay and head in to the hospital. I found the birthing centre, which is locked off to the public, on the third floor; I pressed the buzzer and to my surprise, the door opened and I walked up to the reception and said to the lady, "my name is Graeme Heron and I am here to help my daughter deliver her baby". The receptionist did a double take and with a wry smile said, "I will go down and tell them you are here". After a few minutes she is back and tells me they need to get a few things organised and then they will be up to get me. I can't believe this and think they are probably telling me this to bide some time before telling me it's against hospital policy or something.

    I go back to the waiting area and spend ten minutes or so talking to a young guy and his four kids. His wife is in having their fifth baby. We chat for a while and I start to think I need to prompt this receptionist again, let her know I am still waiting. The cleaner came out of the door so I slip back into the birthing suite. Every one is busy so I wait. Then I see Cheri coming up the corridor; she greets me and says she will come and get me in a few minutes.

    I'm rapt and happily resume my conversation with the young guy in the waiting area. Another ten minutes goes by and I'm getting toey. I walk up to the door and am just about to press the buzzer when the door opens and Cheri says they are ready for me. I ask how Melissa is and hear that she is doing OK.

    I walk into the room and the curtain is drawn; we announce our arrival and a lady pulls back the curtain and gives me a look of disbelief, I think she was thinking the girl's mother has arrived. She smiled and let me in.

    Melissa is still in a bad state and very distressed. Glenn doesn't look much better. I didn't know it then, but by the time she got to the hospital, the homeopathic medicine had worked and the mysterious lip had receded enough for Melissa to resume her natural birth and start pushing. The problem was she was so spent; she didn't have the energy or the desire to push.

    I got the video camera out and started filming. The doctor asked me not to film. I thought, "that's a bit strange", but I stopped anyway. Once she became preoccupied with Melissa, I started again. That is, until the lady who opened the curtain, (who, I found out later, was the boss of the whole department), threatened to throw me out. It was hospital policy and if I didn't like it I should leave. I said, "So, I can't even take a photo of my grandson?" and she said once he is delivered and cleaned up it would be no problem.

    I put the camera down and Melissa realises I am in the room and grabs my hand. Glenn was looking pretty distraught, so I'm back in the fray. Melissa is totally spent and in so much pain but doing her best. She is finally allowed to push but there is just no energy left. We have resumed the position with her head on my shoulder between contractions and she whispers, "Dad, I can't do this, it's too hard". I am amazed that she is still trying and so proud that she is. I know she will make it, despite the trauma she is going through. I am thinking, how can the baby handle all this, hour after hour; until I realise the monitor on the side of the bed is displaying his heart rate, which is ranging from 120 between contractions to 139 during them. That was the rate early in this marathon, in another world, at home in the birthing pool, so I was comforted to know he was still handling the pressure OK.

    In addition to Andilla and Cheri, we have a doctor assisting, along with the head of the department who is obviously very competent. There is some concern because Zane has had a poo in the process, which apparently means he is under some stress. Another doctor, who specialises in checking out the babies when this happens, is summoned. So when she arrives with a male nurse, there are eight of us in the room plus Melissa. They decide that Melissa needs to relieve her bladder, because it may be the reason the baby just won't budge. Melissa says she is ready to go to the toilet, (I think she just wants to get off the bloody bed and do something different), but they advise her that this is not a good idea and Cheri slips a bedpan under her bottom. Andilla and the doctor move Melissa forward to facilitate the process. She definitely needed to go and they kept her there for a while. Glenn and I looked at each other and both agreed that we just couldn't believe this. He still looked pretty distraught and I put my hand on his shoulder and told him he was doing a great job.

    After what seems like an eternity, they take the bedpan away and Melissa resumes her position. I am on her right-hand side supporting her shoulder and holding her hand. Andilla is just in front of me, also supporting her; the doctor and the department head are directly in front and telling us they can see the baby's head. Cheri is on the left-hand side supporting and Glenn is standing just in front of Andilla, getting his first glance of his son's head. We are all encouraging Melissa to push.

    I can see the head now and think "geeze it's pretty small, why is that so hard to get out". Glenn tells me afterwards he was thinking the same thing.

    Melissa is absolutely spent but finds a moment to tell me once again that she won't be able to do this again; this will be the last baby. I say "don't worry love, in three weeks time you will have forgotten all this".

