6.40am - special delivery

Kevin Fong treasures the scary euphoria of an unexpected home birth

May 1, 2008

When Jack was born, two and a half years ago, I thought I'd put the last major juggling ball into the air. I thought that if I could manage to keep my career Yin and personal Yang in kilter while being a dad, I would have mastered the toughest trick in the book. And manage we did. We got through the sleepless night bit, learnt the new rhythm of our lives and kissed goodbye to the concept of the Saturday morning lie-in. I say "we" because it was a true team effort: my wife, Dee, and me on 24-hour childcare response, slotted around our respective day jobs.

Then, all of a sudden, we were getting ready for number two. "Sudden" being the operative word. At 3.30 one morning the first contractions started. I asked if I needed to get worried. "Don't panic," said Dee. "I'll tell you when to panic." Five minutes later, she told me that now would be a good time to panic.

I rang my parents and the midwife. I put the phone down and relayed the message that my mum and dad would be with us in two hours. Pretty slick for a couple in their seventies who don't drive very often, I thought. "Two hours!! Why!!!" yelled Dee in the sort of tone that a starving Tyrannosaurus rex might use if someone had stolen his last stegosaurus sausage. I picked up the phone and rang my parents again. "Faster," I said.

The vision of my myopic dad blasting round the 'burbs in his Nissan Micra with my mum in the passenger seat holding a torch and an A to Z was almost as frightening as the realisation that we, a doctor and a midwife, had been caught with our pants down in the maternity stakes. Ten days early, out of the blue, The Bag not packed, no one immediately on hand to look after Jack; with me and Dee downstairs in the bathroom sounding like we were enacting a Texas Chainsaw Massacre radio play.

This, I guess, is partly the point: that managing two children is more than twice as complicated as looking after one. Nobody tells you that beforehand. It's like some cosmic conspiracy to guarantee the propagation of the human race - the great unspoken truth that I was about to discover in style at 4.30 on a Sunday morning.

For that was when Jack woke up. This meant that I, between contractions and being a supportive "birth partner", was running between floors like a stairobics addict trying to pack The Bag and counsel toddler Jack. At one point, I found myself perched on his bed, trying to explain something about there being a house in Mummy's tummy where the new baby lived and that the baby was coming. It was truly awful. By the end, I could tell that he was convinced of only two things: something terrible is happening to Mummy, and Daddy has gone mental.

On cue, Katie the midwife arrived along with my parents. Katie, Dee's friend and colleague from work, had heard Dee in the background when I rang and had decided to come straight to our house. This freed me up to finish throwing gear into The Bag. Finally I was finished and the zipper was shut. I was proud of myself, I had all the essentials - hell, I had even remembered the iPod and speakers.

Downstairs I flew, car keys in hand: we were at last ready to go. I burst into the bathroom to pass on the good news. "I don't think I'm going to make it," Dee panted. But I was in confident stride, ready to dispel any doubt in Dee's mind that she was up to this. I put a secure, comforting arm around her and switched to 21st-century husband mode, explaining that we could of course "make it", that we'd done so once before and that it would be OK (remembering to engage reassuring but not patronising tone of voice).

She started the sentence again. "I don't think I'm going to make it ... to ... the ... hospital." Want to know what the scariest two words in the world are to an intensive care doctor? Try: "home birth". I looked at Dee and then Katie and waited for somebody to say: "Nah, just kidding." But they never did. I took a deep breath and switched up a gear to 30th-century husband mode. That's where you teleport your mind out of your body and let it go off and scream very loudly in another dimension while leaving your supportive, nodding, smiling, reassuring body shell behind.

Jill, another midwife, arrived moments later. There we were, four adults crammed into our very small bathroom; me sitting on a pile of lotions and potions, Dee sitting on me, standing-room only for the midwives. I had no doubt that I was developing pressure sores from the various bottles of shampoo and stuff I was sitting on. But to moan about the discomfort or to even ask to change position would have earned me a deserved series of punches in the face from Dee and her midwife mates. And then, suddenly, he was there, pink and screaming very loudly and everything really was OK.

So this column has almost nothing to do with higher education. But that, too, is the point. There are moments in life when you need to step off the merry-go-round and take stock of your priorities. And I guess that if I had something else to write about other than being a parent for the second time, 20 days after the fact, then I really wouldn't be doing my job properly.

Noah Fong, 9lb 2oz. Born: 6.40 one fine Sunday morning, mother and baby doing well. Mother, in fact, astonishing and incredible throughout. Father, never to be quite the same again.

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