    Everyone encourages her to really go for it and push even harder. I don't know how, but she found another gear and out popped the rest of the head. Then I understood why it was so difficult - it looked huge and quite elongated. I think Melissa thought he was delivered because when they asked her to push again she said, "I can't, I just can't", but she did and out he popped.

    I turned round and checked the clock - it was 11.54am exactly. I told everyone, although, at the time no one really cared.

    I immediately noticed the umbilical cord was wrapped twice around the baby's neck, which I know can be very dangerous. The doctor and Andilla gently unwound it and then placed the baby on the bed between Melissa's legs; they cut the cord and put the baby on the side bench for the specialist to check him over. That took quite some time. I went over to have a look and Glenn and I were just standing there in awe, saying nothing, just looking.

    The doctor and, I assume, a male nurse cleaned up the baby and checked him out; they were very thorough and it took some time. I am a little hazy on the sequence here but I think they put the baby on Melissa's chest. She was so stuffed, she could hardly raise her arms, and so she just looked at him in disbelief that he was finally here. I think she said something like "Zane, you are a stubborn little bugger" and apologised to me for failing to have her baby at home. I said "what do you mean - failed - have a look on your chest, you have a beautiful little baby boy; how could you think you failed?"

    Then they broke the news to her that they wanted her to push again, as she needed to deliver the placenta. "Do I have to" she asked in total disbelief. I didn't really take a lot of notice of the placenta being delivered. I mean, I saw it, but the baby had my attention. I did notice them taking a sample of the cord and spending a lot of time dissecting the placenta and pointing various things out; although I could not hear every word, the consensus seemed to be that everything was OK.

    Glenn and I were fixated on the baby. Glenn noticed the cone shape of Zane's head and said, "it's not going to stay like that is it?" I remembered what Stacey's head looked like and how quickly it changed and assured him it would be normal in a couple of days.

    It was decided that Melissa needed some stitches before she could shower and clean up, so the next minute Andilla wraps up the baby and hands him to me. I am surprised to be the first one to hold him and get I get Cheri to video it. I'm also thinking Glenn should have this honour so I hand Zane to him, telling the baby here is his daddy. Glenn is besotted and can't take his eyes off him.

    The doctor comes in to do the stitches, so Glenn and I disappear to get something to eat. We have a couple of goes at coming back to the room, but they haven't finished. After about 45 minutes, we go back in. Melissa looks a little better but very sore. I start filming and taking pictures; Melissa is very tired and is just looking at her baby in disbelief that it's finally all over.

    It's time to feed the little fella and Andilla is getting Melissa and Zane organised to introduce the boob. I realise we haven't weighed him, so I suggest we do it before he has any milk. He weighs in at 7 pounds .56 ounces. Andilla places Zane on Melissa's breast and I can't help but think that's where the fixation on boobs starts for all of us red blooded blokes - although for Zane, the boob fixation will have to wait; he is really tired and wants to join his dad, who has fallen asleep on the sofa chair in the room.

    It is now 1.45pm and it's been over 14 hours since it all started and I have to join Di and pick up Pam, Glenn's mum, at the airport. The doctor wants Melissa to stay overnight so they can monitor Zane, so we arrange to come back with the whole troupe.

    Visiting hours are at 4.00pm so we will just have time to pick up Pam, drop her bags off at Melissa and Glenn's, pick up Stacey and head back to the hospital.

    We all arrive at just after 4.00pm and find our way to the room. Melissa looks great and has recovered amazingly. Glenn is really in the swing and can't take his eyes off his son. We have all been totally captivated by this event in our lives and the energy in the room is amazing. We are all buzzing.

    Xavier is not really wrapped in hospitals and before the hour is up, he is ready to go, so Stacey heads off and Di and I follow about half an hour later.

    With only three hours sleep on Monday night, it has finally caught up with me. Di hits the sack at just after 8.00pm and I struggle to stay awake until 9.30pm and am in bed by 10.00pm.

    I wake up bright as a button at 5.30am Wednesday and start thinking about what an amazing day I have just had. This was the first time the enormity of what an incredible day I had had - and what a great privilege Glenn and Melissa had given me - started to sink in. I became quite emotional and decided that I should write this journal as a record of this remarkable event in my life.

    How many grandfathers do you know who have helped to deliver their grandson?

    What a privilege and one I will never forget.

    Thank you Melissa and Glenn, you are the best.

    PS - it's three days on and Melissa is already talking about the next baby. Can you believe that?

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